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.


kkp said...

love me some austrian buschenschanks! your post (and your blog) makes me miss austria so stinking much. i'm regretting that we've only got 5 days in europe this spring instead of several months! :)

kkp said...

also, YESS. i<3 salzkammergut. so. much.

Monica said...

That's so funny about the "in Austria they..."! Being in the states for a few months now has taught me that the hard way. Definitely a lot of glazed eyes!

Juliette said...

I really appreciated their amazement at how readily people just accept when something ist unmöglich (not possible). That is definitely true here in Germany as well and it makes me crazy! It always feels like giving up as opposed to being determined to find a solution. It also feels totally incongruous to many traits I admire about Germans. Go figure.

In regards to the "In Austria they/we...", I've learned from past re-entry situations that it's simply better to defer things with "In my experience..." or "I've seen others approach this differently by..." without naming names. I honestly believe some people think I'm trying to namedrop, even if they think it subconsciously, b/c they act like I've thrown up some kind of barrier. When I don't mention a name, the conversation goes totally fine.

Laur said...

Having been back in Canada for 4+ months now, I can definitely attest to the power of "When I lived in Europe..."/"In Austria, they..."/"When I was in Graz, I..." to make people immediately tune out! I think partly it's because people aren't able to understand how much you've grown and changed during the time that you've been away, while their lives have been (relatively) the same as before. And maybe a bit of jealousy? Haha :)
Good luck to you both when it is time to head home, but until then keep soaking up as much wonderful Graziness as you can! Sorger, Spar, Tchibo (!!), H&M and Zara on every corner, etc. etc.
Are you and your hubby in to trivia, at all? There's a great pub quiz every Tuesday night at The Office Pub around 7.30, it's so much fun if you like that sort of thing! Another thing I miss from Graz :)

Rachel, about to become unemployed in Heidelberg said...

I love the idea of you & Art runnning a Tex-Mex style Buschenschrank in the Styrian countryside with Elsie running around in the garden :p

Kim aus Kanada said...

That's so funny about the "In Austria..." observation. I've noticed it too on my trips back to Canada and definitely try to curb my inclination to comment on all the differences, big and small, good and bad, between Life in Toronto and Life in Graz. :-)

Don Sislbe said...

Beware of the Tex-Mex restaurant idea. You have to feed THEIR idea of what Tex-Mex is. If you served authentic Tex-Mex, it'd probably flop. The reason I say this? An Austrian friend took me to a "Mexican" restaurant in Klagenfurt (I think). The #1 hot item on the menu was the assortment of loaded baked potatoes!

Kaitlyn said...

I love your blog, and especially love reading about other's experiences here. I recently moved to Graz from Virginia Beach, Virginia for work. I have been here for about 2 months and have fallen in love with this city!

Post a Comment

Thanks for leaving me a comment! You know I love it so.
- Carolyn