Where did you live?
We lived on the north side of Graz in the Geidorf precinct; Panoramagasse 10. It was a huge apartment, by European standards.
There were nine apartments on the bottom two floors. We had the entire top floor!
How long did you live there? And was this your first home away from the States?
We lived in Graz for 26 months; from August 1998 to October 2000. It was our first and only expat assignment.
Where are you originally from?
We were both raised in southeast Michigan, between Detroit and Toledo, Ohio.
What brought you to Graz?
I worked for Chrysler, and was offered an expat assignment. At the time, a local manufacturer was assembling several vehicles for Chrysler.
What did you do for a living?
I was an engineer, working in product development. In Graz, I acted as the communication link between engineering in Detroit and the plant in Graz. Terri used to have a direct sales/management job with Longaberger. She gave that up for this opportunity, and became a full-time homemaker.
Do you speak German fluently? If so, how long did it take you to learn? Do you find it to be an easy language?
No, and no. My friends think that I am fluent, but I am not. I can carry on a conversation, as long as they keep it simple, and speak “High German”. But in southern Austria, most speak a peculiar dialect that is only remotely related to German. (And NOBODY will teach this to you!) I found German to be a difficult language to learn, especially later in life. I took German classes when I began working with Austrians, and had regular Berlitz classes during my entire assignment. Terri also took Berlitz classes while we lived in Graz.
What are the people like?
We were lucky, in that I had developed many business relationships with locals prior to our moving there. Many of these developed into friendships that we hope will be life-long. But even amongst strangers, we found Austrians to be very warm and welcoming. There will always be a special place in my heart for Austrian people.
How long did it take until you felt mostly adjusted?
I was feeling at home after about 6 months. For Terri, it was longer—maybe 9 months or so.
What were some of the hardest things/aspects to adjust to?
All the rules! “Winter tires”, for example, are required on all vehicles between certain dates. (Yes, everyone must own two sets of tires for your vehicle.) It was “not allowed” to walk barefoot on the grass until a certain date each spring. Parking in the city was (and still is) a mystery. Not being able to shop late in the evening, or on Saturday afternoons, or on Sundays was downright frustrating. Lack of variety in the stores and restaurants was also hard to adjust to. The readiness of people to accept it, when something was “not possible”.
What are some things/aspects you didn’t miss back home?
Crazy (unorderly) drivers. Unprofessional sales people in stores. Politics. (They certainly have it, but we were isolated from it, due to the language barrier and lack of interest.)
What are your top three favorite things about Graz and Austria?
The village of Hallstatt, the Buschenschanks (food-serving wineries) of southern Styria, the Old Town in Graz.
In what areas do you think moving abroad has helped you grow?
We better understand and appreciate the value of social programs (health care, for example), when they are done right.
Favorite places you’ve travelled in Europe?
The Salzkammergut of Austria, anywhere in the Styrian and/or Austrian countryside. Rural Austria is Europe at its best. For name recognition back home, I’d answer Venice, Salzburg, Paris, Vienna and Prague. But I’ll take a little no-name Austrian village over these any day of the week.
Has your expatriate experience changed you in any way?
• We are more socially and environmentally-conscious.
• Our taste in interior décor has done a complete flip-flop (from country to casual contemporary).
• We have a sharper appreciation for the value of friends and good family. Our Austrian friendships are a highly-valued treasure.
• Our taste in beer and wine has changed dramatically.
This is hard cider, not beer
Have you been back?
We like to go back every two or three years, as our schedule and budget permits. We often travel with friends. We always meet friends, both old and new.
In 2010 we got to meet Carolyn and Art!
How difficult was it, to repatriate in the U.S.?
It was surprisingly difficult! Here are some examples:
• Very few people wanted to hear about our experiences in Austria. When we’d start a sentence with “In Austria, we…”, you would see eyes glaze over immediately.
• It was difficult to explain some concepts using only English! Sometimes, we couldn’t think of the English word for something, only the German. We found ourselves saying “how do you say, in English, ….?”
In some ways, however, it was wonderful. I have a fond memory of talking to a cashier in a store. We had a great conversation in sloppy English. I did not take care to enunciate each word clearly. I used idioms and slang with abandon. Amazingly, we understood absolutely everything each other said! This was when I knew I was truly home again.
Thanks, again, Don and Terri.
My notes: I think it always takes a bit longer for us ladies to adjust (if we are not working). I did not know about the barefoot on grass rule, but I am not one bit surprised! I think it's funny that your decor style changed...I think the different style has definitely had some influence on me...in fashion too. Rural Austria is heaven...Art wants to retire to a buschenschank in southern Styria! So true about being more socially and environmentally conscious. We'll definitely have to watch ourselves with our "In Austria...". That's why it has been so nice to connect with other expats, esp. fellow Graz expats that 'get it' 100%.
Thanks, again, Don and Terri.