You have already met Annabelle. She first interviewed me on her blog, and then agreed to sponsor my first giveaway! Annabelle is French, her husband is Portuguese, they speak English together and they live in Germany. All of these languages and cultures are present in their family! Annabelle used to be a researcher on multilingualism and is very committed to raising multilingual children, and she is also an extremely talented craftswoman who makes multilingual and eco-friendly postcards, wedding invitations, mini business cards (which I love and use myself!). In her post, she tackles the difficult culture shock and gives awesome advice on how to get out of it! Thank you, Annabelle!
Culture shock: our 3 steps to get out of it
Culture shock does exist. It is not just something you read about and think "yeah, it won’t really apply to me". You can get culture shock when you move within Europe too. It is not limited to cultures which are worlds apart.
As a French student going to live to Britain, initially for 9 months, I am not sure I ever felt any kind of culture shock. Sure, I felt homesick on a few occasions but these only lasted a few hours (or days at the most). I quickly made a great group of friends and life seemed quite easy.
As a family moving to Germany, things are very different though. Culture shock has hit us all, maybe unexpectedly, in the last few months. Hopefully, we have hit the bottom of the culture shock phase and are now on the way out of it. It may have taken longer than some studies describe (often around 6 months) but several family worries made us hit that low point over the past few weeks (or, dare I say it, months).
When we first arrived and for the first few months, we were definitely on that honeymoon phase, discovering our new city, setting up our new home, adjusting to our new life. We were out every weekend, cycling around, visiting new neighbourhood, food markets, parks, etc. The fact that we arrived in the spring was good too as we enjoyed the nice and warm weather straight away. It was a great change from North East England. Friends and family came to visit. We were busy and loving it.
But as time passed and we settled into a new routine, our new life started to take its toll. Two years in, we still know few people here. Germans are not the warmest people and getting to know them takes a lot of effort. Getting invited to their house is even harder even with kids around. They don’t really do small talk unless they are genuinely interested in you. Added to the fact that I work from home, and so meeting few local people through work, it has been difficult making friends.
The realization that this culture shock and our new life here was not going very smoothly has taken time too. Now, it is taking all of our combined efforts to pull ourselves out of it. Beyond the typical advice of getting out, creating situations where you will meet people, here are some steps we are taking to get out of this phase and make it work here :
- Quality time with the family: we are making a conscious effort to plan weekends and holidays with plenty of fun and quality time for us all instead of staying at home and feeling sorry for ourselves.
- Language lessons : of course, we need to improve our German even more. We both did take lessons when we first arrived but for various reasons, they were not ideal. We are having a rethink and getting organised to start new ones. Yes, language lessons are great to meet people in the same situation, but if you are not learning much language, it defeats the point too.
- Focus on what matters : we are trying to develop coping mechanisms for the things that annoy us here (letting go, anyone ?) or find alternatives for what we don’t like. Talk, talk, talk with people who understand or who feel similarly. But also, don't forget the friends back home. And focus on what matters most : our family’s happiness.
Annabelle is a 30-something French passport-holder married to a Portuguese-passport holder (aka P). They met and lived in England for 13 years (so feel a connection with the British too). Their daughter (aka LJ) was born there and they moved to Germany when she was 13 months old. She considers herself a part-time stay-at-home maman. In a former life, she used to be a researcher in language acquisition and still do bits and pieces related to it. She also runs a small business from home that sells eco- and multilingual- friendly paper goods. They speak 4 languages on a daily basis and aim to raise our daughter as a young global citizen. You can find Annabelle on her blog, The Piri-Piri Lexicon, Facebook and Twitter! And don't forget to pay her a visit at PaperPapelPapier, Annabelle's very awesome multilingual cards business!