FAQs

In my circle of US-based family and friends, it’s apparently rather unusual to marry someone of a different nationality. I feel like a broken record answering the same questions over and over again, so I’m publishing my answers here, mostly for my own sanity. A blog link is much shorter and faster than typing all this into a text message.

Here we go, cross-cultural marriage FAQs:

 

1. Will you get German citizenship?

Nope. Germany (not the US, Germany) only allows people the right to two citizenships if they are born to it. So Roman and I’s kids will be both German and American. Roman and I can ONLY have one anothers’ nationalities if we give up our original citizenship – something we don’t feel is necessary at this time.

And no, in the case of German and US citizenship, the kids don’t have to decide which nationality to keep when they turn 18. That’s an old rule that was overturned. They may keep both their entire lives. I know adults with four+ nationalities. It makes tracking passports kind of complicated, but is generally a huge advantage.

 

2. Will you live in Germany or the USA?

Um, neither?

I’m so tired of this question. I mean, really, what a ridiculous question. Why are those the only two options? I’ve lived in 6 countries and R has lived in 4. Why would we stop living abroad now? We won’t.

And don’t give me that baloney about how “when we have kids we have to ‘settle down’.” Just because most people do it doesn’t mean it’s the only option. Yes, there are advantages to a child living in one place for his/her entire education. There are equal advantages to yanking children out of their comfort zones and taking them around the world.

Truly, neither Germany nor the United States is very high on our list at the moment.

 

3. What about your visa?

I have currently have, and have always had, a RESIDENT visa in Germany. There are no student visas. Just residence visas. When I was doing my master’s degree, my resident visa was granted on the basis of my enrollment in a German university, and my ability to financially support myself (I had to bring bank statements to each visa appointment). My current resident visa was granted based on my three-year contractual employment at a German institution. Because the job provides a known salary, I didn’t have to bring bank statements to get my current visa.

Said current visa expires at the end of this year. I will be given another based on the two-year extension of my work contract. However, now that I have been living and paying taxes/social security in Germany for almost 6 years, I am now eligible for PERMANENT RESIDENCE status in both Germany and the entire European Union. That simply means my next visa will not have an expiration date. It’s not citizenship, it’s just the right to live here indefinitely, and more importantly, to have full access to all the social services offered by the system I’ve been paying into for the past years. If I leave for more than 6 months, I lose my permanent residency.

I could actually apply for residency based on my marriage to R, but it’s a much simpler process to obtain a visa through employment than marriage.

Germany educated me. Germany wants me to stay. Germany needs taxpayers. I pay a lot of taxes. Unless I commit some crimes or break a few laws and they kick me out, I can live here forever. I read once that Germany is so welcoming to foreign students (German taxpayers paid for my master’s degree) because if a student stays in German to work, in just a year or two that student more than compensates for the cost of their degree in tax dollars (euros).

And yes, I file taxes in both countries. I have to. Because my salary is under a certain amount, and because German tax rates are much higher than US rates, the tax I owe the USA Is usually $0. Tax laws are vastly complicated – there are certainly scenarios in which I would actually pay taxes in both countries.

 

4. Are you having a church wedding?

No. In Germany, couples MUST be married at the courthouse. While a church wedding is possible, it is not legally valid. If a couple is religious, they will usually have a private ceremony at the courthouse with immediate family, and then sometime later (months, or even years) celebrate with a larger church ceremony and reception.

R and I are having a family-only courthouse ceremony in his hometown. We may have some sort of religious service next year in Kansas.

On a side note, in Germany, church membership is organized by the state. You must physically go and register your religious affiliation with the local government, and then a portion (currently ±9%) of your salary is automatically taken out of your paycheck for tithing, and for governmental administrative fees. I am opposed to this system for many reasons, and am therefore not registered as any a member of any religious group. Because I’m not officially a “registered church member,” and neither is R, I don’t even know if we have access to Catholic sacraments in this country.

 

5. Are you changing your name?

I am not. This has nothing to do with R, it’s something I decided long before I met him, and it’s very common for women in science. A scientist’s name is their reputation. I’ve published, given presentations and attended conferences under my maiden name. I’m not changing it.

R is an open-minded, modern, reasonable human, and he fully supports my decision. However, having a common family name is important to him, so he actually decided to take my name.

While this will raise eyebrows in narrow-minded, conservative Kansas, it’s quite common in Germany. Two of my male colleagues recently married and took their wives’ surnames. Many couples I talk with make the decision simply based on which name they like better. Some couples choose to do so to carry on the woman’s family name if she’s the end of a line. Some people are estranged from their surname side of the family, and no longer want to be associated with them.

R’s brother has a baby with his girlfriend. They live together, but they aren’t married. The baby has his mother’s surname. I’ve never asked why. It doesn’t matter.

Women taking their husbands’ names at marriage is just one of the many meaningless, patriarchal traditions that Germans disregard, and I love them for it.

Cultural Differences – AIR

A few people have asked if there are any cultural differences between my German fiancée and my American self. WHY YES, THOUSANDS. This comes as a surprise to most, since R has both lived and traveled in the US, speaks perfect English and is (weirdly) a huge fan of US football. He’s pretty well assimilated to my culture. But he’s still German.

This fact is most apparent when it comes to air. Yes. AIR. German people have THE STRANGEST, most BAFFLING relationship with air.

First of all, Germans love fresh air. Being in a room with stale air will result in imminent death. To combat stale air, there is a German practice called STOßLÜFTUNG (a beautiful word with both a sharp s and an umlaut. Does German vocabulary get any better?). Literally translated as “shock ventilation”, stoßluftüng consists of opening wide all the windows in a room while shutting the door to the room, in every season and in every temperature, for a few minutes. The key here is opening ALL the windows, to create cross-flow. This, Zee Chermans believe, replaces all the moist, stale air in a room with a fresh batch of dry, clean air that won’t slowly suffocate them. There are even a plethora of public-service-esque publications outlining, with graphics, how to best stoßlüftung your home in all seasons.

There is also something called Querlüften, but I’m not even going to get into that…

 

This graph explains how airing out a room combats mold.

The next key part of stoßlüftung (at least in winter) is immediately shutting the windows after a few minutes. Because, so I’ve been told, the walls are still warm, and the walls will heat up the new, cold air, thus not requiring extra heat energy. This brings us to the next (and most baffling) part of the German relationship with air:

Stale air is deadly, but DRAFTS are even more deadly.

That’s right, the fear Germans have of air that ISN’T moving is matched only by their fear of air that IS moving.

This is very difficult for a simple-minded American to understand, because in addition to a crippling fear of moving air, Germans are also some of the most active people I’ve ever met. They love cycling, running, hiking and generally being outdoors in all weather. But while outdoor drafts are apparently benign, INDOOR drafts have been proven to cause a number of vicious maladies. Choose your favorite; pneumonia, flu, colds, clogged arteries, muscle pain/atrophy and paralyzation. Not bacteria or viruses, Ladies and Gentlemen, DRAFTS. How have you survived so long without this knowledge? Thankfully I am here to save you.

Traveling on a train on a hot summer day? Don’t you dare open a window, because that moving air will cause Granny a few rows down to go into cardiac arrest.

Riding with friends in a car? Expect to arrive at your destination with a full sheet of back sweat.

Working in an office with a wall of windows in full afternoon sun? Sweat will drip from your fingertips into your keyboard.

Here are a couple of examples of German-Draft-Phobia in action:

On the first warm weekend of the year, in late April I brought the bikes to Munich so R and I could ride around the city. The temperature was perfect – upper 70s/low 80s – and we cycled 10-15 miles through parks and beer gardens. It was beautiful. At one point, I noticed R squirming uncomfortably and asked if he was alright. He said his elbows were hurting. I immediately agreed, “Oh yeah, mine are also a little sore, too…(from the impact and jarring of the handlebars).” This was, after all, our first long bike ride of the year. He quickly corrected me “No, they hurt because of the air blowing across them.” I had to choke down my laugh.

A month later, my two best friends from the US were visiting Germany. The end of May was unseasonably hot, and R’s old apartment in Munich, on the fourth floor of an old walk-up, was basically a sauna. R DOES own a fan, which he never, ever uses, so the girls and I got it out of storage and set it up in the living room. It was a welcome reprieve from the repressive air. R immediately complained that the “stupid” fan was actually warming UP the room with it’s motor, rather than cooling the room with moving air (this is a very common German belief. I did a little research on it, it’s mostly false). He also said it was a waste of electricity, and let us run it for about 20 minutes before shutting it off. The look of dismay and disappointment on Amanda’s face is one I will never forget.

R and I’s bedroom has two windows. One on his side of the bed and one on my side. A few weeks ago I opened my window because the previous night I’d been too hot and had to open it in the middle of the night. R was immediately concerned, saying that because his window was already open, opening MY window would cause, you guessed it, a deadly cross-draft. I laughed and happily bedded down in my now-cool room. R replied that when he wakes up in the morning with a stiff neck, it’s my fault. Spoiler alert – he survived the night.

Perhaps the ultimate contradiction of this German-Draft-Phobia is that R doesn’t like being hot. Unlike many Germans, he does appreciate and enjoy the cooling effects of air conditioning, AS LONG AS MOVING AIR NEVER TOUCHES HIS BODY. In the car in the summertime, my default action is to turn on the AC. R immediately shuts off all vents in his vicinity, making sure no rouge draft crosses his delicate cells. I happily allow him to point all vents towards me and enjoy having all the luxuriously cool air to myself. What R does when he’s in the car alone, I’m not sure. He probably turns off all the driver’s side vents and allows one passenger-side vent to blow air away from him, ensuring his health and safety.

I often tell R that his air-related ailments are “rich-country problems.” My people in Kansas are too busy fighting nature to grow crops and raise livestock for a living to be concerned about getting cancer from a mere draft. In all seriousness, though, this really is a prevalent part of German culture. I am sure know there are equally strange things about US culture.

I’m not the first expat to document this phenomenon. More information can be found here, here, here and here. All accounts are pretty amusing.

Stay tuned for the next episode of Cultural Differences, Germany vs. USA!

 

 

Side notes:

Most homes in Germany don’t have AC. It’s cool enough here that it isn’t really necessary. And most (all?) homes are heated with radiators, rather than the standard blowing-air-from-floor-vents HVAC systems of the USA (i.e. no moving air).

Lest you think I’m unkindly teasing my poor fiancée, let me explain I DID let him read this before I posted it. He laughed throughout, and exclaimed “Exactly!” several times, so I figure I nailed this one. I also invited him to write a rebuttal, an invitation he declined, also with a laugh.

What my foot surgery COST

Everyone, the Germans, the Americans and anyone in between, tells me how smart I was to have surgery in Germany rather than in the US (duh). And then the Americans ask me how much it cost. These discussions are important, so I’ve detailed my expenses below. People in the US talk about “free European healthcare.” That’s not quite true. It’s only free if you honestly can’t afford it. Those of who can afford it subsidize it for poor people – something I am so, so happy to do. Having a healthy population around me makes MY quality of life better, and I’m happy to contribute.

I could go on and on and on about this topic, but in short, the major difference between healthcare systems in the US and Germany is that the German system isn’t designed to make money. German doctors are well paid, but not astronomically well like US doctors. There is no pharmaceutical lobby here. If my health insurance company makes too much money in a year they are required by law to give it back to me (no joke. In 2014, I got a refund for about €95). As a student, I paid approximately 75€/month for full-coverage health insurance. Currently, because my salary has increased, I pay about 250€/month. It’s taken from my paycheck automatically. It’s a cost I never see, like social security tax and retirement investments. As in the US, we do have some co-pays for medication and services. There are also certain caps on services. For example, my insurance only pays for 4 visits per year to an osteopath for back massage. UNLIKE the US, there are no deductibles. For that I am SO grateful.

Overall, healthcare here is intelligently designed, easy to navigate (even for a non-native speaker!), highly functional and most importantly, it really, truly works to serve people.

Required Costs:
Item
Cost
Medicine (pain relief, antibiotics, blood thinner shots)
23€ copay
Crutches
5€ copay
Special brace/bandage
5€ copay
Ugly orthopedic shoes*
106€
Total:
139€ ($172)

*my surgeon loves these shoes. He might own stock in the company (joking! That’s probably illegal). He won’t operate on his patients unless they bring this particular shoe to the surgery. I was kinda mad about it, but I’ll be darned – the shoe truly is comfortable and does help stabilize my foot. Since I’m only using the left shoe, I’m trying to sell the right shoe to someone else who is having surgery. There is also a chance my insurance will pay for the shoes, but I have to fill out some special forms. So this line item might be partly or entirely covered.

Things I purchased for my own comfort:

Item
Cost
Extra cold compress
10€
Meditation cushion/pillow**
26€
The largest pair of men’s socks I could find
3€
Homeopathic Arnica to reduce swelling
10€
Probiotics to treat antibiotic side effects
11€
Total:
60€ ($74)

**I have been wanting to buy such a cushion for yoga and meditation practice. I figured it was good to have it around for the surgery, too. Indeed, I’ve used it every. single. day. The thing you don’t realize about elevating your foot is that you also need to support your knee, too! That’s basically the entire leg. Since the surgery, my preferred number of pillows per night is in the range of 5-8. 5 is the absolute minimum. 8 is ultimate comfort.

Grand total for surgery: 199€ ($246). Or in other words – entirely affordable. 

What was 100% covered by my health insurance:

  1. Appointment with my GP to get a referral for surgery
  2. Surgery consultation in Garmisch (with X-rays!)
  3. Surgery consultation in Munich (with X-rays!)
  4. Appointment with my GP for pre-op bloodwork, EKG
  5. Anesthesia consultation at the clinic
  6. THE ENTIRE SURGERY
  7. Next-day post-op appointment with the surgeon (with X-rays!)
  8. Appointment with my GP to get prescription to treat side effects
  9. Follow-up appointment #2 with the surgeon to remove the wire (April 11)
  10. Follow-up appointment #3 with the surgeon for final x-rays. (April 25)
  11. And all other follow-up appointments with x-rays…

Universal healthcare is such a politically divisive topic. Why, I truly don’t understand. It works for rich people, it works for poor people and it works for everyone in between. This shouldn’t be a liberal/conservative issue, it’s a humane issue. It just works. If you know how to convince people in the US of this fact, let me know.

Small Space Living

In early 2018, my (then-boyfriend, now) fiancée and I started to discuss moving in together. He lives in Munich, a little over an hour by car or ~90 min by train from my little village in the mountains. We were more than tired of our weekend relationship. After much debate, we decided that he would move to my village and commute to work. More on that decision, later.

We set a budget and started looking for flats in my village, knowing it would take 6+ months before the moving was complete. Boyfriend works from home 1-2 days a week, so we wanted a minimum of two bedrooms, one of which could be used as an office/guest room/multipurpose room, and a living room. Open floor plans are a VERY new concept in German culture. Traditionally all rooms are divided and closed. This is so smells do not leave the kitchen and permeate the rest of the house. And also because people might want to use the living room as a bedroom or vice versa. In every student flat I’ve ever seen, including my own, the living room is used as a bedroom because people simply cannot afford the extra space. My flatmate and I are sharing a one-bedroom, ±500 square foot apartment. His bedroom is the official bedroom (solid wood door). My bedroom is the official living room (glass-paneled, see-through door). In German real estate language, there is no real distinction of the purpose of a room. Flats are listed as “three rooms”, which usually means two bedrooms and a living room, but it can also mean three bedrooms, or 1 bedroom, 1 living room, 1 office. It’s up to the renter to decide. The only rooms with a specific purpose are the kitchen and bathroom(s).

Here is my bedroom, in the “flatmate” configuration. To give myself a little living space, I split the room and squeezed in a small sofa and cozy rug. This is the view from the door.

We tried everything to find a flat – we posted an advertisement in the local paper, selling ourselves as young, quiet, outdoorsy professionals. We set up automatic searches on all the housing websites. We talked to housing agents. And we waited. Nothing.

When I first moved to Garmisch in 2015, the housing market was tight. Now, three years later, it’s impossible. This can be partly attributed to the refugee crisis, which brought hundreds of displaced migrants to Garmisch. It’s also likely a result of expansion of the Munich metro area. Housing prices in Munich are so absurd the distance from which people are willing to commute reaches even as far south as the Alps.

Our budget wasn’t an issue. The few flats that are available are well within our price range. There just aren’t many at all. Less than once a week an appropriate flat would come on market and we’d contact the owner immediately, along with 20-40 other couples. In total, we looked at 3 flats, each of which failed to meet our basic requirements of a view of the mountains. (I mean, really, why live in the Alps if you can’t see them from your home??).

I even used my limited social network. I asked my German teacher and current landlords for help. At work, I spoke with two colleagues (Dutch/Columbian and French/Columbian) who were both leaving Garmisch with their families for new jobs in North and South America. One colleague has two kids, and another has one child. I thought perhaps their flats would be available to rent. I was stunned when I found out that BOTH of them, their wives and kids, are living in flats roughly the same size as mine. One family of 4 and one family of 3 in a ±500-square foot, one-bedroom flat with living room and kitchen.

I also talked to other people in the community who reported refugee families living with 5-10 people in 1-2 bedroom homes.

And on the other side of the room, split by a large bookcase – my bed and wardrobe.

At about this point during our apartment hunt, I started to feel like a whiny, spoiled, privileged white girl. Thousands of people (families, even!) living in New York City or DC or San Francisco would love to have a flat the size of mine, with the amenities of mine. To say nothing of poor people worldwide who would be thrilled to have a roof, four walls and running water.

So in the end we decided to live together in my flat. Thankfully my name is on the lease and my flatmate is nearly at the end of his Ph.D, so he wasn’t too upset when I kindly gave him his 3-month notice.

The truth is my current flat is plenty large enough for my fiancée and I. I know this to be true, because I’ve been very happily living in that space with another human (my flatmate) for the past 3 years. With my fiancée, the flat configuration will be even more comfortable because we’ll share a bedroom and actually have a designated living room.

I just needed to continue mentally transitioning from my privileged upbringing – living in and surrounded by huge homes – to a small space mentality.

Wardrobe.

 

Bookshelf/storage system with the foot of the bed.

 

And the front side of the bookshelf. Long live Ikea!

 

Here is the hard truth:

Having a room with a single purpose (an office, a gym, a guest room, a guest bathroom, a “play”room, a rec room, etc.) is a terrible waste of resources. It is a luxury enjoyed by people in wealthy western countries with relatively low population densities in which space is abundant and housing (per square feet) is cheap.

Germans usually do not have guest rooms.
Hell, many Germans (especially students) don’t even have living rooms.
When Germans visit family and friends, they usually stay in hotels.

Would I love a designated guest room? Yes.
Would I love a guest bathroom? Yes.
Would I love space to keep my yoga mat laid out and ready to use at my very whim? Yes.
Would I love a larger kitchen with more counterspace to accommodate fiancée’s massive restaurant-grade espresso machine? Heck yes.

Do I NEED all those things? No.

Just for kicks and giggles, here are some of the other things I haven’t needed in the past 5 or more years:

  1. A television
  2. A microwave
  3. A car
  4. A clothes dryer
  5. A living room (yes, really)
  6. Crock pots, bread machines, food processors, standing mixers, rice cookers, dehydrators and other large, single-purpose kitchen electronics
  7. Closets. This is Europe, there are no closets. Zero. No hall closets. No bathroom closets and certainly no bedroom closets.
  8. Freezer space. In Stuttgart, four people shared a freezer the size of a shoebox. Currently, my flatmate and I share a freezer the size of a shoebox. Germans don’t freeze stuff. It’s a waste of energy, which costs approximately 3x as much in Germany as in the US.

So anyway, we’re going to make it work. We’ve selected a kitchen cart to house the espresso machine and assorted tools. It will partly block the doors to the balcony, but sacrifices must be made. We’ve designated a corner of the living as office space. We’re PURGING everything to make space for boyfriend’s belongings. We’re cramming his massive wardrobe and large bed into a very small bedroom. I’m constantly playing with furniture arrangements and only keeping or buying pieces I know will fit.

At times it will be inconvenient, but it will certainly work. It won’t work forever, but it will certainly work for now.

Foot Surgery

I inherited a bunion from my mother. It slowly developed as I aged, becoming more pronounced every year. About 5 years ago, it also started to hurt. For a few years, the pain came and went, usually appearing at times I was exercising regularly. About two years, it started hurting all the time. It constantly . . . → Read More: Foot Surgery