Expat Living – An Interview Series
Meet James, his wife Zoë and their two adorable cats who are “living life large” as fellow expats in Berlin, Germany!
Expat twat, recently relocated from London to Berlin. I run the blog überlin with my wife, Zoë, and am Music Editor for Bang Bang Berlin. I earn my money as a freelance writer, editor and media analyst, and spend it on too much food and cheap, cheap beer. I still haven’t bought a bicycle.
Where are you from?
Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
Where are you living now? How long have you been there?
Berlin, Germany. We’ve been here nine months.
(Image courtesy of Robby van Moor.)
Have you lived anywhere else? Do you plan to stay in your current location or move somewhere else in the future?
We lived in London for five years before moving here, and I lived in California for a year when I was 10. In fact, the Pacific Northwest is the only place we’d leave Berlin for – Visas notwithstanding. We’ve always said that if we make this work, we could live anywhere in the EU – but now that we’re here we don’t want to leave!
What’s your story? What made you decide to take the big leap and leave home?
We simply fell in love with Berlin, and out of love with London. We first visited Germany’s capital shortly after moving to England’s, and we knew right away that Berlin’s freedom, creativity and quality of life were for us. As soon as we were both set up as freelancers (and felt brave enough!), we took the leap.
Sorry, “Home”, but no! London has a way of making you feel not at home, and mine and my wife’s parents have moved away from Newcastle, our actual home. If you’re online as much – and outside as little – as I am, you hardly notice the difference!
How do you blend in and be accepted by locals?
There are so many internationals here in Berlin that blending in isn’t an issue. There’s a great expat community both on- and offline, so we have fit right in… to that little bubble. But being accepted by locals is a whole other story. As a breed, we expats are too lazy and insular to integrate, plus our relative affluence is pushing up rent and the cost of living in previously affordable areas. There’s a healthy amount of talk *about* us, but very little *involving* us. Having said that, most people we meet are very nice to us in person.
How do you stay in contact with loved ones?
Social media and Skype. The former is my life (and my job!), so our blog überlin, its Facebook page and its Twitter account have become lifelines. And Skype is a gift for staying in touch with parents, even if you end up having to shout over their ancient PC’s fan, or having to explain how to enable video *every time*. My granddad’s the only person privileged enough to get actual phone calls.
Did you have to learn a new language? If yes, what? How did you go about learning the language and how long did it take you to become fluent?
We haven’t *had to* learn German, but we’ve tried. The fact that everyone speaks English is both a blessing and a curse, and working at home means we won’t just “pick up” Deutsch. However, we did classes before we moved, intensive courses when we got here, and now get private tuition. That should help us talk to the 1% of Berliners who don’t speak perfect English!
What has been the most shocking thing you learned about the local culture?
That the German spoken by most Berliners is barely recognizable as German at all! It dents your confidence a bit to meet people from South Germany who prefer to speak English because it’s easier to make themselves understood, but it’s also liberating to learn that sloppy pronunciation is practically encouraged in Berlin. As long as you’re making the same mistakes as everyone else!
What is your number one tip about how to live life as an ex-pat?
Just Do It. Of course the thought of leaving your friends, family, job, hometown or motherland is scary, but once you’re living somewhere you’ve dreamed of living, all those fears will be a distant memory. Suck it up, make the move, and make it work.
The thing I love (and sometimes hate) the most is the isolation. It’s very freeing to not understand the crap written in newspapers, or said on TV, or by the people around you on trains. You can’t worry about what’s beyond your control if you aren’t aware of it – then you just have to get on with living and loving life.
What has been your best experience to date in your new home?
All of it. There have been times, on the dance floor at Berghain, or sitting across from my wife at a canal-side restaurant – when it dawns on me that we actually did it; we’re actually living here. But, honestly, every day brings new best experiences.
Did you make the move solo? Or are you with a spouse or significant other, other members of your family, or friend(s)?
Apart from my wife, I moved with some other family members – our cats, Iggy and Otis. In fact, the first thing we worked out with regards to relocating was whether we could bring the furry fellers with us. If we couldn’t, we would have had second thoughts about the whole thing. Seriously.
What do you do work wise? Did you have a job before you arrived or did you look for work when you got there? If you didn’t have a job, how did (or do) you land work?
I’m a freelance writer, editor and media analyst, and Zoë’s a web designer and photographer. We were lucky enough to secure contracts with UK clients before moving away, so we’ve never had to brave the Berlin job market. Since moving here, I’ve been made Music Editor of Bang Bang Berlin, and Zoë has picked up more photography work, so it’s been great for us!
Read all about James and Zoë’s fun adventures, or as they call them – their “Berlin Years”.