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Dealing With “What Am I Doing Here” Moments

25 Oct

Here is a topic I have left hanging for a few weeks, although that has not stopped me from mulling over it.  I think everyone who moves to a new country ends up at some point asking themselves the same question: What am I doing here?

How to define a “what am I doing here” moment?

These are not generally particularly negative situations, but situations that seem funny or strange to you.  These are the times when you just nod and smile, ask yourself what just happened, or wonder why you are the only one in the room who does not find something normal while everyone else does.  Even if things are going well and you are generally happy in your new home, these fleeting moments of self-doubt just seem to be part of the package.  After all, if every culture were the same, traveling just would not be as fun.

Here are a few of my recent “what am I doing here” moments:

1.  Getting scolded by bus drivers – the unspoken rule of staying off a “full” bus.

I take the bus into town everyday.  However, this is also the favorite means of transportation for hundreds of school children!  They do not have a separate school bus system here, and this makes for some very crowded buses in the morning, and grumpy bus drivers.  Here is the lesson I learned: If you do not want to be scolded, do not try to get on a crowded bus.  The driver will definitely scowl.  Gone are the days of squeezing myself like a sardine into Parisian public transport.

2.  Credentials that are lost in translation

Recently, we worked on writing a short resume in my German class.  When the teacher got to the name of the university where I did my Master’s in Paris, I could sense some hesitation.  I figured she had just never heard of it (sigh).  In reality it was worse!  She ended up misreading it, and saying the name as Sciences P-O, reading out each of the last two letters separately (‘po’ is short for politiques).  This puzzled me at the time.  Some further research revealed the why.  It turns out “Po” is German for “bottom”! From now on, I will be putting the full name, and not the abbreviated version, on my German CV….

3.  Getting “dinged” at by bicycles on the sidewalk

People can and do ride their bikes everywhere here, and bike trails are often traced on the sidewalk.  I quickly learned to stay off the orange parts, which are reserved for bike traffic.  Bikes will run over you (it is their right, after all, you are on their territory…), but the upside is that they will ding their bell at you to warn you first.

4.  The default “Hausfrau” label

Here, people seem to label all women who are not currently employed (but married) as housewives.  This seems like a perfect solution to me if you want to keep unemployment numbers down, but not a very progressive one.  I am just crossing my fingers I will find a job soon and shake the housewife status before it sticks.  I am just not a Hausfrau at heart (even if I totally respect those who are).


Do you have any “what am I doing here” moments from your travels or experiences abroad to share?  If so, please do!




Is There Life After Paris?

30 Aug

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris…then wherever you go for the rest of you life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

– Ernest Hemingway

Nothing can replace Paris, but I am finding Erlangen has some French flair of its own.  Within the first week, the Le Figaro* hair salon had already turned my head, along with a number of other curious associations between famous French establishments and seemingly unrelated contexts.

Café Culture

Erlangen is a university town, and what do students to better than study?  Well, let’s just say there is no shortage of bars and pubs.  One in particular caught my eye – La Sorbonne.  Based on the various signage, it seems to be a bar (die Kneipe), bistro, and café all in one.  Although I have not been inside, I am guessing the ambiance is not quite as studious as its name might suggest.

For those who prefer drinking their coffee outside, “La Brasserie” is the place to be.  This café was conceived in true French fashion, complete with a French flag motif on the sign above the entrance and a spacious outdoor terrace with authentic Parisian style café furniture.

Oh Champs-Elysées…

Les Champs-Elysées is said to be the most beautiful avenue in the world, although even the original avenue in Paris is not what it once was.   Thanks to the creativity of Parisian souvenir vendors, one can now find self-proclaimed renditions of this famous avenue everywhere, even in Erlangen.  For those of you who are wondering, someone really did put this sign on their house.  I just happened to come across it when walking one afternoon in what is pretty much the middle of nowhere.  Definitely not what Joe Dassin had in mind.

Chez Michel – Cheese vs. fromage

In Germany cheese is pretty popular.  The problem one encounters after crossing the French border, however, is that you realize “cheese” and “fromage” are not really quite the same.  No need to worry my fellow Roquefort fans. All you need to do is head to Erlangen’s main market and ask for Michel.  His cheeses come straight from the Rungis market near Paris and this fromager is out to keep his customers satisfied.  No pasteurized cheese here folks!

*Le Figaro is a well-known French daily newspaper.