Part 1: the Event of Eating and Negotiating Personal Space

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series 5 Things You Need to Know Before Moving to Europe

I ended up moving to Spain three years ago after I graduated university with a BA in English and not many job prospects. I had heard about a job teaching English in a bilingual school and thought it would be a good way to get out of my extremely small Texas town, explore Europe, and also make some money while I was at it. After two years in Madrid learning how to be a Spaniard I was accepted into grad school at the University of Bamberg in Germany. I arrived in Bamberg nearly a year ago and have now had the opportunity to learn how a different country lives. While Europe might not seem like a huge culture shock when compared to the U.S., there were a few things that took some getting used to; there were some distinctions I noticed right away while others were more unexpected — like how much easier it is to travel in Europe than it is in the U.S.

Bamberg, Germany: just how everyone imagines these 'chocolate box' towns to look. (Photographer: Ethan Prater; Flickr)

Bamberg, Germany: just how everyone imagines these ‘chocolate box’ towns to look. (Photographer: Ethan Prater; Flickr)

Food

When I first moved to Spain I didn’t worship food as much as the Spanish would have liked me to. I am used to going into a restaurant, ordering my food, and eating. Servers are also quite different when compared across continents, which all comes down to how much they are paid. In the U.S., servers work for tips; I think the minimum wage for restaurant staff is around $2.13 (€1.94) per hour, and because of this, customers are treated quite differently than in Europe. Servers hardly leave you alone, and wait on you hand and foot. That is, until you have finished eating. As soon as you are done, your waiter comes and gives you the bill. This is the signal that they are finished with you and are ready for a new group of people — more guests equals more tips.

In Spain, eating is an EVENT. The servers don’t bother you, only to deliver food, and you can stay as long as you want. Dinner involves multiple courses and bottles of wine that last until early in the morning, which is normal, since the Spanish don’t start eating dinner until 9 or 10 at night. That particular time-change took a lot of getting used to seeing as from the time of my birth, I ate dinner at 6 — or maybe even 7 if we were feeling particularly crazy. Even breakfast, where I would normally grab a pastry and coffee to go and eat on my commute, was fuel for millions of angry, confused eyes on me.

Lingering over meals and getting stuck in to food (often sharing) is one of the many advantages of eating in Spain. (Photographer: Christian Van Der Henst S.; Flickr)

Lingering over meals and getting stuck in to food (often sharing) is one of the many advantages of eating in Spain. (Photographer: Christian Van Der Henst S.; Flickr)

Apart from that, I also learned that Germany is a country made for eating outside. Growing up, once or twice a year, (let’s be honest, July 4th and Thanksgiving), my family would eat outside on the patio, and we would hardly ever eat outside if we went out for dinner. Restaurants don’t really have outdoor seating, so it’s something new for me to have hundreds of outdoor tables to choose from. It makes the country feel more like a community, instead of individual groups of people who just happen to all be in the same place, which is how it feels in the U.S.

Personal Space

Germany also has a tradition of sharing tables in beer gardens or restaurant patios. This was an adjustment that was somewhat difficult for me, seeing as my bubble of personal space is something that I protect with every fibre of my being — I find a simple handshake the best form of interaction. For some European countries, a handshake seems to come off more as an insult than a greeting. In Spain, double kisses to every person in the room is the norm — and when I say every person, I mean every person.  Continue reading

Share
Christine und Hagen Graf

Part 2: Communicating, Travelling and Living

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series 5 Things You Need to Know Before Moving to Europe

Language

Something I didn’t expect to feel so strongly about when I left the U.S., and something that still makes me quite anxious, is language. I come from a country which bears the privilege of never having to learn another language. I resent the fact that I quit learning Spanish after the necessary two years in college, and never thought to pick it back up. Luckily, both countries I’ve lived in have been so welcoming and willing to help me learn. Learning another language is tough, however, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Learning a new language isn't just about ordering drinks and asking for directions. It's hard work, and involves a lot of pronunciation hiccups, effort and mistake-making along the way.(Photographer: Steve Johnson; Flickr)

Learning a new language isn’t just about ordering drinks and asking for directions. It’s hard work, and involves a lot of pronunciation hiccups, effort and mistake-making along the way.(Photographer: Steve Johnson; Flickr)

I once read that if you moved to another country and immersed yourself for three months, you can become fluent. Maybe this was true in days gone by but it sure isn’t anymore — the world is very different now. Technology allows me to get all my news in English, negating the need to read a morning paper in whatever language you’re trying to learn. The world is much more international; the majority of my friends are from all over the world, so we speak in English. Unfortunately, this spills over to everyone else — I speak with my German boyfriend, his family, and my German friends, in English. I’m stuck in the ‘kind-of-able-to-communicate-with-people’ grey area between being unable to say anything and fluency, but I still feel incredibly guilty not being able to talk with someone in their own language or the language of the country I’m living in.

Travelling

Transportation is, hands down, the biggest difference I’ve found between Europe and the U.S. Okay sure, maybe cities like New York or Chicago have modes of transportation similar to what you would find in Europe, but coming from a small town in Texas, the differences are overwhelming and, honestly, the best part about the move. For example, the world of buses, trains, and bikes is completely new to me. When I moved to Bamberg this year, which rivals Amsterdam on the number of bikes a city can hold, I soon realised my life would be easier if I bought one. Please bear in mind that the last time I was on a bike I was probably about six years old — I didn’t know how to share the road with cars and pedestrians! Buses were also new to me, I didn’t know you were supposed to push the stop button when you wanted to get off, I just assumed the bus stopped at every stop, every time! You see, I’m from a town of about 6,000 people. You would think that our main mode of transportation would be bikes or walking but that’s far from the truth.

When many people think of Texas, they think of Houston. It's easy to forget that many Texans live hours and hours away from the state's capital. (Photographer: Katie Haugland; Flickr)

When many people think of Texas, they think of Houston. It’s easy to forget that many Texans live hours and hours away from the state’s capital and have little access to other major towns and cities. (Photographer: Katie Haugland; Flickr)

In Texas, if you don’t have a car, you’re stranded. The closest grocery store to my house is about an hour walk, and that’s pretty much all we have in my town. A bike wouldn’t work because 1) we don’t have pavements or bike lanes and 2) the entire route would be along a highway. Buses are nonexistent — I think there might be one bus that goes into Houston (the closest big city to me) but the stop is a four hour walk away from my house. Don’t even get me started on trains; I didn’t even see a passenger train in person until I moved to New York when I was 19. We just don’t have public transportation, and honestly, I think the 5th generation Texans who I share a hometown with would avidly avoid anything even remotely different than what they’re used to. Continue reading

Share