I’ve just developed an even deeper respect for my British expat friend V. She’s 27, knows hardly any German, and moved to Vienna alone…! She’s had to do everything by herself – rent an apartment, find a job, discover where to purchase products, figure out health insurance, etc – in a country where everything is in a foreign language.
In an earlier post, Measuring Growth, I spoke about our adventure in purchasing a sofa for her apartment and perhaps, I glazed over how nerve-wracking an experience that was. Yes, I was there to help with my limited German; however, upon delivery a few things went awry. Apartment complexes here are arranged in Stieges (sort of like towers in office or apartment building) and the deliverymen went to the wrong Stiege which meant they couldn’t find her apartment. While at the delivery center, after clearly writing her address in the delivery form, I confirmed that the deliverymen spoke English yet when ‘push-came-to-shove’, they didn’t. Imagine her horror at receiving a phone call in German, asking how to get to her apartment! Luckily, a German-speaking friend was available to lend assistance; so all’s well that end’s well.
These days, I find myself constantly confronted with my Auslander (foreigner) situation. Even with my elementary German, I find myself lost trying to find the simplest thing. For example, hubby and I enjoy cheese fondue and after searching for months, finally found a fondue set that is acceptable. If you’ve ever made fondue, you know what a pain the pots are to clean after use. Burnt, stuck-on cheese is everywhere and soaking the pot in water only releases so much. Therefore, it was imperative that we purchase a heavy, cast-iron pot (for even heating) coated in enamel (for easy clean-up) – we finally found one!
Yesterday, I’d intended to surprise hubby with fondue for dinner and hurried home with the ingredients, after an afternoon window-shopping with my friends. Window-shopping and hitting cafes may seem a frivolous, waste-of-time or a glamorous, ‘lady-that-lunches’ existence, but remember, I have no idea where anything is; thus, it is research for learning which shops offer what, where they are, what things cost, and so forth. I’ve got to learn EVERYTHING all over again and believe me, sometimes, it’s really depressing. Anyway, I got home and realized…oh, there’s no way I can make fondue tonight…I forgot to buy the burner that heats the cheese!
Today, I went to the Donauzentrum (I finally found a really nice mall!!) searching for a home-goods store (now in NY, I’d march right into Crate and Barrel or Willams and Sonoma) but none carried what I sought. I couldn’t even save time and ask the clerks if they carried the burners because I didn’t know the word for it – again frustrating and depressing. (Now I know they’re called Sicherheitbrennpaste, which basically translates into Safety Combustible Paste.) After going to two other places, I found them after a 30-minute search through each aisle in Müller. Sadly, that is the highlight of my day – accomplishing a minute task.
What would take me 5 minutes in NY, took me over 2 hours here. I am happy that I’ve achieved my goal but seriously, I’m really bummed out now that the reality of my situation is setting in – I’ve got to learn EVERYTHING over again in order to regain my independence. Thus, my deep-set respect for my friend who’s conducting this adventure on her own. When things go wrong, I have family to turn to; when they don’t work out for her, she has to figure out a solution on her own.
I’ve been trying to ‘bloom where I’m planted’ but truly, it’s admiration for folks like V that’s keeping me going.