Expat Living: Ava Meena in Schweinfurt Germany
My email inbox is on fire, as lots of expats are writing to me, asking to be featured here on the blog!
It’s always a pleasure to hear and share the stories of others living abroad — for example, we recently introduced Kathleen Parker in Berlin and today, we interview Ava Meena, an American living with her husband in Schweinfurt, Germany.
Expat Living: Ava Meena in Schweinfurt Germany
I’m an American housewife living in Schweinfurt, Germany.
While I love to travel, it can often be a challenge to do so because I suffer from early onset osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. I’m learning about how to live in Germany and how to live with chronic pain at the same time.
My favorite pastimes include exploring my small German town, playing with my pet bird, and planning our next roller coaster trip.
Where are you from?
Charlotte, North Carolina in the United States.
Where are you living now and how long have you been there? Do you plan on staying?
I moved to Schweinfurt, Germany in September 2015. I will be here until at least October 2016, but possibly longer.
Did you move there alone or with family, friends, a significant other or even a pet?
I moved here with my husband, Mr. Meena, and our pet parakeet, Koopa!
What brought you to your new home? Tell us your story.
After one year of working for a German company, my husband was offered a chance to train in Germany for 13 months. We realized that we had nothing to hold us back from moving abroad – no mortgage, children, or any other commitments at the time, so we agreed to go almost immediately.
It took six months of planning, a “look and see” trip to meet our new home, and an endless amount of paperwork in order to bring our bird along, before we actually made it to Schweinfurt.
What do you do work wise? Is finding work in your city easy? What are the visa requirements like?
I have degrees in chemistry and toxicology and I was working as a lab analyst at home, but I lost my job due to budget cuts shortly before we got the offer to move to Germany. I’m unable to work in Schweinfurt due to the relatively short length of stay here and because I don’t speak German.
It was very easy to obtain visas and a work permit for my husband since we moved here for his job; in fact, the company took care of all the paperwork for us.
How do you “blend in” and be accepted by locals?
I’ve learned not to smile at strangers too much, to be quieter, and to refrain from asking questions that are overly personal when I’ve just met someone.
These things help me to blend into the German culture and not stand out as a stereotypical American.
How did you make friends? Are you friends with locals or with other expats?
It has been quite difficult for me to make friends in Germany. Germans deeply value friendship and tend to establish their friendships slowly over time.
As a result, I’ve gravitated more towards the local expat groups, with people whom I can connect with more quickly and easily. However, I have met a few German women through a local language exchange group and my husband has been fortunate in establishing friendships with some of his coworkers.
What has been the most shocking thing you learned about the local culture?
The aggressive nature of a typical German, combined with a national inability to stand in line is the most shocking thing I deal with on a daily basis. I’ve been knocked over while waiting in line, had to fight to get off trains amid the tide of incoming passengers, and once I even had an intense standoff with a child who was trying to get in between me and a ticket machine.
My husband has learned to not leave any room between himself and the counter of the cafeteria in his workplace, because leaving even six inches open is an invitation for some Germans to try to step in front of you.
We’ve learned that personal space in not necessarily guaranteed in Germany, and if we happen to forget, there’s usually a German (literally) right behind us to help us remember.
Did you have to learn a language? What learning methods do you recommend?
We don’t need to be fluent in German, but we definitely had to learn some of the language. The only German words we knew when we moved here were “Achterbahn” and “nein”. We’ve since learned the German alphabet, numbers, and enough phrases that we can usually get by in public.
Fortunately, my husband is able to communicate with most of his coworkers in English. While many Germans speak English quite well, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll always be able to find one that does (especially in smaller towns). For someone who wants to learn German I would recommend finding a language exchange program and partnering with someone who will take the time to correct your pronunciation and grammar.
What do you love the most about your new home?
I love being able to walk or take public transportation almost anywhere that I need to go. It’s very low stress to walk over to a coffee shop or farmers market instead of having to drive everywhere. We don’t have a vehicle here and it’s rare that we need one. My husband can walk to his job and he no longer has to deal with irritating traffic jams or delays. We don’t fight about who is driving (or who is driving badly) and we can spend time together when we use public transportation. Giving up driving, aside from the occasional car rental, of course, has been incredibly relaxing and beneficial for us.
What do you “hate” the most about your new home?
I can’t stand the lack of convenience. It’s really hard for me that our Bavarian town shuts down at 8 p.m. each night and that nearly everything is closed on Sunday – we’ve made many desperate trips to the gas station and the local Subway for food. We struggle to figure out how to keep our tiny fridge stocked when the stores close often (and sometimes for several days at a time) on holidays. We try to keep up with closings but they do occasionally catch us unaware as the dates aren’t always posted. We’ve observed that it’s easier for those with children in school to track the upcoming holidays.
While I understand the German approach to Sunday (one should relax and take the day off), it still feels like a lack of freedom to me. What if I want Saturday to be my day off? Why shouldn’t I be able to choose my day of rest instead of a law deciding for me? The loss of control over when we can shop has been a huge challenge that we still haven’t completely figured out how to deal with.
Ava’s Favourite Things in Schweinfurt
I love to visit the Lavazza Caffé Espresso Bar for a Bailey’s latte.
I usually read all my books electronically, but the Stadtbücherei (the local library) is a beautiful place to sit and read. The lower level is underground and has skylights that form part of the street above it, while the upper levels have interesting architectural details and windows with views of Schweinfurt.
I haven’t lived in Schweinfurt long enough to experience many of their seasonal markets, but I do enjoy the local farmers market in the Marktplatz next to the town hall.
I’m on a bit of a minimalism kick since whatever I purchase here will eventually have to be sold, donated, or shipped back to the US, so I don’t do a lot of non-food shopping. But I do love to visit Ateelier to stock up on delicious coffee and chocolates.
I enjoy the s’Türmle Schweinfurt, it’s a small wine bar that’s built into one of the towers on the old city wall. You can sit inside the tower or outside along the wall and enjoy wine, beer, and small appetizers. It’s always a relaxing and charming experience.
My favorite restaurant, especially for Franconian cuisine in Schweinfurt, is the Brauhaus am Markt. They have a dozen different types of schnitzel and their roast duck is to die for.
Things to do?
The first thing I do when friends or family arrives is take them on a tour of the pigs of Schweinfurt. There are somewhere around 100 colorful fiberglass pigs located throughout the city that are personalized to their respective stores and locations. While they aren’t always easy to find (unless you know where to look), they are great fun.
Weird and offbeat attraction?
There’s not an abundance of attractions in this small town, but there is a bunker that you can tour if you have enough people (groups of 10-40 are accepted) and you speak German. The bunker was built to provide protection from air raids during WWII as Schweinfurt was (and is) a large manufacturer of bearings.
Get Social With Ava
- Blog: http://www.mymeenalife.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mymeenalife
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mymeenalife/
- Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/mymeenalife/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/MyMeenaLife
Do you live abroad? Would you like to be featured in our Expat Living interview series? Send an email to email@example.com and you could be featured just like Ava Meena in Schweinfurt Germany.
If you like this interview and want to read more of them, as well as read more general posts on expat life, check out my Expat Living section. You’ll come across articles like our ten favourite things in Berlin and how the concept of home changes when you move abroad.
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