Q&A: Working and Living as a Foreigner in Germany

by Christina Geyer on May 20, 2010 · 38 comments

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No real change in how I’ve been feeling (pretty lousy), except you can add killer heartburn that often keeps me up half the night to my symptoms.  The plan is still that I’ll be induced in 1-2 weeks.  Until then, I thought I’d finally get around to answering some more questions.

Michael M. wrote:

I’m a Ph.D student in engineering in the states, and I am thinking of moving to Germany after I finish. I’m fluent in German, and I’ve worked there before and enjoyed it. However, I was wondering if you think, as a foreigner, it would be difficult or impossible for me to be promoted over time to a higher-level position in a German company, as I would in a company back here? Would I always be the foreigner, and never really get anywhere?

My work experience is limited to science and pharmaceuticals, but I don’t think you would have a problem advancing in the workplace as a foreigner.  My boss three levels up in the pharmaceutical company was Indian-British.  I think the more important factor is how well you can adjust to German work culture and customs.  Are you adaptable enough to play the game their way, rather than the American way? If you are, you should be fine.

That being said, there are a lot of engineers in Germany, whereas statisticians (my field) are in high demand, so I don’t know how that might affect your prospects.  Maybe some of my other readers have more insight into the field of engineering.  Anyone else have an opinion on this?

Alex M. asked:

Comparing yourself with other (white) American Expats in Germany that you talked to, what differences in your experiences, your treatment or the general attitude towards you, based on the fact that you are Asian American, did you ever encounter?

I’m really curious about that one, since it’s a fact that there aren’t as many people of asian descent in Germany and that hence people aren’t as used to seeing asians (or also blacks) as they might be in the US. It’s a question of even more relevance to me, since my girlfriend is Asian American, and I was wondering, what problems she might face if she’d ever decide to live in Germany.

Another one: Are there maybe even differences in treatment depending on which state/region an American Expat in Germany is from (East Coast, West Coast, South, Midwest)???

When I lived in the former East (the first 5 years I lived in Germany were spent living in Berlin, Rostock and Potsdam), I felt I was definitely treated differently because I was Asian/mixed-race.  Even with well-meaning Germans, when I was asked where I was from and I replied, “I’m from America” or “I’m American,” they would often say, while raising their voices because clearly I was confused by the original question, “No, what country in the Americas are you from?” or “No, I meant where were you born?”  It got to the point that I started answering the “Where are you from?” question with, “I’m a US-American” (that is, “Ich bin US-Amerikanerin”).

I was never threatened physically, but in Berlin, I had a Japanese friend who was chased through Alexanderplatz in the afternoon by a group of teenage boys who yelled and threw apples at her and no one intervened.  I also knew a Korean man in one of my German classes who was harassed by a group of middle-aged men who threw lit firecrackers at him (and it wasn’t New Years Eve).

In Potsdam, while walking our dog, I was stopped and asked on several occasions where I lived/whether I lived in that neighborhood (we lived in a middle/upper-middle class neighborhood next door to government housing).  There were people who would cross to the other side of the street when they saw me coming (they’d cross back after I passed, so it was pretty obvious what was going on), some even hid!   I very much felt unwelcome there.  These weren’t “former East Germans” who were giving me trouble either.  This was a Berlin commuter community that was built in the 90s, so the residents were mostly “West Germans” who had relocated since the fall of the Wall, to the Berlin/Potsdam area.  Here’s a post I made about my feelings at the time.

I found a pig nose once in my garden in Rostock and someone in our neighborhood in Potsdam was leaving poisoned meat outside our door in an attempt to poison our dog.  Charlie was chronically ill the whole time we lived there and we spent a fortune in vet bills.  I would go out and check the area in front of our door before taking him out and didn’t ever see him eat anything, but as soon as we moved to Bavaria, his health problems disappeared.  Just to clarify, I kept him on-leash and scooped his poop, unlike most of the neighbors with dogs.

Now, I don’t know how much of this stuff was just a couple of rotten neighbors and how much was “German/Prussian mentality,” but I’ve been very happy in the Regensburg area and haven’t felt treated any differently here.  I’ve reverted back to answering the “Where are you from?” question with just saying, “I’m American,” and have never once been questioned on that.  In fact, many people guess I’m American first and ask where in the US I’m from, just based on my accent.

I was never really happy living in the former East, although I was adjusting to it, but I almost immediately fell in love with Bavaria.  I don’t have a lot of experience with other areas of Germany, except for the Eifel, Mosel Valley and Rhineland, where my in-laws live, which also seem fine, so I don’t know how I would feel about living in northwest or southwest Germany.

As far as whether Americans from different regions are treated differently here, I really don’t think so.

But that’s just my experiences.  Does anyone else have stories or opinions on this you’d like to share?

  • http://www.dackelprincess.com Maribeth

    Amazing. I would never have thought about Asians being treated differently, or Blacks or other nationalities. I guess I’m just a colorblind (ethnic blind) American.
    I knew you had an Asian background, but just never considered you anything but American.
    This is how I raised my daughter too.
    In fact the only question on the Census form that I didn’t like was the one about ethnicity. Although I am from a German/English/Scottish heritage, I refuse to put that down as “who” I am. I’m just an American.
    Anyway, I do love Bavaria as well. I have friends in Berg, and Auf Kirchen. But my best friend is an East Berliner, who is like a sister to me.
    Another great post!
    .-= Maribeth´s last blog ..Random Dozen =-.

  • Jentry

    Hey there! Great post and thought I would add a thought. Coming from Texas, I felt that at the beginning when people learned of this, I was automatically stereotyped as a crazy Bush-loving republican. I actually had someone blame me for Bush becoming president the second time. So, when people asked me where in the US I was from, I would always say, “I’m from Texas, but I don’t like Bush”. This always seemed to smooth things over and then I wouldn’t have any problems.

    That sucks about what your lovely neighbors tried to do to Charlie! I am glad he is safe now in good ol’ Bavaria!

  • http://www.elmada.com/ tqe | Adam

    I might note that Cathy up in Erfurt has had some unhappy experiences as an obvious ethnic minority living in Thüringen.
    .-= tqe | Adam´s last blog ..It’s American Week at Lidl =-.

  • Rz

    Thanks for another great post. I visited the Schleswig-Holstein region last year and did not experience any unfortunate incidents (I am Asian) and for that, I feel fortunate. I got some curious stares but nothing that made me feel uncomfortable. The shopkeepers were nice even with my limited German and no, I am but a budget tourist.

    Anyway, I do have a question about working as a foreigner in Germany. My field is in clinical research and I have been eyeing some jobs. Some require fluency in German while others don’t or don’t say. Did you find your job through an American company? Any tips on job hunting for a non-German speaker who is willing to learn?

  • Bopper

    I have the opposite problem…I see “black” people in Germany and automatically think they are American (as in African-Americans) …where more likely they are actually from Africa.

    -an American in Erlangen

  • exPATations

    as an american living in the frankfurt area i cannot say i have ever had any of the problems christina has described and am shocked, to say the least. frankfurt is very multi-cultural and for close to around 60 years the americans were a part of daily life in this area of hessen. having an american around isnt strange to native germans here. being from pennsylvania has not influenced how i was treated. folks do ask often where i am from in the states. i have an apartment i own and have a house full of wonderfully friendly and considerate, helpful and caring neighbors. i am sorry to say i dont have many people i can call real friends. i guess this has to do mostly with my daily routine: work and then there is more work and chores and…did i mention that i work? i find germans tend to keep others at a distance. they have a larger radius of comfort. americans get closer when they talk to each other and may put a hand on the other persons shoulder or arm without feeling uncomfortable about it. the comfy distance here is at least a half meter away. they arent spontaneous when it comes to visiting and it seems they need 2 weeks notice for everything. i really miss that kind of heartfelt family closeness although i am sure that is not necesssarily always missing in all families. in my family we would shake hands until i introduced “the hug”. now we do it all the time and it feels better. as a matter of fact the whole family does it now.
    jobs? well i used to think you had to have all kinds of recommendations and schooling but times have changed. quite a few companies arent really interested in grades or evaluations. if you have expirience you can have a chance to show what you can do. its just that simple. so you see, not having that german seal of approval on your backside doesnt mean you havent got a chance here. knowing the language certainly helps but you may have luck and find one of those rare jobs where you need your english more than any german. youll have more luck in big cities. try the airport, in hotels, or contacting companies that you know are british or american. there is an american chamber of commerce here in frankfurt that can help you also with local and germany-wide job opportunties. they have a net page: http://www.amcham.de that is quite helpfull with tips on what you will need to get settled.
    i am, i guess what one would call fluent in german. the grammar is the one thing i will never really figure out although i usually can tell when it sounds right. my bosses are very tolerant when i need to write something and are willing to proof read my work. that works fine for all of us. and to comment on the question above, i have never felt like i was not being promoted because of my nationality. all places i have worked had employees from many nations. you may remain being a foreigner because you are one! thats nothing negative and doesnt mean you cant be an important part of the team or be accepted by others. be confident in yourself and be outgoing. know what you can do and what you want, get perspectives straight and set goals. its really no different than in the states. if youre interested in a job, asking any questions is still free…
    i spoke german fluently as a small child so picking it back up wasnt too hard. it took some time to get accustomed to the dialects. reading was first, then understanding what folks were saying. after that the next challenge was forming a sentence. when you start to think in german and you can keep up with the TV or radio, youre good to go. there are german courses all over. even here in my village there is one in the church nearby that is just for women of all nationalities. they use english to communicate in the classes.
    christina, time is sneaking up on you. i can imagine you will be glad when its over with. the last weeks just drag on endlessly…i remember my sister had the same problem as you have with the heart burn. she would eat soda crackers. i think thats about the same thing as saltines that you may be able to pick up in your local asian specialties shop. they have them there here in frankfurt…my daughter had it also and she got those bullrich salt (mineral) tablets that regulate stomach aciditiy. they helped her really well! ask your doc first if that would be alright for you to take. wishing you all the best! keep us up on the latest news!

  • Alex M.

    That was some hard stuff, Christina. I wasn’t expecting any answer even close to what you wrote. I’m sorry if I opened up old wounds again.
    I never witnessed any discriminating actions in my home region around Bielefeld (North West). Though stereotyping is bad, but it seems to have some foundation in reality. One hears news stories of incidents especially in the eastern states. But I would never have imagined it to be that bad.
    I always tell myself I will stand up against such people and raise my voice. I hear stories like yours, But never witnessed one myself, so that i couldn’t put my “Zivilcourage” to the test yet.
    I am just disgusted by the behaviour of the people you told us about. I’m glad you now seem to live in a place where you feel comfortable.

    I was now also wondering how reactions were, when you were walking around with Rainer at your side. Considering the stories you presented us with, I don’t expect the discrimination stopped when he was around.

  • http://www.amiexpat.com Christina Geyer

    @Maribeth: Thanks :)

    @Jentry: I had a guy in Berlin accuse me, personally, of starting the Iraq War, so it wasn’t just a Texan thing, although now that I think of it, I have heard of a few southerners feeling the need to defend themselves against southern stereotypes. Potsdam is a very lovely city, but some of my neighbors there sucked big time.

    @Adam: Thanks for giving the link, I had forgotten about her post and it’s a good example.

    @Rz: No, I worked for a German company. I just got email addresses from my contacts (mainly my husband) for people who might be interested and sent out 10 US-style CVs (in English). My husband told me not to bother making a German CV. I ended up having 10 interviews and 10 offers. I did send my CV to the HR department of the company I ended up working for additionally, and after I was hired by my department head, who I had directly emailed, I got a form letter from HR that there were no suitable positions for me. So I’d advise trying to directly contact the people you eventually want to work for, if possible, rather than going through HR. Mention in your cover letter that you don’t speak German but are learning/willing to learn. Then it will depend on if they have an opening and if there are no Germans/Europeans that have the same qualifications. Good luck!

    @Bopper: I still sometimes feel uneasy describing someone as “Black” rather than “African American.” The PC terms were so ingrained into me, but they don’t really work here.

    @exPATations: I think exposure to Americans is a big part of it. There are several bases around where we live now, and the people in this area are used to Americans and the range of colors we come in. I think in the former Eastern states, there is just not that much exposure to what Americans look like, other than what they see on dubbed American sitcoms.

    @Alex: No old wounds opened 😉 I didn’t notice rude or odd behavior so much when Rainer and I were together. But I also usually tried to ignore that kind of stuff and maybe I was just better at ignoring it when I had Rainer around to distract me. I’ll have to ask him if he remembers any discrimination. I know he did comment a couple times on odd behavior towards me, but I don’t think either of us considered it due to racism, just to people with no social skills.

  • http://www.arashi-kishu-world.blogspot.com Cathy

    May I add, I also sound American (to the Germans), but despite the accent, most people think I’m Vietnamese, the largest ethnic Asian minority in Erfurt, relics of the socialist era. I’ve had someone in my class say, “that Vietnamese teacher who keeps on talking about the Philippines” or just overheard this morning between a grandpa and his granddaughter:
    Granddaughter: “She’s speaking English to her baby. He’s cute!”
    Grandpa: “She can’t speak English, she’s Vietnamese!”

  • miette

    Re: @Jentry: I had a guy in Berlin accuse me, personally, of starting the Iraq War, so it wasn’t just a Texan thing, although now that I think of it, I have heard of a few southerners feeling the need to defend themselves against southern stereotypes.

    Unfortunately that is simply a human problem. There always seem to be a certain percentage of idiots keeping us all “entertained” with their accusations of who is to blame for the ills of the world. Being both German and American I get my fair share of it. Just last week at a party in Berlin of all places I had someone hold me responsible for the acts of all Neo-Nazis/Nazis and the holocaust (by bloodline) after he realized I had somehow “infiltrated” this American party. That’s just to balance the stereotypical Anti-American stuff I usually hear at parties especially when people don’t realize I’m also American. Oh well, idiots happen to the best of societies.

  • Rz

    Thanks for the very helpful suggestions!

    Stories like this frustrate me and at the same time, scare me. That fear could turn into aggression towards the aggressor, which is fruitless. Most of my adventures in Europe were done as a solo female traveller. People here in the U.S. always asked me why I did that and if it was a scary experience. Maybe I am naive or oblivious but somehow I was lucky enough not to have any unfortunate incidents.

    Like Cathy, I am Filipino but am constantly mistaken as Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc. In Paris, for example, a group of young rugrats called out, “Ni hao ma?” and started laughing. This is stupid of me but I came up to them and said, “Je ne suis pas Chinois. Je suis Philippine (sp).” They just listened. I think it’s not as fun for them when you don’t get angry or run away or something. Of course, they were just having fun on my account vs. having violent intentions. You just never know, which is why it was probably stupid of me to have done that.

  • Lisa

    In my experience the stigma of being American isn’t so difficult, even a southern American post Bush era. But as an overweight American in a small German town life is hard. My nationality may have been tolerated or treated with indifference but not my appearance, apparently, and for the first time in my life I’m experiencing outright hostility not for who I am, but what I look like.

  • Kim

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Christina. My fiance (who is German) and I are preparing to move and I am very nervous how people will react to me, as a blasian. I currently work for a German company and have not had any problems so far, but am worried about random interactions. I’ve heard as long as you speak German, you will be ok.

  • http://www.amiexpat.com Christina Geyer

    I find many people, Germans and Americans, although they recognize my accent as American, can’t figure out my ethnicity. Germans around here seem pretty good at figuring out I’m part Asian, but a lot of people in the former east thought I was either Vietnamese, or just as often, Central or South American. In the US, I got asked a lot if I was Hawaiian, and I was also often mistaken for Hispanic (and experienced some of the rudeness that white and black Americans have towards Hispanics, so I think Americans aren’t as “colorblind” as they think they are).

    I also had groups of teenagers yell at me in foreign languages while I was living in the US, so it happens on both sides of the pond. I had a group of black teenagers follow me a block and a half in Richmond yelling that they wanted me to “love them long time.” I just ignored them and walked as fast as I could, but I was freaked out.

    I’ve travelled semi-alone plenty in Europe and think that it’s safe enough. Before we had kids, I would go along with Rainer to conferences. We were often just sharing a hotel room and I was on my own exploring the city all day. I also travelled for work on my own and never felt uneasy about it.

    I agree with Lisa about weight. Although I think simply being overweight isn’t that bad, at least here in Bavaria, most of the women in the village I live in are not svelte in the least. But I was pretty shocked to be showing around an obese relative and notice the extremely unfriendly stares she got.

  • GermanintheUS

    Hello, I think this is a very interesting discussion. I would like to add a couple of thoughts too.

    Christina, I am sorry what happened to you in terms of racism. Some people are just plain stupid. They need to put other people down so that they can feel better about themselves. Unfortunately, I had my own experiences with racism here in America. Before I talk about this, I would like to say that most people here are excited when I tell them that I am from Germany. People that have been to Germany love to tell me about their fantastic and memorable experiences in my old home country. This always makes me proud.

    However, like I mentioned earlier I did have some ugly experiences. My first job was in a restaurant. It was not a nice job but it was a way to earn some first money here in the States. I made some friends there right away but some of the people there were really nasty. Of course, every employee there figured out very fast that I was from Germany. Not a day went by when I was not reminded of the holocaust or the Nazis. I got often greeted with the words: Achtung Blitzkrieg! Those people there thought it was hilarious and when I complained about this I got responses like: Oh you Germans don’t have a sense of humor. I tried to explain how serious this topic is treated in Germany but people did not believe me. Some people there were sure that the Germans do not want to talk about this and that they would act like this would never have happened.

    I worked at this place for two years. I needed the job. I looked for other jobs of course and I found a much better job eventually. I had some good times there too but being constantly reminded of the Germany’s past or being accused of being a Nazi was too much for me. I am a student of history and nobody hates the Nazis more than I do.

    I love my life in the States and I am glad I am not called a Nazi anymore. It was just a little rocky start here. On the outside, I am a white, protestant man. Nobody can see that I am not from the States originally and I guess this is an advantage. I am sure it is much harder for people who look different on the outside. Especially in Germany where the idea of multiculturalism is still kind of new.

  • exPATations

    i have read the comments about the weight thing…these days you see more and more germans that arent exactly watching their intake on calories. i see womans magazines with weekly articles about losing weight and on the next page they are introducing the new recipes, all of course calorie free. i find a new growing interest for big and beautifuls, not only the twiggy model figured woman have a chance now to make it on that title page. i have seen documentaries of america where they show the (i mean really) fat population and ride around on the fact that there are miles of fast food shops, one after the other (dont think thats exactly something to be proud of and does make me wonder) hardly ever a mention of regional or ethnic specialties. AMERICA is a huge melting pot of so many cultures, it just seems it was so important to our ancestors to pass on the traditions they took with them to that new world. seems germans believe an american is born a fast food junky, so often trying to convice me we have no culture whatsoever, existing on chips and coke. it brings my blood to a boil!
    anyone else run up against this fixed idea about life on the other side of the pond?

  • exPATations

    (the “calorie-free” comment about the recipes above was meant sarcastically of course!)

  • Michael M.


    Thank you so much for answering my question.

    I am so sorry about your experiences with Charlie being poisoned and this “pig nose” incident. That is one of the most obscene things I’ve heard done to someone, ever. Incredible. I feel sick even thinking about what must go through someone’s mind to do such a thing.

    I’m curious though as to what your feelings are when people become surprised when you said that you are American, as if you’re leaving out information or misleading them. Do you feel offended, or most of the time do these people mean no harm? Also, why do you think some do this? I think most anyone should know by now that Americans are not just white and black. This reminds me of an incident last night in which my father was watching the final episode of Lost and told me over the phone “You know Jin and Sun? They speak great English!” I’m like, “Yeah, they’re American! You know, like us!” (Well, Jin anyway). I just try to put myself in his shoes having grown up in the 50’s when American really was all white and black. However, I can certainly understand such a comment would be offensive. Unfortunately, I have some Indian friends who were born and raised here, but still use “American” to refer to just white people, as if they are not part of society. It is very disconcerting. Perhaps if TV and film were more multicultural (I think it is becoming that way).


    I’m so sorry for your experience of course, and I hope it is an unusual experience for you. My feeling is that these were very immature young people. I cannot imagine experienced restaurant staff of middle age behaving this way. May I ask where this was, and how old these colleagues were? I certainly can’t think of anyone respectable that would behave like that. Do you think they meant it in a joking way or did they truly not like you? Of course, since it is offensive to you it does not matter, but I’m curious what their intent was. Unfortunately, despite Germany being the America of the late-19th and early 20th century in the sense of being the cultural and economic center of the world, it is the tragedies of WWII which have erased all of that in most minds around the world. Even as someone born and raised American, I am a little apprehensive about saying I can speak German. There is still a little stigma, but still less stigma than speaking Russian I suppose…


  • Michael M.

    Also, GermanintheUS, your comment “nobody hates the Nazis more than I do” struck a chord with me. Through traveling to, discussions with others about, and reading contemporary news of various countries, I strongly feel that Germany and Japan are now and have for quite some time been the most pacifist countries on the planet. I think this fact is highly under-recognized by many people.

  • Michael M.

    Also, completely unrelated here, but what was your research area in Statistics back in the day? I ask because my research is in Communications and Signal Processing, and almost everything I do is soaked in statistical models. I’ve taken a liking to all of it!

  • GermanintheUS

    @Michael M:

    Yes, some of the people who made those immature jokes were rather young. However, I don’t think this is an excuse. It is a sign of disrespect and everyone should be respectful to other people. No matter how old or young you are.

    I really made some great friends there. I just have the impression that a lot of Americans don’t know how Germany handled its past and I wish this would be more promoted over here. I guess a lot of people get their ideas about other countries from movies. There are a lot of WW II movies and I can see that some people get their ideas about Germany from these movies.

    I also did have some interesting discussions with some people who were interested in the German point of view and wanted to know how Germany handled things like the Holocaust or the war in general. I am fascinated by history and I love to talk about this.

    There were no more Nazi incidents in a long time. I am grateful for that. I established some close friends and I feel very happy here with everything. 😉 The United States is a great country that I learned to love.

  • Michael M.

    I am very happy to hear your story. May I ask how long you have been in the US and what part of the country do you live in?


  • Eric

    My eyes were wide open when I read about your experiences in Potsdam. I just felt sorry and also alienated, that is not the germany I know. I always felt there is no “germany” or “the germans” but several countries within this country. It’s always been like that, historically. But during the last generations this was more and more depicted as, what germans call, “Kleinstaaterei” (could be roughly translated with “localism”) – which is supposed to sound negative. It is absurd that centralism comes across as something desirable in a country which consists of so many “tribes” (the best term I can think of).

    Just as all sorts of dialects were stigmatized as proof of a lack of language skills, as if “high german” (Hochdeutsch) was something noble and shining and dialect something raunchy. I guess my point is, there is a certain kind of people in germany, mostly in the northern part, which try to extinct all variety and demean extremly arrogantly and rude. Part of my family is american based, they can’t even speak german and live overseas. But I am a born and raised german/bavarian – that’s how I feel, despite my mixed herritage. But I sometimes get the notion im a second-class citizen ’cause I speak dialect – proudly and deliberately – and foster local traditions.

    And make no mistake, when I am in Hamburg or Berlin and I just rush into a little store and greet the staffers in my friendly dialect they will react rude, patronizing, agressive. I was yelled at more than once, once in the subway in Berlin I even was shoved aside with the comment “Bazi” (it’s a derogatory term for people from bavaria) when that guy would hear my accent from talking on the phone, telling my family when I’d return home.

    Yes the prussians and east germans are to me, yes this is purely subjective and biased, absolutely unlikable. Short and crisp: I just cannot stand them. My bias stems from alot of very negative experiences and is, sadly, again and again confirmed.

    But you know how political correctness is, there were people announcing on national media that east germany was a “no-go area” before the soccer world cup in 2006. Instead of discussing racism and the sheer lack of hospitality and upbringing of the people there, what happened? The message-bearer was bashed and east germans once more could wallow in self-pity.

    Well, and it is visible that I have latin-american herritage as well (25%), slightly but visible. I often get asked where my parents came from, what it is like there, if I spoke fluent english/spanish…yes, that way I am treated a little differently than your average german-joe. But this kind of interest is nothing to worry about. I’d claim this is the kind of “special attention” that dominates, most germans are candid and just curious about other cultures, other ways of living. I can see this especially among young germans, I agree that germany’s society is in transition towards a cosmopolitan one. But there are, alas, backwarded areas.

  • Michael M.

    Christina, isn’t your husband from the former East? What did he have to say about all this absolutely flagrant and egregious discrimination when you were living in the East?


  • http://www.amiexpat.com Christina Geyer

    @germanintheUS: I’m sorry for your experiences at the restaurant, but can totally see that happening, especially with young, insensitive people. After moving here, I noticed how often Germans are the “bad guys” in movies and television shows (like Bond movies, etc). It’s unfair.

    @exPATations: I have on rare occasions run into Germans being derogatory about America’s lack of culture, rarely to my face, usually it’s from overhearing a conversation, but I haven’t encountered it so often for it to really bug me.

    @michael: I think most of the people who questioned whether I was really American didn’t mean any harm by it, and I didn’t take offense, I just got annoyed at having to explain my origins to so many people and tried to find ways to shortcut around the whole dialogue.

    My field of study was Bayesian analysis. I was working on sequential decision theory when I left school and moved to Germany. I did a little work on signal processing during a course I took on wavelets, but nothing in-depth. That’s a complicated subject, so kudos to you.

    And Rainer is from the Eifel, about half an hour from Luxembourg, near Trier. He wasn’t too fond of Berliners and Potsdamers (in general) either. In general, I didn’t have that many problems in Rostock, even though that’s where most people think I should have had more trouble because of the problems there with neo-Nazis in the 90s.

    @eric: Like I said in the paragraph just above, I didn’t have that many problems with Rostockers, and I really like Leipzig, it’s one of my favorite cities in Germany, so I don’t think it’s an East German thing. I think it’s maybe Prussian mentality that I just was never able to adjust too. I never managed to develop a Berliner Schnauze. I’ve never been to Hamburg, so can’t offer any opinion on that city.

  • GermanintheUS

    @Michael M:

    I have been living in the USA for 6 years now and I live in Pittsburgh, PA.

  • http://www.amiexpat.com Christina Geyer

    Just found the post with my reaction to the pig nose discovery in my garden in Rostock, for any interested. It’s not a very long or exciting post, and the main thing I gather from it is that I didn’t really connect it with racism at the time. I was more confused about why anyone would do that.

  • http://www.amiexpat.com Christina Geyer

    Should have thought of this last night, but I posted at the time about the poisoner as well and just added the links to these two posts into this one. This last post is more interesting than the pig nose one, and shows that my husband and I were much more unhappy with people in the neighborhood than i remember.

  • Sabrina

    That’s sick about someone trying to poison your dog, I don’t understand how anyone could do something like that.

    I’ve had it good in Hessen as an American, people here are used to it and are usually interested. Plus young people think meeting an American is cool, and they usually want to talk about how the US really is versus what they see in movies. When I was here while Bush was still in office, people weren’t as friendly. As for racism, I saw more of it when I was in the East though I never personally experienced it. Something that always gets me is the reaction a friend of mine gets. She’s from Iran and is dark skinned, but she grew up in Germany, and German’s her native language. When people talk to us, they ask her where she’s from and get irritated/confused when she says northern Germany.

    As for being ‘US-American’, that’s apparently considered egotism on the part of US citizens. We think of ourselves as American meaning from the US, but American here means everything from Canada down. A professor of mine explained that I need to say US-American because I could just as easily be Canadian or Argentinian, regardless of how I look.

  • Alex M.

    I think you miss out a perspective. That of the Northern Germans.
    I am from there (Westphalia), and i don’t quite adhere to the stereotype of the rude and direct Northern German.
    I think what you wrote is a good example of how stereotypes and hostilities are made.
    Ever thought what the perspective of the people in Hamburg towards your “friendly dialect” might have been? I don’t want to neglect that there might be a certain difference in mentalities between north and south Germany. But a real different I only ever felt in Switzerland. And even there…I think it always depends hugely on the individual.
    Back to what the “Hamburger” might have though about you. Some people in the North speak dialect. But it is the cultural norm that that is limited to your home and friends. In public everybody speaks High Standard German. Take that with the perceived stereotype of the condescending Bavarian “who thinks he and his home state are ‘something better’ ” and the problems of northern Germans (especially those whose mother tongue is Standard High German) to understand – especially southern german – dialects and the way the people in Hamburg saw you might have been something like this: “There’s this arrogant Bavarian snob who doesn’t even bother to speak “normal” German with and asking for this and that”.
    This might not have been the way it happened. And maybe I do you wrong, Eric, and the people really were unfriendly a**holes for no reason.
    But I think it always helps to at least try to imagine thee way other people might perceive a situation. Especially when one leaves his “own” home region – which in Germany can be pretty small due to “Kleinstaaterei” – you might quickly violate the social norm without even knowing it. And th locals will react accordingly. I think that’s the cause for most stereotypes that evolved through the ages…

  • Jan

    Sorry Christina of the behavior of some of my fellow Germans to you. It makes me disgusted but like others have stated before me, we hear these stories from the east often. I hope you are feeling better and your pregnancy troubles are soon behind you.

    I must respectfully disagree with the professor of Sabrina. While it is true that Amerikaner can mean any person from the American continent, no Brazilian would call himself Amerikaner, no Mexican would call himself Amerikaner, no Chiliean or Canadian would call themselves Amerikaner, usw. We understand Amerikaner to be citizens of the USA. I think your professor is just feeling anti-American and using this as excuse for his argument that Americans are arrogant to name themselves Amerikaner.

  • Michael M.

    I agree. In my experience, the meaning of “Amerika” is clear and unequivocal in everyday speech.

  • Eric

    It may suprise you but I actually never considered you asian at all, was suprised when I got deeper into your blog to figure out you are of mixed herritage.

    @Alex M.
    See, that is the attitude that enrages me and most of bavarians. You consider your variety of german being the “normal” language and WE have to adjust to YOUR variety. It is purely arbitrary how your northwestern accents and variations were once, in the 19th century, said to be the “standard”. Simply because that’s where the industrial-economic heartland of the german empire was, economic supremacy mostly results in cultural supremacy.

    But this does not make your variety more “correct”, we are german native speakers just as well. And I did talk in, for my taste, “high german” (the “high” is not a hint for “high class” but simply the antagonist of “nether german” as it was once spoken across the nether north german north). The recipients – and I was being the customer! – did for sure understand me but simply ignored me on purpose and were patronizing on purpose. Not ’cause they wouldn’t understand but they wanted to lecture me.

    My point was how prussians are generally rude and ignorant towards ANYTHING foreign. I experienced this as a bavarian as well as a person with partly latin-american herritage.

  • Alex M.

    Short history lesson. in the past the people in northern Germany spoke Dialects of so called Low German (it has the same roots as Dutch, hence there’s a lot of mutual intelligibility). The predecessors of Low German split away from other German dialect groups (middle and high german) a long time ago. Since with the beginning of the industrialization some areas of northern Germany had a huge boost economically speaking, a lot of people moved into certain regions and cities. And since even the dialects within low German were mostly not mutually intelligible, people had to use some other language. With the first translation of the Bible by Luther, whose translation was based on middle and high German varieties of German, a certain “Standard” language had evolved that more and more people were able to understand. It was also taught in schools. Hence when people in northern Germany had to communicate with newly arrived immigrants they used this language. Over generations the use of Standard (also called ‘high’) german became more and more prevalent. And since our ancestors had learned High German only in school they spoke it very clear cut and grammatically correct. Since one could get all the higher jobs only with a knowledge of the Standard language, the dialect at some point wasn’t actively taught to the younger generation any more and now, me included, except some extremely rural parts and certain areas on the North Sea coast, Standard German is the people’s native tongue up North.
    The reason why the use of dialect in Southern Germany was and still is more prevalent is the fact, that this region of Germany didn’t receive a big influx of immigrants with the begin of industrialization. I have to exclude BW, but the fact is, that until 60 years ago Bavaria was considered somewhat a backwater without too much industry to speak of.
    And, as far as I heard, the use of a 100% Bavarian dialect is declining among younger people as well. In big cities like Munich this trend has advanced the most. Some regional vocabulary and terms remain (same as in Northern Germany btw!), but the trend is obvious.
    btw: I don’t think people in Bavaria would react too fondly as well, when I’d try to speak a bad-ass dialect of Low German to them.
    I think there definitely are certain antagonisms between Bavaria and the rest of Germany. Sadly so we two,Eric don’t seem to be able to overcome those. I think most people once they meet in person, get along fine.
    I think the real problem, and cause of stereotypes and xenophobia, is actually talking ABOUT each other instead of WITH each other. Proven by the fact that xenophobia is most prevalent in regions where few immigrants live, thus robbing people of getting to know “the others” for the person they are within.
    I think this is a fitting end to this comment.
    I wish you all a nice weekend.

  • Spencer

    Hi Christina,
    I just recently found your website! Thanks for sharing some of your experiences here. Some of the things that you had mentioned exactly happened to me when I was living with my g/f in Germany (Bayern). I’m also an Asian American trying to find an IT job in the Munich area. Since this article is over 1 year old, I was wondering if you have any new tips or suggestions in trying to find a job there? I do know some German, and I have taken a German language course at the local VHS school of where I used to live. Thanks.

  • Vish

    Hi Christina, great blog! You’re so diligent about it, it seems. I just came across this today. I wonder if you could help me out a little.

    I’m Indian-American, living in Amsterdam with my German girlfriend on an unmarried-partner residence permit (exercising EU treaty rights). She’s got a PhD in Giessen, and we’ll be moving to Frankfurt next year. Would you know if we could continue as unmarried partners and get me a residence permit in Germany? I don’t know where to ask this question, and I haven’t found much online about it. Maybe you could point me in the direction of a competent immigration attorney?

    Anyway, I think I’ll be fine in Frankfurt. I’m not worried about being mistreated or anything. I just hope I find a decent job and a good little circle of friends.

    Thanks for your advice, and I will continue to read your blog now :)

  • Marina Pasquali

    Hi Vish! I have been looking for the same information on un-married-partner residence in Germany and I didnt find anything.. If you have more information I would appreciate if you could share it with me.. thanks

  • m4r1n4

    Hi Vish! I have been looking for the same information on un-married-partner residence in Germany and I didnt find anything.. If you have more information I would appreciate if you could share it with me.. thanks

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