A collection of grievances, memories, occasional musings, and everyday happenings


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5 Things I Love About My Expat Life

I saw this blog link up via Life With A Double Buggy and decided to give it a shot. Here are my 5 things I love about my expat life:

A Wide Variety of Successes and Failures

The very first time I made Schnitzel.

The very first time I made Schnitzel.

Nothing has made me swell with pride or turned my face an embarrassing shade of red like the expat life I lead in Austria. Just today I had the 5th or 6th humiliating experience of not understanding how a restaurant’s bathroom sink worked, and in that moment it occurred to me that this happens to me way too often, and I couldn’t help but bust out laughing – by myself – in the restaurant bathroom. (I did eventually wash my hands in said bathroom.) Being an expat has provided me with the ability to just laugh at myself when I fail at figuring out a sink or butcher every sentence I attempt to say in German. But because I’ve discovered this ability to laugh when I fail, it makes my successes that much sweeter. Once, my husband made me – nay, FORCED me – to go to the Apotheke (pharmacy) by myself to retrieve a receipt I had forgotten to get. I was terrified and had zero faith in my German pharmacy-speak. I nervously prayed the whole, slow walk there for strength and for me to not faint at the counter from fright. But I shouldn’t have been so scared. I spoke to “Herr Doktor” and explained the mix-up from the week before, and he understood me and I got my receipt. I was so happy that I ran the entire way back home and cry-laughed while I told Will how it went. When I compare my success and failure stories to ones I’ve experienced in the States, I see how way-too-seriously I took myself over there. And I can further appreciate how my expat life has pushed me out of my comfort zone, torn down my barriers and taught me to laugh.

A Family on Both Sides of the Ocean

My US family with my Vienna family!

My US family with my Vienna family!

My biggest fear in moving to Austria was that I would make no friends. I’d arrive, appear strange, scare people off with my loud voice and immediate hugging reflex, and be friendless forever. And that is not the case. I don’t mean that to say I have one thousand and one friends because Austria was so drawn to my loudness and hugs, I just mean – I have found a family here made up of the most amazing, caring and loving people. They took me in, weirdo and all, and helped me feel at home in a place where I was originally afraid would never feel like home to me. On the flip-side, I’ve experienced the fear of not feeling connected to my original family in the States, yet that too has not been an issue. We stay connected and go about it with great purpose. Seeing my friends’ and family’s faces on Skype always makes my day, and having the chance to embrace them is all the more exciting. And because of these two families, I have two places to call home on both sides of the ocean.

A Healthy Attitude of “Doing Without Thinking” and “Think First”

Sometimes trying something new is scary, like slides in a salt mine.

Sometimes trying something new is scary, like slides in a salt mine.

The expat life almost requires this healthy balance and it takes a while to develop. One can either jump right into a new cultural experience too quickly and do some damage, or one can overthink an experience and miss out on it entirely. A very light example of acting too quickly is actually my one of my top pet peeves of people who visit Vienna, and that is when they TALK SO LOUDLY EVERYWHERE THEY GO AND YOU CAN HEAR EVERY WORD THEY’RE SAYING LIKE HOW GOOD THAT WEENER SCHNITZEL THING WAS. Yikes. One way to not make any new acquaintances around here is by doing just that; that’s why I learned very quickly to study my surroundings first, then act. And also not saying “that Weener Schnitzel thing”. So if no one on the U-Bahn is speaking, I don’t speak. If everyone is speaking in a gentle low voice, I speak in a gentle low voice. My expat life has made me a student of my surroundings in order to not offend or attract attention to myself (unless I can’t figure out another bathroom sink). But my expat life has also made me jump in the water without testing it first, like eating Leberkäse (literally translates to Liver cheese and not my favorite dish) with everyone else or playing the German version of Taboo and failing miserably at describing “Taschenhund” to your Austrian teammates. Sometimes this life requires you to just do and see what happens, though I can promise I will always think too long about and definitely miss out on eating blood sausage. Can’t do it.

A Greater Appreciation for Experiencing New Cultures

Trying out yum food at a Christmas market.

Trying out yum food at a Christmas market.

Before moving here, my husband and I trained for close to a year with two families who had prior experience in living abroad. We were told about people who move to other countries and essentially wind up creating a mini version of the US with other American families within their new city of residence out of fear for the unknown. Their children go to English-speaking schools, the families visit English-speaking doctors, they hang out with English-speaking people. They do what’s familiar and only that – an easy temptation to give into and empathize with. While I definitely have days where I wish the US would just arrive at my front doorstep, mainly for Chik-fil-a and burger reasons, my husband and I have never been drawn to a mini United States of America. We try to love and appreciate every new thing we encounter, like the beauty of the German language or how everyone and their dog goes outside the second it’s warm enough. The expat life is meant to be lived, not kept in a snow globe of familiarity.

A Greater Tendency to be a Total Cheese Ball

Past study abroad students who made me cry often because of their Vienna love.

Past study abroad students who made me cry often because of their Vienna love.

I think my expat life has permanent control of my tear ducts because I’m seriously emotionally overwhelmed by everything culturally beautiful. Sometimes I see an elderly woman or man out and about, trucking along with their Nordic walking sticks like it ain’t no thang, and all of a sudden I’m teary-eyed while inwardly cheering them on as they proudly extend their number of years left on this planet. Or the students! They get me every time. My husband and I have the opportunity each year to interact with different groups of American study abroad students and we get to observe them fall in love with the city. This turns me into mush. As of late the current group has been making numerous videos of their experiences from Vienna and I can’t handle them. They’re too wonderful. I think a switch turns on after you’ve lived abroad for awhile – a switch that not only allows you to be moved by your own cultural findings and experiences, but allows you to be just as moved or even more so by others who go through and discover parts of countries and cultures that you too have experienced. So make sure you have tissues on you at all times.

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10 Observations of Our Neighbors

Photo credit: designspiration.net

Photo credit: designspiration.net

Will and I have lived in our apartment building for a year and have just as many friends in the building today as we did last year: zero. Honestly, that’s okay with us. Not many people, at least that we know of, develop friendships within their apartment building. When we lived in an apartment in Oklahoma City, we spent most of our time wishing our neighbors would move away or for someone or something to give us a reason to move away. When we moved to Vienna, we had a fairytale vision of befriending several individuals in our building who would help us with our German and our integration into society. But fairytales are fairytales, and we’ve instead made wonderful friends outside our building who help us out. We do however encounter our neighbors here and there and have made some observations over the last year.

10 Observations of Our Neighbors

1. The guy next door seems cool but he may listen to alien music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

We’ve seen our next door neighbor a total of 5 times. He came over once to ask us about our windows, and the others times we’ve seen him are right when he’s disappearing into his apartment with his bike. He’s really our only hope for a friend in our building as he looks to be about our age and doesn’t hold a grudge against us (yet). But sometimes when I walk by his door I hear strange lava lamp music float under the door and I picture him either being hypnotized or hypnotizing someone else. Maybe one day we’ll find out the latter. #lavalampneighbor

2. The older lady across from us dislikes us. Passionately.

We got off to a bad start with this woman. She knew we didn’t speak German when we first moved in, and has since assumed the same of us even a year later, dubbing us useless to society. Then there was the time our door was buzzed repeatedly from the outside early one morning, and having just moved in and also without a working speaker phone to ask who was buzzing, we assumed it was the internet guy or the mail guy or the water heater guy. Unfortunately it was the “do you have any money on you?” guy and this lady had to shoo him off on our behalf. Then we were lectured on the importance of not letting strangers into the apartment building, and she’s been avoiding contact with us ever since. We’ve actually witnessed her delay walking out her door until we made it downstairs. Relationship status: It’s Complicated with #oldladyneighbor

3. The older lady across from us might be a hoarder.

We know she keeps a tight schedule and occasionally wears business suits. What we didn’t know is that her apartment houses every trinket, clipping, and figurine from the surrounding antique shops in the area. And we only know this because she left her door wide open and we saw inside, not because she invited us over for coffee.

4. The older lady across from us hates anonymous business cards.

We lived through this observation only a few days ago. Apparently some girl named Eva or Efa or Afa left her business card either by her door or in her mailbox, and because I’m a tiny troublemaker, she assumed it was from me. In fact she was so determined to find out if the card was from me, she rang our doorbell the same way a person whose house is on fire would ring a doorbell. Will wasn’t even given a chance to open the door on a normal ring; she rang it over and over and over without taking her finger off the bell. When Will was finally able to open the door, she launched right into her investigation and demanded to know the name of Will’s “liebe Freundin” which translated means “dear girlfriend”. Will gently let her know that I am actually his liebe Frau (dear sweet wonderful wife), and that my name was not the name on the business card. She questioned him a few more times like she was worried this whole “no my wife’s name is not Eva/Efa/Afa it’s Holly” thing was a hoax and it really was me who left her a business card, but finally gave up after two minutes of Will sticking to the truth “story”. For goodness sake Eva/Efa/Afa, enough with the business cards!

5. The apartment building’s cleaning lady is a real life Roz from Monsters Inc.

You know how at the end of Monsters Inc. Roz ends up being the good guy who saves the entire company? That’s what I’m hoping is the case for our own Roz. Our Roz doesn’t necessarily match the appearance of Monster Roz, but she is “always watching”. Always. #rozneighbor

6. Roz also dislikes us. Also passionately.

We got off to a bad start with Roz as well the day we moved into the building. When we first walked into the entryway, she was finishing up the last touches of her weekly floor cleaning, the cleaning we were about to step all over. Oh she was mad. But how could we have known she sometimes cleans the floors at 6pm on Thursdays when she feels like it?? Call ahead? She watched us (See: Observation 5) the entire time we moved in and hurumphed whenever we stepped on a clean spot. It was an intense half hour, and we’ve never moved past it. She greets us with a sigh or not at all on most days, and we’ve even been yelled at a couple of times for things like existing or throwing away cardboard incorrectly. We’ve discovered, however, that when Roz is with her two elderly guinea pig sized poodle dogs, the world is a beautiful place, and we are safe in that world. Although it’s also safe to assume this is a sure sign we’ll have to move out whenever her dogs pass on from this world.

7. Roz and her surprisingly friendly husband unfortunately live directly above us.

A few weeks after we moved in I thought I had made a friend in our building. He was nice to me and opened doors for me and seemed to greatly appreciate it whenever I talked to his two elderly guinea pig sized poodle dogs. Thanks to those dogs I figured out he lives directly above us which at first was cool until we later saw Roz with the same dogs. First question: Roz is married?? Second question: And to a nice man??? Not that she’s not allowed to be married to a nice man, it was just surprising given every encounter we’ve ever had with her. However it’s heartwarming to know her husband makes her laugh. We hear them laughing pretty much all day long, so, at least Roz has a sense of humor.

8. Roz and her husband go to the bathroom a lot. Hooray for healthy bladders?

Our ceiling is paper thin so not only can we hear the dogs’ nails click and clack across the floor every morning, but we can also hear water being distributed into their ceramic throne.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

9. A man in the building over loves our cat.

THIS GUY. He cracks Will and me up every single time he’s outside. We think he’s the caretaker of the apartment building over (the one #grannypantyneighbor lives in, Observation 10) as he is the only one we see frequently out watering the plants and rearranging the trashcans. He’s cute and old, and appears to have a soft side for cats. We leave our windows open almost daily which our cat, Tobias, loves. He didn’t have that luxury in Oklahoma so he spends a good amount of his time perched on the windowsill, watching pigeons, stray cats, and this cat-loving man. Whenever Tobias and Cat Man are outside at the same time, Cat Man tries to sweet talk to Tobias for as long as Tobias will let him. Truthfully speaking, Tobias does not care much for the Cat Man. Tobias usually gives him about 5 seconds to get it all out of his system, and when those 5 seconds are up, Tobias yawns, stretches, and jumps down from the windowsill. Will and I are convinced we saw Tobias literally roll his eyes once during one of Cat Man’s sweet talks. But despite Tobias’ lack of interest, Cat Man is yet to be deterred. In fact he’s so convinced of his friendship with Tobias that he talks to Tobias even when he’s not at the window in hopes the Tobes will hear him and jump up for a visit. This never works, but instead makes Will and me laugh very hard. It’s a strange thing to be in the middle of dinner then suddenly hear an old Austrian man’s voice outside your window saying “Hello! Who’s a good cat! Who’s a sweet cat! Hello sweet cat!”. One of these days I’m going to appear at the window when he’s calling for Tobias and see what happens. #catmanneighbor

10. A lady in the building over is a huge fan of granny panties.

It’s very common here to not own a dryer. Dryers do of course exist here, but they are very expensive and they’re a little more involved than the dryers one may be used to in the States. So instead of owning a dryer, people lay their clothes out on a drying rack or clothes line, or hanging from a pot handle outside a window (a recent invention from a different neighbor). In the courtyard over, right outside our window, are three clothes lines the length of the courtyard. There’s a lady in that building who may be the only one who uses these clothes lines, and she uses them solely for her undergarnments. We’ve never seen her, but we do know she owns somewhere between 15 to 20 pastel pairs of granny panties, plus a bright red lacy pair which to me says she lives drastically different from her life of normalcy for exactly one day. I bet she does something wild on red granny panty day, like ride on the U-Bahn without a valid ticket or something. Get it, Granny!  #grannypantyneighbor

Here’s to crazy neighbors! May they always keep us on our toes, make us laugh, and intimidate us to the point of needing a disguise to walk past them without conflict.

You can follow the adventures of our neighbors on Twitter.