Berlins and Outs,  Feeeeelings

Do other people’s life decisions ever make you question your own?

A blogger I’ve followed for years (and met once in person) just announced that she and her husband are moving back to the US after two years in Italy. They moved to Europe with their dog and young daughter just six months before E and I moved abroad. When we announced our move on facebook, she commented, “Welcome to the fun side of the pond!” It was just one small comment, but I did feel welcomed — to the Americans abroad club by someone who had gone before me.

Protesting US policies from abroad

Earlier this year, a college friend who moved to Berlin a couple months before us left for a job in Toronto. We didn’t hang out with them often but it was strange to lose a member of our small Berlin community. It was stranger still to have lived here long enough to see people move on.

After reading that blog post about leaving Italy, I was again struck by the strangeness of remaining in Europe while others leave. Even though I barely know this woman, it surprised me that she’s going back to the US. When I saw her post, I did a double-take, thinking, Wait, what?! Why?!

I’m sure she’s making the right decision for her family. And I couldn’t read her post without wondering about my own decisions. How much longer will we be in Germany? Do we want to move back to the US?

At least for now… the answer is a resounding no.

E and I had a friend visiting for the last several days. Her name is Steph and she’s an important part of our community in Boston so it was great to see her and to show her around our adopted home. We spent a lot of time talking about how life in Berlin (and Europe more generally) compares to life in the US. We told her all the things we like about living here.

E, Steph, and our friend Hannah at a Christmas market last weekend

There are big things like affordable health care and work/life balance. Germans value time away from work and a minimum of 20 vacation days per year is guaranteed by law. Employers usually offer more and, most importantly, people actually use them. But there are smaller things we also like. For example, the playgrounds are more creative (and dangerous) here than in the US because the culture of liability is different.

After we told her about the German policies supporting new parents, Steph asked us, “Do you think you’ll ever move back to the US?”

We both frowned. “It certainly doesn’t sound appealing…”

E just started a new job, which he is loving. I’ve gotten involved with a church here — I’m even on the church council (which is technically a two-year position). We’ll need to find a new apartment in May, and we’ve started talking about getting an unfurnished place, which would mean buying furniture and settling in a bit more than we have so far.

Just today, we went to a government office to get E a German driver’s license. His Massachusetts license expires a month from today, so we needed to get it switched over soon.

Did I mention we did the entire interaction in German? (Slowly and with some misunderstanding, but still.)

Aren’t you proud of us?

The employee who helped us saw that E’s Massachusetts license was expiring on his birthday and did the math quickly to see how old he would be.

“Dreizig,” she said. Thirty.

“Dreizig in Deutschland,” she repeated, seeming amused by the alliteration. Thirty in Germany.

When E turns thirty next month, we’ll actually be in the US, but that’s beside the point. He’s not making a big deal out of it, but it’s definitely a milestone birthday. I’m generally the more reflective of the two of us and it’s got me a little freaked out about getting older and what we want from our lives.

Do we want kids or not? Do I want to keep writing or get a day job? Do we want to stay in Germany or move back to the US?

I’m grateful that we have options, and I’m pretty happy with what we’ve chosen so far. Maybe we’ll change our minds and be back in the US within a year. Maybe we’ll both turn vierzig (40) in Deutschland. Maybe it’s fun not knowing.

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.

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