Being an American in Europe

Good Morning.

Over the past year, I’ve been trying to learn how to live over here, and although at times it is spectacular…….there are times I want to pull my hair out.

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Last night was one of them.()

Most people who have lived or visited overseas have learned the truth that we Americans are loud. We are loud, confident and friendly as a people and I love that. And I am loud for an American. Have you met my father? I’ve never met a stranger and always prided myself on talking to anyone. I believe we have a culture that is efficient and blunt and creative and entrepreneurial and friendly. We question our surroundings and we are constantly driven by how we can do better, be healthier, live more efficient and less cluttered lives, provide more service, beat the competition, create happiness and become the greatest versions of ourselves. I’m guessing that can be annoying to alot of people in the world. I’m very much like this, but I also, when living in NYC, became a no bullcrap, tell it like it is, and in many people’s opinions rude person. I’m talking here about all my Southern and Mid Western friends who have ever so politely let me know this fact. 🙂 See my attitude in NYC?

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So, living here on the beautiful border of France and Switzerland, I have tried my hardest to curb a large portion of my personality. Knowing people could perceive ME, an AMERICAN, as rude and loud and overly opinionated and always expecting the most I can out of life, I have TRIED to learn to not expect great service or ease and as Dale Carnegie says to “win friends and make people like me”. 🙂

Last night, was a epic fail for me then.

Our Christmas tree is dead. It has been dying, as they do, but yesterday I took the ornaments off b/c they kept falling and breaking, creating danger for Jasper and annoyance for me. So, we decided to throw it out and Dragan wanted to take it for disposal last night so as to not worry about it before work the next morning. We tipped over the base, which was frustrating bc water went everywhere, but that’s really not a big deal. Anyway, we got our tree off it’s stand and I carried it into the hall so Dragan could take it down. It’s a big tree and we live on the top floor so taking it down the elevator, there were pine needles everywhere. Again, to me, absolutely no big deal. Here is my graven mistake.

This was 10pm. Late I guess but it only needed to take about 15 minutes. So………..

I enter back into my house, where my puppy is trying to eat as many pine bits as possible, and to my horror, I noticed there were bits of broken glass mixed in from fallen ornaments. I shewed him away and started to broom it up. Is that how you would say that? I’m not sure. For the small bits of glass and needles though, I needed the vacuum. Not thinking a thing about it, I grabbed my vacuum and went over the area, which is very small. I live in Europe…….small living spaces.  Now, I will be generous and assume this took about 4 minutes, when I heard my doorbell being rung at a rapid pace and angry seeming pace. Thinking it was Dragan, I looked and saw the door was unlocked, so kept going, assuming he thought it was locked and would figure it out, when my door opened and a man walked INTO our apartment. Without being invited, he came in about 3 steps and started screaming at me in French! I caught he was upset about the audacity of me vacuuming my apt at 10 pm, so I explained, quite frustrated that he was IN my home, that I needed to get the needles and glass up quickly, and sorry for the noise, but it would take, you know, 5 minutes. Now, this neighbor speaks no English and I haven’t met him before, but his wife, who comes up about once a week to tell me at any hour of the day that I’m too noisy, runs up the stairs, shouting at me…..”Mam! My husband has to work! You cannot do this! You have no respect!”…….to which I replied, “I’m sorry, but I needed to vacuum quickly b/c of my puppy as there were needles and glass everywhere. Now, can you please step out of my home?” To which, refusing to step out she just kept yelling. And here is where I got upset. Where is the polite knock and politely asking me to be quiet as they were tired or perhaps just sucking up the fact that you live in an apartment so occasionally your upstairs neighbor may make noise while LIVING THEIR LIVES. I told them I was sorry, but I have to live my life and that they needed to get out of my house. They walked back to the entrance but the woman wouldn’t let me shut my door and kept shouting at me.

I will enter a note in here to preface that this is not our first “encounter” with this couple. When I first moved here, they came up to state that we were arriving home too late each evening (lets say 10pm?) and that they believed we should be coming home earlier, as the noise of the elevator and our arrival was too much for them. Next they came up to tell me I can’t use my dishwasher at night. Then she came up once around 2pm (14:00) while I was playing music and cleaning to tell me she was tired (Je suis fatigue, madam, je suis fatigue. Mal de tete…….) and that I can’t play music because it was disrupting her nap. Another time she brought me a pair of house shoes to demonstrate that they did not like me wearing any shoes while in my house. So…..basically….they have told me non stop how much my existing here is annoying to them. I’ve gotten the point and have stopped doing ALL of the above.

So…..when she did not let me shut my door and wedged herself into the space between wall and door, I really lost my temper. I screamed, “Get out of my house now!!” to which she stuck her face in and yelled that she was calling the cops, to which I yelled “fine!”. Then I shut my door having to actually push against them as they attempted to push it back open. She continued yelling that she was calling the cops. She screamed this another 5 times, and finally I yelled back toward the door, “please madam, call the cops, and tell them that I was using my vacuum cleaner for 5 minutes. Please please do this”. I’m vacuuming for 5 minutes in my robe and slippers…..not having a rave…….give me a break.

Now………am I happy about this experience? NO.

Am I humiliated at 32 years of age to be getting into screaming matches with neighbors who quite obviously find me despicable?  YES.

Do I actually comprehend the practicality of what I’m doing here that is so unfortunate to those around me? NO.

Dragan was downstairs the entire time, so I went to the couch and cuddled Jasper and shakily cried for a few minutes and then texted my friend Kate, who lives here and has the same struggles, and my mom. Feeling absolutely rotten, I took Jasper and went to bed. I did not finish vacuuming……;-) I’m not a monster. 🙂

I debated writing this into my blog, b/c I don’t think I handled myself as well as I could have and know I need to learn to deal with irrational, crazy people here a bit better, but I wanted to share some advice.

Since moving here I have done these things to appease those around me.

1. I don’t run the dishwasher or washer at night.

2. I no longer play my music loud. I play it just to the point that I can actually hear it and occasionally I wear headphones.

3. I no longer wear shoes in my house, but only slippers. I genuinely despise being barefoot, so I have plenty of slippers, or as Dragan calls them, Poupons. I don’t mind this, except when I’m only home for 30 minutes, but still I do it.

4. When having a small Christmas party, I take cookies to crazy downstairs neighbors to apologize for any inconvenience in advance. Side note: The French love food and respond very well to this.

5. I speak more softly in public.

6. I always start any meeting with anyone here with a friendly, “bonjour”. We, Americans, tend to blurt out what we need, “Do you have…..etc….often without a greeting, and I understand how that can be perceived as rude. I guess. 🙂 If I need to ask something that my French is not yet advanced enough for, I begin with “bonjour….je suis désolé pour mon français . Parlez-vous anglais?” (hello. .I am sorry for my French. Do you speak English?)  I do believe this is a sign of respect as I wouldn’t like if I was in the US and someone walked up just expecting that I speak Spanish or French. And I also have noticed, everyone is very friendly to me when I begin this way. Makes sense and I’m happy to do this. In fact, I enjoy it. I like being nice. 🙂

7. Learn to live with having everyone around you tell you how to live every moment.

8. Constantly apologize for expecting service or ease and also apologize for being loud and assuming you can just live your life the way you want.

Now………..those are my tips for surviving moving to France and Switzerland. Obviously not everyone will be difficult anywhere you go……..

How do you feel about this? Should we change our behaviors to fit into new cultures? Should I tiptoe around my home and my life, fearing everytime my dog barks the neighbors are going to come shouting? After last night, I realized that I’m tired of feeling ashamed for being who I am here. I will still be polite of course, and I will continue wearing my house shoes, but I will not be bullied by the crazies downstairs nor intimidated by the looks I get for speaking or exclaiming excitedly in public when I see something I love because no matter how I try, it doesn’t quite seem to be working.  I’m proud to come from where I come from, and I’m proud that I’m friendly and outspoken, and I believe that when I’m true to myself, good things will happen. I would love some opinions! And please, take this post with a grain of salt……..and enjoy this picture.

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Bye for now………and stay tuned for I’m changing my blog name and will be posting a fashion post next. 🙂

7 thoughts on “Being an American in Europe

  1. Oh no, they are so rude!!!! How I feel is, yes and no to your question. I do think we should change (for the better) to fit into a new culture/country, but I don’t think we should accept people being rude to you for just anything. Just because you are not from Switzerland (and you are American), it doesn’t give them the right to be rude to you. There are ways and ways of making a point… I hope it gets better for you.

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  2. That sounds very rough. What does Dragan say about the neighbors? Does he believe they are being unreasonable as they sound?

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  3. Oh, Sarah. I feel torn between screaming at your neighbour on your behalf, and curling up in a ball and crying for you. So much of what you write: I hear you, sister. I’m practically your neighbour over here in Austria and I’ve just written a parallel blog about my struggles with the locals here. All I can say is: thank GOD I don’t live in an apartment. Also, I’m a bit jealous that your second language is French (so much prettier than the coughy/spitty German I’ve had to master) 🙂 Look forward to reading more. x

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    1. Haha! Thank you so much! I would have thought Austria a dreamland, but isnt that what we do???? Think every place is easier?? I really love your blog and found it encouraging to read of your struggles as well!!! Look forward to keeping up!

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  4. So sorry that they were so rude to you!! We are experiencing being American living in Korea but thankfully they have a culture built around respect. Not that some Koreans won’t put you in your place, but luckily we personally haven’t had too much of that. We are also very blessed to live in apartments that are only 5 years old and built well, since I run my dishwasher almost every single night! And our neighbors downstairs are Americans and both work all day with the army, which is VERY helpful since I am homeschooling our four children right now. Praying for peace and patience for all of you!!!

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