Leaving the realm of tourist into the realm of Expat…


I was having coffee with what is becoming a good friend the other day and we were talking about what next.  We became friends because she lives just two floors directly about us, she is American living here, and a lesbian as well.  Plus when we met we just totally hit it off and over coffee and cake down the street we often get into conversations that are as surface as laughing about everything to deep topics around theology, spirituality, our loves and our deep fears.

This particular day over amazing cake and great Americanos at our favorite café, Hom, we were sitting outside and as we were talking about what might be next in our lives she exclaimed, “Ah, are you still a tourist here???!!!”  We laughed and then paused and I finally responded, “I don’t think so. I think I am becoming the very definition of an expat here.”

This conversation really has stuck in my brain.  For so many travels, I definitely feel like the tourist but I don’t feel like the tourist here anymore.  This is a place that so many of us here in Berlin think about….we talk about it over coffee, in language school, at Refugio, when we meet. There are so many immigrants, expats and tourists in Berlin that it is bound to come up.

So here are some thoughts about why my status is shifting from tourist to Expat fairly quickly….

  1.  I moved from being here within the realm of my passport to having a 13 month visa that says I can live and work here. No longer am I looking at the city with fascination about what it would be like to be a part of the city…I am now fully expected to survive and thrive here for at least this amount of time.  Unlike when I was a student in Europe for a few months, I have decided to spend an extended amount of time in this place.  I do not live in a stark flat that was furnished by a school. I am not in a hotel or Airbnb. I live here and thrive here.
  2. I have relationships here!  And these relationships are gaining foundation and care to them.  The girl upstairs is no longer a fun encounter she is someone I share deep things with and when we see each other on the street we know one another more deeply and take care to cultivate that.  I am waving to my neighbors today not because they are just cool but because I care about them and will wave to them tomorrow as well.  I go to Refugio café trainings and meetings because I want longevity to be built. It is no longer just a place that I find fascinating…I have vested interest in how the program does because people that I care about live there, work there, are served by the programs that I help raise money for.
  3. I know how to buy groceries at the store nearby. I have a café that is my favorite and they know what I like to drink (and which is my favorite cake :)).  I know which bank is best for me.  I even have a bank account here.  I know where my bookstore is and which train to get on.  I know where to buy better vegetables.  I have a wine shop that is my fav so far and the pastry place knows which pastry I like (again, Apfel Tasche is the best). Basically, I am investing in my community rather than just flitting through. These are the everyday things of life.
  4. I am in language school.  No longer is it sufficient to memorize the list of most used phrases in a guidebook.  And with language school comes conversations about what is different about Germans and how to navigate phone calls and appointments.  This is not the convo about how to get to the next attraction but about how to navigate the world around me.
  5. And yesterday when I had a day off, instead of the next thing on my to do list to cram into space in time, I was eager to have a day at our flat to clean, play guitar, write, do the laundry, and catch up on our space together.  It hit me yesterday as I nestled into our space as the seasons change that I also didn’t feel a ping of guilt for not exploring today. I will have more days for that.  Wow…that is a shift!  A sure sign that I am here for a little while.  That’s an expat thought, isn’t it?
  6. The community around me is starting to ask me for things.  Communities don’t ask tourists for much else than money and interest.  The community around me is asking for commitment and to add my gifts. I am super excited that I get to teach a bible study at the American Church in Berlin in January, a four week course!  I was emailed today asking if I would preach at another Methodist Church in Berlin and I am eager to contribute back.  Refugio is easing into asking me for more time and I feel as though I can contribute.  That is not a touristy place…that is a place that knows you are sticking around for a little bit.
  7. I am no longer surprised at the difference in cultures and this place I am in, is a place that I can see myself differently in and can do theology differently from this position.  When a tourist, when cultures clash or are different, they are full of wonderment or boggling or even disruptive.  At this point, I am feeling as though I understand the clash a little more and every time I get unsolicited advice from someone German or the encounter is a little more direct than I am used to…I am not shocked.  My American positivity has become a welcome difference of culture to my classmates and I am no longer surprised when it is met with laughter.  I no longer watch from behind the glass but find myself moving and changing with each cultural shift as well as affecting the scene as well.
  8. When my parents came to visit, we gave them a tour around and when friends come I can’t wait to show them the sites and our hood.
  9. When we come home from being a tourist, we come home to our bed in Berlin.
  10. And yet…..I still know I am an expat rather than an immigrant here which is subject for another blog….but essentially it means that things still feel transitional and home is someplace else (esp with two amazingly cute nieces and nephew). But again, that notion and entry to come…..

Above all, it has been amazing to talk with other expats who wrestle with all of this in their way….



For fun, here is what I have picked up as an expat that I do differently here….

-I eat all the cake and pastry because I walk everywhere and it seems to even out and come on, German cake is basically the best.

-I call the subway “our UBahn” and I try to order things in German.  Ana will tell you differently but when I am on my own, I try more of my German than risk someone who knows everything about me smirking because I am cute in my American accent. 🙂

-Sure the tacos here are no where near Portland but the best Pakistani food is definitely in our neighborhood and I love Sudanese food around the corner.

– I miss the dryer but kind like hanging my clothes which means you have to be way more intentional about when to wash clothes. Everything seems like a more intentional rate.

– I have never lived so long without a car which also means that grocery shopping is less of an event and a more often thing which is good for small refrigerators and less storage space.

-I am more eager to just eat a sausage in a pinch and biergartens are a thing.

– When I greet someone I say, “Hallo!” instead of Hello and now without thinking, I say “Tschuss! (which is kind of like saying shoes in English)” to say goodbye and I kind of love it.

A good start for you to get the idea.  The world may never be the same. 🙂

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