My Cross-Cultural Experiences

In 1978, I was 29 when I moved to Germany with my family. A long flight through Reykjavik and three trains later, we arrived in Offenbach – three kids, twelve bags and a stroller in tow for the biggest cultural adjustment of my life. I was glad to be there and ready to experience for myself the childhood home of my German-born husband. I knew my life would be different but what I didn’t expect was how very different everything would be.

I spent the first month alone with the children while my husband started his job in Nürnberg and eventually found us a place there to live. We shared a two room apartment with an elderly woman who spoke no English and who woke us in the night asking for her long deceased husband. We had no tub nor shower. I quickly learned the value of a galvanized tub and pot of warm water over walking an hour and back to the public bath. I also learned that German flats don’t come with lights or closets or kitchen sinks included. I used to joke that my head ached the whole first year because my brain was growing from all the new input.

Adjustment to life in Germany came as small victories – like the day I ask a store clerk for ein Metalding das rauf und runter geht und das die Kleidung zusammen festmacht (a metal thing that goes up and down and holds clothes together) and was delighted when she handed me a zipper, or the day I finally came home with ground beef for hamburgers after asking the Metzger for Kuhfleisch in kleine Stückchen, aber, eigentlich von einer männlichen Kuh. (cow meat in little pieces, but, actually from a male cow). Eventually, I learned to negotiate my way through almost every social exchange. The children attended German schools. We had Sunday afternoon coffees with neighbors, made visits with friends to their garden plots on the outskirts of town, and joined in with folk dance groups for fun.

Even when we left three years later, we never left the culture behind. Experiences there returned with us to be shared with others. We carried on with new customs and traditions to share with family and friends. We taught dances to community groups, and my hundreds of slides and stories brought enthusiasm and interest to the classes I taught. The experience had been more than an adjustment, it had been a life change.