Thursday, 3 November 2011

"There's no place like home" - or 'the worry of repatriation' (pt 1)

And why would you look at the Brandenburg Gate when there are giant bubbles to marvel at?

I can honestly say that I hadn't really thought much about repatriation. Of course it's always been on the cards, we are due (at this current time) to return to our Derby home in June 2012. Occasionally we have had chats about whether we want to stay on here; for an extra year, for a few extra years, for....ever....and while I practically get a funny shiver at the thought of staying anywhere forever, the prospect of another year seems nice, and another couple of years? Well, maybe, that would be ok too. But equally, I feel, or thought I felt, fine about going 'home' in June.

After all, what's to worry about? We still have our house, I have primed myself for the worst case scenario in terms of it's condition after renting it out for two years and am hoping that I can only be pleasantly surprised that it'll be better than my imaginings. Stevie would go back to work in the same job or better probably. The kids would go back to speaking English and still have their friends in the UK. Both of them would start at school where everybody would speak English as a first language and life would be nice and easy for them. I would have all my UK friends to go back to and all the wonders of UK shopping, and magazines and books!!! (Oh how I miss going into a bookshop and having more than a couple of shelves to choose from!). It sounds easy enough, a breeze even.

But October brought with it a couple of things that really got us thinking. Thinking specifically that going back might not be as easy as it appears on the surface. The first thing was a visit. Our visitors came to see us, not Berlin. Which is fair enough. I think we can be very enthusiastic about the city and we really like taking people round all the sites and showing them just how much this place has to offer. I'm pretty much convinced that no matter your hobby or interest, Berlin will be able to show you something on that topic that will rock your world. These visitors though weren't interested in the sites, the Brandenburg Gate, the emblem of the end of the Cold War garnered barely even a first glance never mind a second. We asked them (an adult and a child of under 10) what they were interested in, what they liked to do, and they said "nothing much". The adult liked going to the pub (tick) and playing on his iPhone (....we don't have one), and the child likes her/his Nintendo DS, watching DVD's and not an awful lot else. So we took them to the Zoo. What kid doesn't like animals, right? Well, um, this kid. It took a bit of persuasion, and when we got there he/she lacked any enthusiasm and wanted to leave because it was smelly and dirty.

Nothing to see here: even during the Festival of Lights.

The rest of their trip followed a similar vein, it was pretty much 5 days of iPhone apps and disinterest. The only thing they seemed to enjoy was Legoland, so that was good, but by the end we all felt a bit down. It made me think that life in Britain leans far too much towards an indoor life, where playing is becoming more and more often an activity done on a computer, and less inclined to getting out and about and discovering new interests. Of course even I knew that that was a sweeping statement, and not at all the way that everyone behaves in the UK. What we were looking at was (hopefully) a very small segment of society, but it still made us think. The weather for example is much better here for getting out and doing things. There are far more sunny, summer days, spring and autumn can be rainy, but mostly it is dry and unlike in Scotland where we were during the half term break, even if it has not been raining the ground is still wet! Winters here of course can be hard. We can have snow from November through to March, but it is manageable. The weather is a big issue for Stevie. He far prefers it here because he can get out and do things with the kids and enjoy it rather than look out the window and think it might be better to stay in. We led a far more indoors life in the UK even though we did still go to lots of places and take the kids to zoos and aquariums and see steam trains and all those sorts of things.

The other thing that happened was that I saw someone's Facebook status and it made me sad. It said:

"Anyone clued up on these Android tablets. Looking to buy one for a 4 year old for Christmas and no idea where to start?! HELP!!"

I hope I don't need to explain why that makes me feel sad. I realise that not all parents of 4 year olds will be buying their children iPads, but by the same token it's not uncommon for me to read on FB about friends whose 4 year olds will "do anything to get to play on the iPad!" or "really needs their own iPhone just for the apps". The more of these things I read the more I feel like things are changing if not beyond our recognition, but beyond our comfort zone. I can't think how to really describe it. I just have this weird feeling of losing that feeling of belonging  to the 'group' and it's wrapped up with kids having iPads, packs of pre-peeled boiled eggs (admittedly I was looking for a link to the pack of 3 you can buy in Morrisons at the sandwich/newspaper bit), and big plastic tubs of fridge pack Heinz baked beans (to see it in real life is to make a sound like 'uuuggghhhhh....'.

And with all these things in mind I started to Google that frightening word 'repatriation', and oh...that leads me on to part two ...tomorrow when I'll tell you what I found out.


  1. It is nice that people wanted to see you and not just get a cheap holiday in Berlin of course, but so totally sad that they were in a place with such rich history and a multitude of exciting things to see and do but were more interested in pixels.

  2. Yes, I know, but we like the folk who want cheap holidays in Berlin an awful lot too. It's great fun!

  3. I don't think I have commented here before though I've been reading you for a wee while. I think I wouldn't assume it's like that in the UK based on one family, I think some families are outdoorsy, some are indoorsy and most are a balance of both. We love yomping about outdoors but my 8 year old son also loves his ds. We do both. We love cycling for fun and my 13 year old daughter also can't be detached from her phone when her friends are texting her. We manage both.

    Lots of reasons to stay abroad but I wouldn't let this be your main one.

    Love your blog!

  4. The first time I heard someone use the word "repatriation" in the sense that one is cargo, I was a bit... confused.
    As to Britons- on the other hand, when my sister-in-law visited here with her (ex) fiancee, all he wanted to do was find a kneipe and hoist one. And he had never been in Berlin before (as a German). He is no longer her fiance and I think this visit made her come to that realization. So it has nothing to do with nationality as to whether one is a boring and uninteresting person (or a bad traveler).

  5. Good points, thankyou, both Jen and G.

    Jen, yes, I know, you are right, and I recognised that I was freaking out based on just a few instances. It's so easy to do here. I get to see just little snapshots of little bits of UK life and when they all come in relatively quick succession, it's hard not to build a picture. And thanks for commenting and loving!

    G, very true, and I think that sometimes the experience of moving abroad does give you a different perspective on things or occasionally people that you have left behind. We realised afterwards that it wasn't that they were being rude, indeed they were good guests, but that they were just doing what they normally did at home. But seeing it in a different location made it stand out.

  6. I hear you so very loud and clear on this one.
    We spent a lot of our first year abroad missing 'home', but then we had kids and this became our home.

    We go back to the UK for holidays a lot (as well as have guests here), and overall the lifestyle just does not compare.

    For example look at the relative abundance of outdoor based activities for kids under 5 in Europe, compared to similar schemes in the UK.

    There will always be exceptions to the rule of course, but when we go back in Winter we are shocked at the very few kids we see out and about in less than ideal weather. Not to mention that the ones we do see are often so badly dressed, it is no wonder they want to get back inside asap.

    I don't envy you having to make the decision, but at least since you are aware of it, you an always be the exception to the rule (and it is even possible to get decent outdoor gear there for kids now!!).

  7. The thought of moving back to the United States, though we occasionally toy with the idea, totally terrifies me. A vague toying with the idea I can handle, but when it starts to sound real I fall into a panic.

    In part because it sometimes just feels like it would be a step backwards. Even though it wouldn't be, because of where I was in my life when I came here and where I am now, the thought of going back sounds like needing to step into a time machine and go back to that time and person.

    But there are more concrete fears. There are a lot of family members I get along with better from far far away, and I don't know what having to listen to them try to tell us what to do or how to live or having them pressure me/us to attend this or that family thing would affect our relationships. At this point I don't know how everything works over there anymore, so I'd initially be lost on anything that has changed in the last six years. The public transportation system SUCKS, and we would probably be back to needing to own a car, which is something I'd kind of rather never do again, unless we end up living in the complete middle of nowhere. Groceries are insanely expensive. The dollar is weak. And my value on the job market as an English speaker is like null, whereas here it makes me worth a hell of a lot when it comes to wages. And there are no Wagenplätze in America. The thought of leaving my little house behind just kills me. Then again, I could maybe have it shipped over there for a billion dollars on a freight ship.

    We have thought about going over there to live for six months or so though, that I think I might be able to handle. And maybe with a small start like that, I could eventually manage to handle the thought of moving there. All that is to say I feel your pain and I'm very curious to hear what you found out a'googling.

  8. Fiona, yes, I think I agree with you on there being less outdoor activities for kids in the UK, we've also found that our kids enjoy the swing park/spielplatz far more here because a) they're better (in most instances) and b) they are generally full of kids which makes playing far more fun. I suppose that comes down to the fact that in the UK we do a lot less apartment living - people have their own house and their own gardens which they fill with swings, climbing frames, trampolines, sand pits, pools, etc, etc, which is great because it's so handy, but kids really enjoy the social side of playing alongside lots of known and unknown children.

    Kind of went off topic a bit there, but also the UK is terrific when it comes to being able to buy appropriate outdoor clothing. I won't hear a word said against it! ;-) Mostly because they have it in abundance because fewer people think they need it there for their winters (esp. if you are just taking the kids from the house to the car and from car to next location - in which case it isn't required as much), there's less snow, usually higher temperatures (though it can feel as cold with a higher humidity), and to be honest it saved my bacon last year when we missed our snowsuit shopping window last year here in Berlin and I had to buy in the UK! Yay!

    Click clack, yes, getting along with family can be a lot easier from a distance, though sometimes it can end up making you feel more alien with even less in common. I think that is sometimes what we feel with one half of our family: they don't understand why we want to live here, and we don't understand why they don't understand!

    Being a fluent English speaker in another country where English is the international business language can be a valuable skill. I read somewhere as well that a lot of expats feel *less special* once they repatriate, because they are no longer different to the majority. Love it or hate it, you're no longer "The English" (said in a derogatory manner!), because everybody is 'The English' or 'The Canadians', or 'The Americans' or 'The Australians'.

    And finally, I bet you could squeeze your wagon into one of those freight containers. Why, that would only cost you tens of thousands to ship, not billions!! A mere pittance! :-)


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