Let’s warmly welcome Christopher Allen, the latest person to be featured in my Expat Living Interview Series. Originally from the United States, Christopher moved to Munich, Germany where he’s now been for almost 20 years.
All About Christopher
Christopher Allen is the curator of the expat, gluten-free photo-literary travel blog I Must Be Off!
He’s also the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O’Type. His fiction, creative non-fiction and book reviews have appeared at Indiana Review, Quiddity, [PANK], The Lit Pub, Connotation Press, Chicken Soup for the Soul and many others.
Originally from Tennessee, Allen lives in Germany.
Where are you from?
I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. Music City USA. In Nashville, we don’t ask if you can sing; we ask what you sing. Oh, and we have a Parthenon—a new one—which is one of the reasons we’re also called The Athens of the South. The other reason is that Nashville has 17 colleges and universities.
Where are you living now and how long have you been there?
I’ve lived in Munich, Germany for almost 20 years.
Have you lived anywhere else around the world?
Yes. My family moved a lot when I was a child because my father was in the army.
In 1991 I lived in LA for eight months. I think everyone should live in LA for eight months just to see what a screwed-up, superficial place it really is.
I’ve also lived in London.
From 1997 to 2002, I commuted between London and Munich every other weekend. It’s a second home to me, and I think it’s the opposite of LA: you have to live there for a while to see what a wonderful place it really is. To love London, you have to learn to ignore its warts—just like a partner.
Do you plan to stay in your current location or move somewhere else in the future?
I’m what they call a Wahlmünchener (a person who has chosen to live in München because he loves it there). I’ve decided to live here and have decided to love the place. It’s my home. Although stay tuned. Another adventure might be right around the corner.
What’s your personal story? What made you decide to take the big leap and leave home?
I followed my heart—stupid, stupid heart—on an adventure of love. The relationship lasted about six months, but I stayed in Germany. I have always needed adventure, and have never wanted to stop having one.
Do you ever miss home? What do you do to cope?
Home is Munich now, but I miss some things about Nashville, some about London. I miss not being able to see friends and family. I miss American brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. I miss Eggs Benedict. That’s a silly thing to miss, but I do. I miss authentic Mexican food. Other than these things, I don’t have a problem coping. I can feel at home wherever I am. And if I really need hollandaise or a real salsa, I can make them.
One place I miss very much is Radnor Lake, a nature reserve in the heart of Nashville. When I’m there, once or twice a year, I make a point of walking at Radnor Lake every morning. It’s a special place.
How do you blend in and be accepted by locals?
Well, I understand Bavarian, which helps me blend in. That said, it’s really hard to blend in here. It’s more important to appreciate everyone’s differences.
I appreciate German honesty and the German sense of Ordnung (order). I like rules, and like it when people follow them, especially in traffic and kitchens, but not so much in literature.
I think mutual respect is important no matter where you live. Munich is quite multicultural. I work with people from all over Europe, and they’re all open to, and accepting of, one another’s differences.
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?
I spoke a little German before I moved here, but I basically had to learn the language from a beginners speaking level.When I first moved to Munich, I worked at a language institute where I could learn German free. Problem was, I was teaching 10 hours a day, so I never had time to attend my course. I ended up learning German from a now-close friend. It took me several years to become fluent—which doesn’t mean I’m stupid.
What has been the most shocking thing you learned about the local culture?
Hard question. It’s almost impossible to shock me. I could think about this question for days and not come up with anything. Germans are generally not very shocking.
Wait. German “directness” can be like a slap in the face to non-Germans. Once, a student stopped me at the door as I was leaving a class to tell me he hated my tie. “It’s old-fashioned, has elephants on it. Tacky. I thought you would want to know,” he said. “Oh, um, thank you, I guess. For the heads-up,” I said.
Then once, after I’d returned from a weekend trip to Paris where I’d stupidly let a woman cut my very very long hair off, one of my students cornered me after class and said, “Chris, just to let you know, before [when you had gorgeous Julia-Roberts-length hair] you had a look; now I’m afraid you look really normal. Average Joe. Big mistake. Thought you’d want to know.” “Oh, um . . . thank you?” I said.
The Germans have no problem telling you their opinion, and you’re not expected to be offended.
What is your number one tip about how to live life as an ex-pat?
Don’t come to a place with the attitude that your way of life back home is better than anyone else’s. The expat life is a time of intense learning. If you come to a place with open ears and mind and a closed mouth, you’ll be happier.
What do you love most about living abroad?
I’m so exotic! A rare bird.
I was the sole representative of the United States of America at the US vs. Germany game (public viewing) during the World Cup at the Greek restaurant down the street. I stood up anyway and sang the national anthem by myself and got a nice round of applause—I am after all from Nashville!
But a few years ago on July 4 at an Irish pub’s karaoke night, I sang “America the Beautiful” while a Scottish guy gave me the double bird the entire time.
What do I love most about living abroad? That I’m a US-AMERICAN wherever I go. Whatever else I am, I have to be a US-AMERICAN 24/7.
Oh, wait, this isn’t the What do I hate most about living abroad? question. Where is that question?
Did you make the move solo? Or are you with a spouse or significant other, other members of your family, or friend(s)?
I wish I had a picture of my best friend who moved with me. He died 17 years ago.
The first thing he did when we got off the plane in Munich was to trot out to the airport’s lawn and take a big dump.
My Cocker Spaniel Bodie. I miss him very much. He loved Munich. He got to come to work with me and eat in restaurants.
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?
During the day, I’m a business English coach. I teach in companies.
The day I arrived in Munich, I had three interviews, and I started working the next day. If you are an experienced teacher with a university degree, it’s relatively easy to find a job in Germany.
Apart from teaching, I’m also a writer. You can find a list of my publications here.
Expat Living Information
If you liked this interview with Christopher Allen in Munich, Germany, read stories from some of our other favourite expats including Jasilyn Albert in Ufa Russia and Kathrin Jaensch in Vancouver, Canada.