Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Expat Q&A. And an expat Q for YOU.

I find it weird to think of ourselves as an expats... I didn’t even know the word until I entered blog-world, and when I did hear it I thought of fancy-pants-business people. But, the definition on Wikipedia says an expatriate “is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing.
However, because Malcolm is here on a study-visa and is therefore “studying abroad” and I am here on a German passport and am therefore kind of in my own country, though I’ve never lived here before, I have never considered us expats.
BUT... I've come to realise that it’s a group of people I strongly identify with and I'm slowly beginning to see us as part of the definition. Which brings me to today.
My first Expat Q&A, hosted by Belinda and Bailie. Once a month, they pose questions to expats in blogland, and everybody gets to share their experiences. And sharing is caring. Right? 

So, here goes! The first question is: 
How do you fit in to your new culture without losing some of your identity?

So this is a funny one to me because culture is so blurred. While we were both brought up in South Africa, I challenge anybody to define South African culture. Malcolm was brought up with many “Rhodesia-isms” as his parents are from there, and I was brought up with many bits of German culture because of my mum being German. 
So while I grew up with German lullaby's and bedtime prayers, German rhymes and nicknames, German family phone-calls, German food and Christmas cookies, Christmas celebrations on Christmas eve, and German (or even some schwaebisch) phrases worked into my vocab, I also grew up laughing at Madam and Eve, enjoying koeksusters, lighting braai fires, having a sunny Christmas outside, and going to school in a uniform, learning bits of zulu in the playground.
exhibit A: making Christmas cookies and lebkuchen houses, and making a potjie on the fire. 
exhibit B: Christmas eve 2012
Sooo... while there are some things that seem different over here – like avoiding eye-contact and smiling at strangers – I’ve found that my identity is already kind of mixed, though I hardly realised it before I came here!

What do you think your biggest trigger for homesickness is?
Homesickness can hit me anytime. Although it seems like we’re constantly on a great adventure and are always busy with something exciting, there are plenty of times that I’m alone and just missing South Africa. Besides the somewhat normal trigger of birthdays and weddings, I’d say two of my biggest triggers are food and frustration.
1.      Food. Mum makes amazing pizza. And her baking is incredible. And our families braai often, or go to our favourite restaurants fairly frequently. And I still get SA restaurant adverts showing up on Facebook. And, while I’ve lived away from my parents for 5.5 years in SA and wasn’t constantly eating mum’s food, I knew that home was close enough to get to. Somehow, hearing what’s for lunch in the Bentley-house makes me realise how far we are – there is no way I can be at the dinner table. Some things can be posted over to us and can temporarily provide comfort, but other things can’t. Food reminds me of that. 
2.      Frustration. Trying to read post. Navigating the dairy-aisle. Trying to understand cooking instructions. Figuring out washing powder variations. Attempting to understand how and why something is done the way it is. When in South Africa I would hardly need to think about something, there are things here that I just don’t understand and make me wish I was back in a place where I feel like a functioning adult. 
      Right now, I really want to go home to a winter temp of 10-27degrees, where I knew how to dress myself. Trying to figure out winter clothing here is stressing me out. Between the price of clothes (20euros for cheap jeans?!?) and the lack of experience, we are having a hard time trying to find warm winter jackets. 
a normal winter's day in Durban Botanical Gardens.

      Malcolm has jackets but none are waterproof or wind proof or have a hood. I have a raincoat, which does the job but doesn’t look nice (schonheid musst leiden, apparently), and a coat that isn’t really waterproof or windproof or terribly warm but looks nicer than the rest. 

Our warmest jackets. The blue one is my raincoat - it's functional. But can't it be pretty? 
      So basically, we each need one jacket/coat that can conquer all. 

Which is where I’m pleading for help from all you northern-hemisphere-people who know how to dress yourselves. Petra has already given us some advice, but I'd like lots of opinions before we spend 200euros on jackets. What is really important in a winter coat/jacket, bearing in mind that we walk or take public transport? I believe rain and windproof is important. But is weatherproof enough or must it have loads of bulky filling? Surely if the wind and wet is kept out we'll be warm and we can wear jerseys underneath? 
SO.... Release your inner-fashionista and help us out? Please? 

22 comments:

  1. I love the fact you guys have a sort of "mish-mash" of cultures in your upbringing, I think it definitely helps when it comes to expat life. I was the same over the name "expat"... I had heard of it before but didn't define myself as one until recently when I realised I really am one. It does invite you into a nice community though, online and offline!

    Kate | Diaries of an Essex Girl

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    1. Definitely, and honestly I don't think Germany is too extreme in anything to make it a big culture shock or even culture clash - not compared to many other places!

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  2. I am so happy you have found us, and the winter coat dilemma is quite hard and I do not think you need to spend quite 200 euro on a coat. My first winter coat I bought at Intersport for around 50 euros and it has lasted me two winters and it is not overly bulky or anything like that. What I say is that covering your bottom is key, zipping up to your chin,and being waterproof type material. I am really short so my hood never fit right so I zipped it off and have been fine with just a really nice beanie, another thing that makes a huge difference is a scarf having that extra protection on the back of your neck and throat will really keep in the heat. Also always take your head cover off inside so you will adjust to the temperature better and then when you go back outside your and cover your head again you will once again be getting maximum protection and warmth.

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    1. Thank you! Because looking at shops I'm so torn between buying a cheaper jacket that doesn't last, and a more expensive one that will - but it seems you managed to get a good balance there! Thanks for the tips, that definitely helps... and I love scarfs so I can't wait to grow my scarf collection, and I get to buy cute and cosy hats?!? Those have NEVER been justified in my closet before so that has me quite excited ;)

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  3. We get harsh winters here and I have a variety of coats to choose from depending on whether I want to look nice or just plain not freeze to death. A mid-thigh wool coat tends to be very successful at both keeping you warm and dry and somewhat pretty. :P But those tend to be pricey!

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    1. Haha, see Malcolm is trying to preserve my life, while I'm trying to look nice... so I'm trying to get a win-win coat... which a wool coat would do... but you are SO right about the price!

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  4. I basically operate on four different jackets: A really good rain jacket for all sorts of outdoors activities (keeps me completely dry, but not exactly warm, so I usually wear a big sweater underneath if it gets cold), a Trench Coat for Spring/Fall - this is my 'pretty coat'-, a thicker, nice mid-thigh length coat for winter days that are cold, but not 'Help, my legs freeze off' cold (that one is fashionable, too) and a really thick winter jacket for the days when it really gets cold (let's say Mid-December to February). In your situation it would probably be best to look for a jacket in the latter two categories. Coats are definitely the more fashionable choice, but usually aren't rain-proof, so it kind of depends what is really important for you.

    I don't think that rain is such a huge problem in Germany, so my main concern would be warmth, which in turn might not be so stylish after all. It's difficult to say, because a proper winter jacket will most likely be too much for most of the year (hence all the options above). As far as coats go, I think that Zara usually has a nice collection that isn't super, super expensive, especially compared with bigger Department Stores (like P&C and the like). Hope I could help out a bit! :)

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    1. Sounds like you have a good system going there! I really wish I could just go out and buy a whole lot and then see what I need, but I think you're right that I need the warmer-type ones... it's just frustrating that it'd then be too warm for the rest of the year - I'm used to wearing the same clothes all year!
      I'm thinking a warm coat, that I can still wear layers underneath to make it super-warm... and if it's rain or wind proof, all the better :D I'll check out Zara, I walk past it so often and have never gone in! Thanks :D

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  5. This is so interesting, Erica! I have only lived abroad for little bits of time (a few semesters here and there) but related to these--especially how homesick can strike at any time. As for coats, it snows big time where I live so I just settled on looking kind of frumpy all winter long in my long, poly fill, waterproof coat. Keeps me warm, even though it kind of looks like I'm wearing a quilt :)

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    1. Haha, yeah they really do look like quilts... but it's better than freezing!!!

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  6. Great post, Erica. I definitely know what it feels like to want the comforts of home. Food and loneliness are my triggers for homesickness. But, like you, I had my partner with me (then boyfriend, now husband), and that made it all okay. :)
    http://liveitnerantly.com

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    1. Oh yes, having somebody to share life with definitely makes homesickness more bearable! :)

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  7. i didn't realize that you the two of you were both from south africa -- now i'm going to have to read through all the wedding posts :) off to learn how it all began :)

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  8. I still can't get over the fact that you're South African! And German on top of that!?!?! Girl, I'm so boring compared to you. ;-) (and I'm sure you're thinking that being American isn't boring. Haha)

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    1. Haha! I promise I don't feel all that interesting... And you're right, being American doesn't sound so boring :)

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  9. As far as coats go, you might consider a 3 in 1 jacket. It's great for all seasons and has a zip out fleece. Have you considered looking online? We used Amazon.de on occasion when we lived in Vienna. Sometimes their prices are better than what you can find in stores. Just something for you to check into if you haven't already. :)

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    1. I've been looking at those! Wasn't sure if it's warm enough for winter? So far I've mostly been looking online, but plan to check them out in stores too, then maybe buy it online... there's a site called Otto that seems pretty good, but I'm always dubious ;) Thanks so much!

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  10. It sounds like you followers are giving you some great advice in regards to what type of coat to get for winter. I grew up in New England in the States and now work in the Canadian Rockies during the winter (plus, I had the great pleasure of living just outside of Dusseldorf as a teen), so I have many harsh winters under my belt. I like Tina's suggestion of getting a 3 in 1 jacket. They are wonderful. Usually the outer shell jacket is waterproof and the inner shell jacket is your windproof and warm layer (usually made of a treated fleece, down, or material like thinsulate - all of which give great warmth). You can wear the two jackets seperately or zip the warm layer inside the windproof layer, very simple to do. The benefit of this jacket is that you really get three jackets that can be warn in a variety of weather conditions almost year round.
    My German friends seem to love a place called Jack Wolfskin. I think they are pricey, but they are good quality. Personally I love jackets made by North Face and Burton. They make good jackets that you can get a few years out of.
    Also, invest in warm gloves. Gloves with a shearling lining will last forever and are so warm and soft on your hands - your hands will actually get moisturized from the natural oils in the shearling. I don't about anyone else, but I am miserable with cold fingers.

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    1. Ah I have some amazing readers, I'm so happy when they can help me out!
      The 3-in-1 jackets do seem like a great idea, and I'm so glad to hear that they ARE warm enough! I found a good one for Malcolm, which is Jack Wolfskin... but the price!!! I've seen SO many people wearing the brand so it must be good, but SO expensive... I saw some nice Burton ones too though, so thanks for letting me know they're trustworthy! I wish I was familiar with all the brands here to know whats good and not... I don't wana learn the hard way ;)
      Gloves are a good idea... why haven't I thought of them yet?
      Hibernation really does seem like an affordable option in comparison to all this warm stuff...

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  11. I have 3 jackets, and totally empathise with your dilemna! How do you find the perfect one, and then do you try and buy several?

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    1. I think I'm going to land up just like that, I neeeeed choice, right? :) ;)

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