Monday, September 26, 2011

The Expat Inquiries: Don & Terri formerly in Graz

I have a great Expat Inquiries for you today!  Don and Terri, whom Art and I met last September when they came back to visit Graz, have given us some really great answers (and even added some more good questions and answers) about their time in Graz from '98 - '00.  You real Austrians will especially appreciate it.  Thanks for the fabulous write-up (and pics!), Don.

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.


Just your average Buschenschank

Just your average Brettlejause

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.

Hiking on an Alm in the Salzkammergut

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.

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 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.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Color Kombi

Kombi is the german word/slang for combo and it's one of my faves...that and elbogen for elbow.  Art thinks he can speak German by adding -gen or -en to words, and I have to laugh because sometimes he accidentally gets it right.  "Oh, that is my favoriten" (wrong)  "Let's buy some Beeren" (he means beer, but he doesn't know he's asking for berries). 

When my sister was visiting and she learned that all G's in German are hard as in the word 'grapes', she thought she was being clever and goes "oh, so do they say "grr-men" (for German)...I said "no, they say Deutsch." Busted.

OK, onto silly, I've got sort of another fashion/designy post again for this lovely fallish Friday.

I like me a good color kombi.  One of my favorites for the fall is red and tan or coral and khaki or orange and taupe...all variations of this. 

That's all, y'all.  Happy fall.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Random Fashion Talk

I'm doing a blog design for a girl studying fashion in college that interned with Project Runway winner, Christian Siriano, this past summer, so I took a peek at his New York fashion week collection.

This was my favorite one:
That skirt is so pretty.  Where you would wear it, I don't know. 

I am loving long maxi skirts these days.  They are just a bit classier and easier to wear in the fall.

Love the ones in fun, bright colors too.

The above skirt was from Anthropologie (I get an e-mail a week asking), but they no longer have it.

And they're definitely more comfortable than a regular skirt.

Atlantic-Pacific turned her gorgeous DVF silk maxi-dress into more of a maxi skirt.

It's better in its original form, though. Oh, how I love this dress.

Boho chic style

And, if you get one and have no where to wear it, you can just go in your backyard, do a little stretchin' around and admire yourself.

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wine Country ♥

We had a great weekend with Shyla and Grant in the Southern Austria wine region. Just an hour away from Graz and close the Slovenian border we have our own Napa or Tuscany.

It's really a little slice of heaven (with some slices of wurst on the side).  I feel bad showing my family these photos after the horrible, devastating droughts (and now wildfires) Texas is having.  I wish I could export chunks of the green hills to them.

the Gang

ripe for the pickins

never been in an English car

our accommodations (winery, restaurant (buschenschank) and guest rooms..all owned and operated by one family through many generations)

so cute

we had the dog

shyla and grant got an elephant

dinner time

Buschenschank food. All from the region. No hot plates, but lots of yum stuff.

{pic from internet}
Vanilla ice cream with Southern Austria's claim to fame: kürbiskernöl (pumpkin seed oil) drizzled on top. Sounds gross, but unbelieveably GOOD.

a day of wandering.

and gymnastics.

and kitty loving.

these signs to various buschenschanks pop up at forks in the road and are quite daunting. this is the tallest.

walking out of the church and into heaven.

an Austrian family of blondies all in traditional dress at lunch. how Sound of Music!

Italian and Irish (can you tell which is which?)

lovely boys (after some vino).

and the girls. (wined up + some schnapps too)

Had a surprise visit from Kim and her sister-in-law. So fun.

I'll leave you with a shot of the calendar in the girls' bathroom at our hotel.