30 September 2007

Staying sane as an expat without language skills

It's probably a pretty common plaint, but coming to Germany without a word of German (what was I thinking with 4 years of Latin and 4 of French?) it's almost frighteningly isolating to never hear an adult word that I can understand.

I am tremendously grateful that L and my parents have allowed me to set up a Slingbox at their house. That, added to a separate cable box with DVR, has allowed me to watch American TV and movies at my discretion. The only drawback is that the operating system is inferior to that of TiVo so it is more difficult to actually look up and plan for movies. So if anyone sees anything out there on HBO, Cinemax, SciFi, etc that they think I might like to watch, please drop me an e-mail and I can set the DVR to tape it. I’m very grateful to have family to allow me to use their connection because there is a professional organization that does this that actually maintains your own box and satellite dish and then charges an additional monthly fee for the privilege and I could never have justified the cost of doing that (until I went insane, I guess…).

14 September 2007

A new apartment and swimming through the red tape

While trolling the internet I ran across an apartment and the German leaped on it on Monday.
We are at my in-laws now, and yesterday registered myself and the children and the German's married status with the state. Today we got photos for the children and applied for their German passports. We splurged on the type required for the US, which is more expensive than the ordinary child’s passport. We also took photos of myself and the German for drivers’ licenses, but won’t be able to do that until next week, as the DMV was open only a half day today.

The saga of the container has been thrilling and chilling in terms of the utter lack of coordination and total messed-up-ness of its journey, but we hope to see it here next Friday and with it not only our bicycles but also our warm clothes: We have been freezing ever since we got here as we left behind 90+F weather and came here to the 60F and below chilly, dank, frequently rainy city of Berlin. The two light jackets I brought with me were not enough and the ch ildrenare rotating between only a few pairs of warm clothes as their shorts and tees are not useful.

08 September 2007

A nice interlude, street fair

Was leaving the REWE ( a supermarket) when we ran into Berlin Lacht, stage w/comedians , actors and musicians surrounded by drinks and eats booths. The supermarket is the in Kulturbraueri http://www.bilderbook.org/berlin/kulturbrauerei/pictures/.

Was very fun: I’m glad Thing1 asked that we stop. The German and Thing2went home a bit before us because T1wanted an alkoholfrei drink and we stayed to watch the magician set his hair on fire and chat with some Berliners. Was the first time I’ve spoken to another adult (other than the German) in 10 days and really appreciated it.

05 September 2007

The first week

Well, we are here in Berlin, in an area formerly east of the wall called Prinzlauer-Berg. It’s a bit what I imagine Greenwich Village was like 70 years ago, when it was still affordable, although it probably won’t be affordable to its prior residents within the next 10 years. Very cute, but not family enough and we are hunting for short term apartments in the Charlottenberg area, which is west of the line, more settled, and with a Jewish Community Center and kindergarten that I hope to get Thing1 into. Right now we are staying in a pension, and this is the first time that I have lived without a washer/dryer at least in my building in 24 years. It’s definitely worse with children.

The trip over was better than it might have been because we upgraded to business class with miles. I went through a whole rigmarole to get Felix microchipped and get him an international health certificate and then we wound up walking through immigration with him: we realized later that the border control didn’t notice him because the German was carrying him in a soft sided container around his neck. Now we wonder whether Felix is in the country illegally… On the flight itself, Felix wound up getting out of his carrier (the silly thing was able to be pushed open unless you pinned the sides and I missed it, always having used a hard sided carrier before). The German woke me to tell me that one of the attendants had come and taken the carrier away and I rushed back to see why only to discover F being dandled and pampered by an attendant who said that she had found him in the aisle: luckily, they were all cat lovers. And everyone was very nice to us in business class: definitely worth the upgrade.

I’m online because (old East) Berlin has free (slow) wireless, because there is no landline in the flat and although I might have gone insane without internet, we won’t get broadband until we are in a real apartment.

So far my culture shock has been primarily that even Germany moves at a molasses pace compared to the US. I mean, I knew it because German HR was so darned slow, but nothing beats walking into a Citibank to open an account (we have one in the US to facilitate international transfers) only to discover that one needs to make an appointment and that the earliest one can get is two days away. Or that it will take 4 weeks to get a landline, if we decide to get one, or to install DSL. And I couldn’t be part of the bank account because I am not yet registered with a “permanent” address here in Germany, even though I have a certified copy of my marriage certificate and my passport and the German already had a registered address (with his parents). There’s more, but I need to digest…