It felt exactly like expecting a baby, being told early on that it’s going to be a boy, decorating the nursery, getting little boys’ clothes, and then two days before you have the baby the doctor says actually, it’s a little girl.
How shall I put this? It’s probably easier just to come out and say it:
WE HAVE DECIDED TO LIVE IN GERMANY.
We arrived in Germany on 9 August on the back of the bad car experience and after a 21-hour train journey. We stopped here for a while because we have friends to stay with and it was closer to Strasbourg than Sweden. Obviously. So from here we could make trips into France to start getting things sorted over there.
Our friends here (well, family of a friend) live in a small village near a town called Eppingen. If you’re not so up with your Germany geography, we are about an hour north-west of Stuttgart, and about an hour an a bit from the French border. If you are up with your Germany geography, we are in the Kraichgau area of Baden-Württemberg.
So, this “family of a friend” have brought us completely into their lives. Yes, there’s been just the helpful stuff, like giving us a roof, WiFi, helping us buy another car (checked out by a mate who is a mechanic) and sharing the most enormous breakfasts with us. But they have shown us around their region, slotted us into family members’ birthday parties, gone on bike rides, adopted Joe into training with the local football team, given us the opportunity to help around the house … Joe said at one point, “This place is great, you could really live here.” And then we smiled and planned our first trip to France.
We started doing trips to Strasbourg from 15 August, and went there four times over the course of two weeks – initially just for a day, then for some longer stays, that sort of thing. We were looking for an apartment and it was tough going – not impossible, but let’s be honest, if you are a real estate agent and you have a couple from the other side of the world and she has some income from NZ sort of but no they don’t have French jobs but apparently they have some savings in NZ in their funny dollars whatever that means … and then you have a normal French couple with French jobs, who are you going to pick?
On the job front, we had called into a few places, left some CVs, they were all very polite but you got the feeling that the companies had not yet woken up from their summer slumber.
I wasn’t too upset about the lack of progress, I figured we just needed to be patient – that it might take a month or even two to get something.
But until you have an address, you cannot open a bank account, you can’t send the children to school, you can’t register or insure a car, and then you are eating into your savings by staying in hotels or hostels until you get your own place. I was starting to get worried about exactly where we would be sleeping the following week, “Do we need to book a week here in Strasbourg on Air BnB somewhere? Should we book longer?” etc.
If we absolutely HAD to live in Strasbourg, I think we could have done it. But it would have been the sort of situation where you have some pretty miserable days until you do get settled.
So on 29 August we came back from a trip to Strasbourg, back to our German family here in Kraichgau and we realised we felt like we had come home. We had already had offers to stay at someone’s apartment nearby, and offers to help fix one of us up with a job.
As I said, if we HAD to live in Strasbourg, we might have done it. But if you are only here for 12 months, why spend one or two of them being miserable when someone is standing there offering you everything you want, just a bit further to the right than you’d planned?
Joe and I went for a walk around the village at about 11pm that night to talk about it. We didn’t really talk about pros and cons so much, we just went with our longing to put a stake in the ground and start living.
How the children took it
Well, it was strange for me too. You’ve put so much preparation into going to France, mainly learning French, and then you turn it upside down and decide to stay somewhere where you speak about 50 words of the language. It felt exactly like expecting a baby, being told early on that it’s going to be a boy, decorating the nursery, getting little boys’ clothes, and then two days before you have the baby the doctor says actually, it’s a little girl.
“But I’ve painted the nursery blue!”
“But I’ve learned French!”
So yes, the children were initially pretty… well, not “upset” in the sense of tears and crying, but more that their own little planning and understanding had been “upset” by this decision. We sold it to them in the same terms that we had sold it to ourselves:
- We could start living now. Open a bank account, go to school, register the car.
- We could still visit all the sights and people we had planned to – Sweden, Britain, Paris; it doesn’t matter if you live this side of the French-German border or the other side.
- We would be immersed in another language
And there were two unexpected bonuses for me. One, we had talked about having to live in a city. Now we are living in a gorgeous historic village, something I would not have thought possible when we started our early planning. And the second one is, we had always talked about the old friends we would visit. Now we have some new friends, people I had never met before we arrived at their breakfast table one morning, people who we have so much in common with and people who I now realise I want to share this year with. Fast forward to our Strasbourg Christmas: so there we are, the four of us, at home, cooking our dinner, opening our presents, and then? Instead we will be sharing that and much more with an amazing family, and their wider families.
I know that I will no longer qualify for the medal that says “Congratulations, you toughed it out and did it on your own!” But this way our own little family will be so much happier, so on balance I can live without that particular prize.
Here are some snaps from our area:
And the writing should have been on the wall here – this was Molly’s birthday, only our second day in Germany, and this was her gift from our hosts: