Friday, 18 November 2011

F.A.Q with a Black Expat In Germany

Photo by Okello Dunkley

Occasionally I get an email, comment or tweet asking how I landed in Germany. There are tons of Americans who want to live abroad and they are just dying to know my secret to being a black expat living in Germany. Some are genuinely curious and others are outright intrusive, either way I need to invest in a frequently asked questions section. #lightbulbmoment 

Funnily enough, men right off the bat ask if I am in the military? Now, I don't like to make assumptions about the intelligence of strangers but I think anyone should be able to deduce that a person of my physique would not be permitted in anyone's military. Even border patrol officials who also have to adhere to strict weight and fitness requirements ask if I am in the service and I just give them the side-eye.

Many women assume I am a trailing spouse. A trailing spouse is someone whose husband (usually) has an overseas assignment. Outside of the armed forces, companies with an international presence transfer people around the globe and pay for their families to move with them. I have had numerous American women at expatriate events come straight out and ask “So which company does your hubbie work for?” This assumption offends me on various levels and I usually reply with some snarky response like, “ Since my husband lives in the future and I haven't met him yet, I have no idea who he works for." humph!
(I have nothing against trailing spouses, I just resent the fact that because of my gender people assume that I couldn't take the big scary leap on my own)

Okay okay, enough sass, let's get down to some questions and answers!

So what do you do, dammit ? You mean aside from freelance writing, blogging and traveling? I have a proper day job. I am employed by a German company who sponsors my residency here. I am not on a company transfer, I do not work for the State Department or any other Stateside agency. My employment is not temporary. I am not an artist or an entertainer, I have a fulltime job and I am not ashamed of that.( in the city of the casually employed, working fulltime or being considered corporate is almost as bad a leprosy)

Do you speak German? Not well. My employer although German is quite international, about 50% of the company is German and the rest is made up of internationals from all over the world,. The company and its partners are so diverse that English is the unifying language amongst us all. You have to speak English to work where I work, which cheeses a few locals off.

Do you get paid in Euros or Dollars? I get paid in Euros, I get taxed just like any other citizen of Germany and have to fill out US taxes. I contribute to the social benefits systems and have public health insurance. I don't get American holidays off but I do get 5 weeks vacation (some people get 6), so if it meant that much for me to go home for Thanksgiving weekend, I could probably pull it off.

Can you legally work in Germany? I sure hope so! There are a few ways that Americans can legally work in Germany. I have a residency permit that is tied to my specific job with my specific employer. In order to get this, my company had to prove to the German government that no other German or EU citizen could fulfill my role. Even after I got the job offer and accepted, the job office listed my job description on the public job board to make sure my company didn't miss anyone in their search.

What area do you work in? I work in a niche industry. The niche is so specific that I wouldn't disclose it on my blog for privacy reasons. People be crazy.

Can you give me a hint? You're one of those crazy people aren't you?

Whatever you do, it must pay well because you travel so much. Not as well as an American would think. There is some urban legend out there that ties living overseas with unlimited wealth. This legend has also convinced people that you have to be rolling like Rockefeller in order to travel. In Berlin specifically, the price of living is not expensive compared to other capital cities. A person can maintain a high living standard on a relatively low salary. In regards to travel, travel from Europe and within Europe is affordable. Other European countries are next door and you can throw a rock and hit certain parts of Asia and Africa.
Lastly, Germans are known around the world as travelers, if there is a plane route you will most likely find German's there. Because of their willingness to travel and to travel seriously, many service providers offer attractive packages from Germany.

How did you find your job? I googled, I'm being totally serious.

So people there is no real big secret, I hope I didn't lose some of my mystique :/ I'm not in the military nor am I a spy. I have no spouse to trail and I didn't win the lottery. I work a 9 to 5 and then some, just like everyone else, but my geographic location is different than my country of citizenship. I moved abroad because I had the opportunity to and I continue to I live here because I enjoy my quality of life, the relationships I have built and I truly believe Berlin is the coolest city on the planet. I dig my job, I am satisfied with the social health care system, and even though it stung a bit to see almost half of my check be taken away in taxes, I see the benefits that my contributions lend to the greater welfare of Germany....and Greece (grrrrrr!!)

Do you guys have anymore questions? I promise to answer, no snark, cross my heart :)

Be sure to follow me on twitter @nicolenewblack and if you like the post be sure to share it! I appreciate it!


  1. Great post. Really interesting. You have the guts that I don't. I love Germany and hope to live for a short stint.

  2. Great post - that answered most of my questions - impressed again. Well done, Nicole!

  3. @rhona, thank you for the comment. i guess it does take a bit of bravery but if you are determined i am sure you make the move to germany. i do complain at times but i would change my location for anything

  4. Love this post! I've gotten a few of the same questions on my blog as well. A lot of folks assume I married a European and that's how I ended up over here...and I have to do the slow head shake and explain that not only am I unmarried but I do in fact work.

    Oh and the one about being paid super well! I get that from my cousins! Slightly irritating sometimes....

  5. Great FAQ... Lol at the "people be crazy" comment :-)

  6. @ american black chick in europe
    right, its mostly family thinking you rolling in money and "got it like that" sigh, right i am unmarried and i work. strange concept for some people

    @oneika hey girl, people are crazy you should see some of the questions i get in my inbox wanting to know my employer to what size bra i wear. its nuts

  7. I also moved to Norway on my own back in 2001. And I'm not in the military nor am I a trailing spouse (LOL!). Many people are in awe of the fact that I traveled half way around the world, all alone to set up residence in a foreign country I've never been to before. I can understand their reactions, but for me its not a big deal. I have wanderlust and it has never occurred to me NOT seek out any and every opportunity I get or can find to travel. It's great to meet other black women like me who've taken on the same journey, albeit in a different country.

  8. @shells thanks for commenting. i just feel like making a pamplet to give to people so i dont have to answer the same questions all over again. LOL. but i understand i might be the first person they are meeting of COLOR who does "crazy" stuff like this. glad to meet you too. and glad i found that group on facebook

  9. Oh is there a group for us "vagabonds" on facebook? What is it? I'd like to join.

    Glad to meet you too. I haven't been doing much travelling lately because I've been out of work while I studied for my MSc. I spent a year in Bath, UK (at the University of Bath) then about 5-6 months in London. I came back to Norway in April 2011 and haven't been anywhere since. It's actually not such a long time, but for gals like us I imagine it feels like forever. It sure does for me! LOL

    Anyway, now that I've finally found a job, albeit not the best one, I'm still grateful for it because at least now I can set off on my adventures again!

  10. @shells you arent in the group? i think its called women of color living abroad, i thought that was how you found my blog. are you twitter i can DM you the link!

  11. Bumped into you so briefly at a few events & I have been meaning to actually talk to you & find out what you got going on. But - silly me - I should have realized it'd be nicely laid out on your blog. I will still have to chat you up sometime & figure out your blogging mojo, but now I've got the basics covered.

  12. Yes. Tatiana recommended your blog and I'm really enjoying reading your stories. I've been living and working abroad for almost five years now (currently in Chile, previously lived in China) and I can definitely identify with your comments about work and cross-cultural identity. Happy travels to you!

  13. stumbled on your blog today through a google search of black expats. all i can say is, im a new "follower" of your blog.
    I just recently started a blog about living in China, I hope we can inspire people out there to make the change! please check me out