Fair warning – this is a long post.
After Friday’s big news, we’ve had a lot of good wishes, emails and questions. I thought I’d address some of those today.
Most people were surprised that we’re so unhappy in Germany, especially considering how happy all of our photo diary posts look. I talked about this briefly on Friday, but one of the main things I’ve learned while living abroad is that you can’t judge people’s lives on an hour Skype session every now and then, or on the photos or blog entries they post online.
It’s easy to smile for the camera and put aside the angst for an hour or two in the name of not worrying loved ones. But more than that, when we chat to people, we don’t want to focus on the negative. We want to catch up, laugh at inside jokes and step out of our bubble of despair for a moment.
The truth is, Germany is beautiful. Honestly, this is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever had the pleasure of discovering. We’re outdoor-people, so being in nature makes it easy to be happy. Genuinely happy, not pretend-happy. We’re surrounded by forests, rivers and parks, all of them a short walk away. And it doesn’t hurt that we don’t have to interact with anyone while outdoors.
We love a lot of things about this country. I wrote a post on that here, but I’ll recap the general gist of it for you.
As I said above, the nature aspect of this country is awe-inspiring. The fact that we don’t own a car and have to walk to get there adds to this beauty. I didn’t love that in the beginning of our stay – walking in the rain or wind or cold annoyed me. Now, I love walking, no matter the weather. There’s something magical about doing your shopping while it’s softly snowing.
The shopping is another thing I love. What we can’t find in a shop, we can order off Amazon. (And boy, do I love Amazon!) I love the ice cream shops or bakeries on every corner, the mall-less culture, the seasonal sales.
I love the random fairs, parades and social gatherings. Something is always happening somewhere in Germany. I love the old architecture, the castles and manor houses, just as much as I love the modern buildings, strange sculptures and fountains.
Germany is so well placed that Belguim, the Netherlands, England and France are only a few hours’ drive away. Or a train ride. Or a flight. In the past two years, we’ve travelled and experienced so much – those experiences have moulded us into better people. Not to mention inspired many scenes for novels. 😛
So what makes us unhappy? I can narrow it down to three main things: the people, the bureaucracy and the weather.
Of course this is based on our unique circumstances. I’m certain many other people love living in Germany and haven’t had some of the bad experiences we have. Maybe we just have extremely bad luck, you know? I’m not trying to upset anyone, I just want to explain why it is that we’ve decided to move on.
The weather is a simple point to clarify. We come from a land of abundant sunshine and now live in a country with loads of rain. The summer isn’t supposed to be wet and cold, though this season has been exactly that. Seasonal depression is real in this place.
The beurocracy is another huge annoyance. Before we moved here, my father met a German living in South Africa, who said he’d never go back because Germany is over-regulated. We have a running joke about filling out forms in triplicate or bleeding to death of paper cuts.
Though I still get sad when I have to take my vitamin D supplement due to a lack of sunlight, these are little things to cope with in the face of all the positive aspects of living here.
The dealbreaker is the people.
We’ve met a handful of Germans who are really extraordinary. They’ve gone out of their way to help us find our feet, to explain how things work here and to be friendly. Unfortunately, this group comes down to Jan’s colleagues (and most of them aren’t German) and two families – our landlords and someone we almost sub-let an apartment from.
The people here are unfriendly as a rule. People don’t engage in small talk, make eye contact or smile. That’s fine. It could be that they’re shy, or had a bad day, or are reserved. I get that. I also get that I’m from South Africa, where people tend to fall off the other side of the spectrum – being friendly is the norm in SA.
What I don’t understand is the lack of common courtesy. Like saying you’re sorry when you bump into someone, or if not us, at least apologising to Kayla when attempting to walk through her. Too many times, she’s been practically trampled, without the trampler even looking back to see the damage. She once had a shiner because a lady hit her with a handbag in passing (and said lady just kept walking).
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been shoved off trains, how many times we’ve had blue shins from shopping carts being rammed into us, or how many other battle scars we leave with after basically every trip out of our apartment. And I’m not being overly dramatic here. Everyone who’s come to visit us has commented on the same problem.
Those mothers who have tried to start a conversation in the park have always been Turkish-German. Those children who have played with Kayla share that nationality. No blond, blue-eyed people have reached out to us, with the exception of the extraordinary folk I mentioned above. And again, this isn’t some sort of exaggeration – this has been our experience 100% of the time.
I remember one scorching day last August as if it were yesterday. Kayla was three months from her third birthday. We were going to our local water playground, very excited because it was one of our first alone-trips on the train. We stopped at the Euro Store on the way and picked up a small bucket and beach toys for Kayla. I remember the way she carried that yellow bucket, chest puffed out and smiling like only a two-year-old can, swinging her new most prized possession from side to side. I also remember the confusion and disappointment on her face as she went from child to child, holding out her bucket and asking, “You wanna play with me?”
Some children literally packed up their stuff and ran away. Some turned their backs on her. Some ignored her. Not a single one played with her. (I wish I could say this was an isolated incident.) So I played with her, explaining all the while that the other children just didn’t understand Kayla, because they were German.
I remember Kayla’s slumped shoulders when we got home that evening. She sat on her bed and looked at the carpet. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “Mama, I have no friends.”
She wasn’t yet three, and she’d already experienced major rejection too many times. Those words, spoken with slumped shoulders on the bed, almost broke me.
As a mother, I felt I was failing her. We had tried so hard to find a kindergarten for her. We had jumped through all of the damn hoops, but had gotten nowhere. We went to parks so she could be with other kids, but I couldn’t force any of those children to play with Kayla.
I had been bitterly unhappy before that day, but I think that was the day I stopped trying to be friendly too. From there on, I didn’t want to smile on the train. I didn’t want to make German friends. I’d been a little reclusive before that point, but had always kept trying to get Kayla around other kids. I have to admit I stopped that too. We went to the park when the other children were in class and left when they came out to play. I didn’t want her to get that hurt again.
If you read Friday’s post, you know that Jan and I have been made fun of, yelled at and treated poorly on many occasions before the Bucket Incident. Hell, there were other incidents involving Kayla, but – while incredibly sad – none of them shook me like this one did. For us to be unhappy was one thing, but for our daughter to be unhappy was a completely different story.
I don’t want her to grow up German. I don’t want her light to dull. Despite two years of basically never being answered when she shouts ‘Hi!’ to everyone passing her in the streets, Kayla hasn’t stopped trying. Despite the Bucket Incident, she still goes to every child she meets and asks if they want to play. I don’t know how she does it.
I look at her and wish I had that strength. And Jan and I knew we needed to raise her in a less toxic environment in order for her to keep being Kayla.
Will all of our problems be solved in Canada? I doubt it. I’ve heard of the mosquitos and the cold and *insert problem here*. But ask anyone, anywhere in the world, and they’ll tell you Canadians are super friendly and super polite as a rule. Kayla-people. Formerly, Jan-and-Yolandie-people.
We want to get our spark back and preserve Kayla’s spark. That’s why we’re moving.