Feb 272011

My mother has some close German friends that she met back when they were college exchange students living in America.  Since their time here they have married, started careers and now have two young sons. My mom and her hubby refer to them just as “the kids”, which should reveal their esteem in the family!  In their status as adopted, extended family, “the kids” have very kindly taken it upon themselves to help us by providing information and insight into their native country.  Thus the German Franz family is helping the American Paris family.  For some reason, this little linguistic harmony pleases me!

Hard for the brain not to go here!

One of the things I asked Frau Franz about was their schooling system.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we are very curious how the German system, which splits kids off into Trade-bound vs. College-bound at an extremely early age, would deal with 2 college-bound non-German speakers.  Our friend wasn’t sure, but said she would look into it.  A week or so passed without word, and I figured she had gotten busy.  But, upon our return from Morro Bay, I discovered an email in my mailbox.  Frau Franz had found a co-worker who had a contact who was not only an “officer” at the Kehl secondary school, but who was also their English teacher.  What a perfect person to answer our questions!  Her name?  (and I kid you not) Frau “Frankenstein“!   Oh.  My.

Our friend’s co-worker had solicitously set up a phone meeting with Frau Frankenstein for 12 noon on Saturday afternoon- German time.   Unfortunately, it turns out that that is 3AM Saturday morning our time.  After driving all day in the rain, I was really in no shape to stay up until 3 to speak coherently with anyone- let alone an official at our children’s possible school.  Luckily, we had also been given her email.  So, the following morning I composed a letter apologizing for missing our scheduled phone-date and asking a few general questions about what we might expect were we to enroll the kids in the local school.

The school’s name, by the way- Einstein.  Those of you who are both aware of Albert Einstein’s checkered educational history, and the difficulties that our children have had in the American public schools may be able to read a bit of irony into that association.  I certainly did.

Now, along with contact information for Frau Frankenstein, Frau Franz’s letter also included a couple of web links. One was for the Einstein School– the other for the International School in Strasbourg.  Currently, it would seem that these are our two main contenders for the kids’ education once we are in Germany.

First I clicked on the Einstein School link.

The actual image from the web page

Up popped a friendly, but jam-packed Middle/High school web page.  To the left, “Von A bis Z”- an alphabetized list of links to school-related information.  In the middle, two columns of school news and “This and That” (Deis und Das) and finally a long row of student photos “From the School of Life”.  There seem to be a number of links to environmental and social causes- one, in fact, with a white tiger on it (DD considers tigers to be a bit of a personal emblem).  But, smack in the middle of the page is a single message in English, standing out from the rest- “Time Out With Jesus”. Needless to say, this caught my eye!

The words linked to a 2-page Acrobat flyer with an image of someone taking a tandem sky-dive and the phrase “That’s Me!” (in English, again) scrawled across the bottom.  The rest of the text was in German and it took me a while to figure out what it all meant.  The first two paragraphs were about how your life can feel like a free-fall if you don’t have Jesus in it.  Then it explained that this is why we should all take time in our school day to reflect about Jesus and his message.  From a strictly American “separation of church and state” perspective I was starting to get a little concerned.  But, I shrugged it off as a “difference of culture” sort of thing and didn’t really worry too much about it.  DH, however, was more concerned.  So, I pressed on and translated the second page.

“Come by.  Check it out.  Cordial Invitation.  Until then.  See you there.”  With a smiley and directions to meet with in room 108 at 1pm for “singing, exchange ideas, ask questions, discover together the God of the Bible”.

AH!  It is a student club!  Ok, that sits much better with our American sensibilities.  I still have no idea why the student religious leader chose to name his club in English.  But, it was eye-catching, so: Well Done Student Spiritual Leader.

Next Up- Navigating French Bureaucracy on our way to a potential International Education.

Feb 242011
View from our balcony in Morro Bay

I am currently out of town with the kids at a vacation house my mom and her hubby rented in Morro Bay.  I told the kids this was a trial run for Europe.  We are walking a ton, trying new things, and adapting to an unusual environment.  We are also practicing our German.  Luckily Mom and Mark both speak more German than we do, so it is all good!  Granted, we are still at the “wait, there is a cow, how do you say ‘cow’?” stage of language acquisition.  But, you have to start somewhere!  So far despite some tired-poutties the first evening, everyone seems to be doing well.  Knock wood.  It doesn’t hurt that it is a truly gorgeous place, either.  I am told Germany will have that advantage as well, so I am counting on that to take the edge off on those edgy, homesick evenings.

Kids at the Bird Sanctuary

In the meantime, DH is home trying to refresh his coding skills and continuing the marathon of prepping for the move.  He is packing, culling and conversing with our German contacts.  I am told our recycling bin is overflowing with discarded Magic the Gathering cards and various unused ancient gaming paraphernalia.   Perhaps to help soothe the loss, some of his gaming friends have taken pity on his temporarily single state. They have been staying up gaming with him into the wee hours of the night.  A man needs distractions!

Latest News:

  • They sent yet another contract- this one with more info on copyrights, but still no mention of the items specific to our deal.  We are told this will get rectified RSN.
  • The CEO is still out!  But, he is expected back er, RSN.  Actually, maybe as soon as tomorrow.  Once he returns, the process is hoped to get rolling along.  But, of course, I suspect he may have a few things on his plate other than us.  You know, stuff like running the company and maybe getting re-acquainted with the staff that he already has on hand!
  • Our contact isn’t certain what our moving allowance will be but expects us to be able to bring “2 boxes”, each of which cost “like 1,000 EU” to ship….  We have no idea how large those boxes might be.  I am picturing a smallish “pod” style shipping container, but I am eager to learn more.  Right now they could be jewelry boxes for all we know!

This coming month seems like it will largely be a balancing act between seeing our family and friends and trying to prepare for the trip.  We are really enjoying seeing folks, but there is a little sadness in there, too, because we know we won’t be able to see a lot of people for about a year after we leave.  I am talking up Skype bigtime.  Not as good as a real hug, but at least a practical way to see how tall the kids are getting in real time.

Feb 192011

 Some Thoughts on Language

Obviously, when moving to Germany, one of the most immediate differences we will experience (other than warm sodas and cold air) is that Germans speak German.  And, well, we do not…  Yet.

David actually has 3 years of High School German class under his belt, so for him it is a matter of refreshing, refining and expanding on his skills.  My high school experience was with French (Merci Madame Tanny!).  And, while my parents might have thrown about an occasional phrase from their time in Germany (my dad was stationed there for 1.5 years back in the 60’s), those were mostly just an amusing inside-joke between them.  Thus, for the rest of us, this German thing will be a whole new ball of wax!

West Germanic languages
  Dutch (Low Franconian, West Germanic)
  Low German (West Germanic)
  Central German (High German, West Germanic)
  Upper German (High German, West Germanic)
  English (Anglo-Frisian, West Germanic)
  Frisian (Anglo-Frisian, West Germanic)
North Germanic languages
  East Scandinavian
  West Scandinavian
  Line dividing the North and West Germanic languages

 Check My Math

So, here is my thinking. English is basically just a combination of French and German.  Back in the day, the French speaking Normans conquered the Germanic Anglo-Frisians, combining the two core languages into the linguistic mess that we call English.

As there is no point denying that I am a complete geek at this stage, let us take a look at this algebraically:

 German + French  = English

So, let us isolate German on one side of the equation by subtracting a French from both sides.

German + French – French = English – French
German = English – French

Therefore, since I already speak French and English, it ought to be, by algebraic extrapolation, obvious that I already speak German!  If I can just extract the Germanic roots from my English memory, I should be home free.  Right?  Right?  Come on guys, let’s hear some love!  Er… yeah.  Even my math-loving husband wasn’t convinced with that one.

Wer = Who and Wo = Where… Was?

Actually, this idea hasn’t proven as far fetched as I might have originally thought.  We bought an “Instant German Immersion” computer program, a German phrase book, a German/English Dictionary and a German/English Picture Dictionary (great for ID’ing vegetables!) to help along our journey toward communication fluency.  One thing that these products have confirmed is that there is a lot of overlap between German and English vocabulary.  So much so, in fact, that it sometimes creates a complication all its own because we can’t remember if we are speaking English with a silly German accent or if we are actually remembering the correct words and speaking German!  Now add in my French (which has also influenced its neighbor, it would seem) and I occasionally get *very* confused.  I have this persistently perverse fear that once I learn German it will replace all the English in my mind and I will be left helpless when I try to do my work or return to the States.  Oh no, the German is invading my mind!!!

On the other hand….

Several people have told us not to worry too much about the language situation.  One grocery clerk was adamant.  “You can make do with English” we were told, and  “So many Germans speak English, now!”  Well, sure.  But, to me that sort of defeats the point!  If I am going to go live in another country, I intend to learn as much as I can while I am there.  Culture, foods, arts, sights, history, and, “ja”, language all give a place its unique character.  How much would we miss if we didn’t at least make the effort to interact with our new home in its very own language?  Plus, there is something smacking of American Arrogance to the idea that the people where we are visiting should accommodate our language ignorance.  Americans are almost stereotypically poor at acknowledging the need to learn multiple languages.  And, I believe we suffer for it.  Countless studies have shown that people who are bi- and tri- lingual have a vast array of neural pathways in their brains that are not developed in people who only speak one language.  In short, learning new languages lets you think better.  That is definitely a goal I can get behind!

English Language rates among European countries.  Germany = ~55%

Today’s Developments
 The CEO is still out sick.  But, our contact sent us a 7 page standard contract- written in German.  Wheee! Changes will need to be made for some of the specific items we requested, but it is a good start.

Things we learned:

1)     Google Translate is actually pretty good for this sort of thing.  There are no idioms or slang in a legal contract, so most of the clauses were pretty easy to decipher.

2)    David’s current estimated start date is April 1.  We are hoping this is not a joke!

3)    Despite what I said in number 1, some things do not translate that well.  For instance: 

5.2. Anniversary gifts, gratuities or other benefits, will be decided from case to case, voluntary payments by an employer on a claim at all, or at a certain level does not exist. You are always revocable. Even with repeated payment thereof, a legal claim can be derived.

Something about the phrase “You are always revocable.” strikes me as charmingly German and yet simultaneously sends a cold shiver down my spine.

Feb 172011

David checked in this morning.  The CEO is still sick.  That flu is nasty!  But, they expect to have the German language version of the contract completed tomorrowish.  Every time we awaken to no contact I get worried.  As we get up about the time they are knocking off work for the day, any contacts that we are going to receive that day will generally be awaiting us first thing in the morning.  If we have no news, I often engage in morbid fantasies about all the things that could be going wrong without our ever knowing.  So, it is a comfort to confirm that they are working on the contract.  I assume the translation process won’t be instantaneous, but just being reassured that everything is still chugging along on their end lets me get focused on my day. Once we have a visa in the works and a signed contract my sources of stress will be cut by… well, ok only really by like 1/100th, but still, it will be a comforting step!

Feb 162011

So, now that introductions are done, I suppose I should let everyone know what is going on!

The short answer is: It looks like we will be moving to Germany.  Soon.

How did that happen?  That is a longer answer…

The Great Recession caught us pretty much off-guard and whacked us squarely on the jaw. David got laid off from Disney (Disney! Shouldn’t that be stable employment?) and had been job hunting for a while.  He wasn’t a “99 weeker”, as the newspapers have taken to calling it, but, well, lets just say the 2010s hadn’t been a great decade for us so far.  The silver lining, of course, has been that we have had a lot of family time together.  David even took primary with the kids’ education while I was spending more time on my writing.  Goodness all around.

Also, we had some fun imagining what life might be like should David land any number of bizarre, distant jobs.  There was the one in China, the one in Utah, the ones back east and the ones in England.  Each time he would apply someplace interesting we would look the location up online and fantasize about what it might be like.  A few months back David said “Oh, hey!  I filled out a job ap for Germany today.”  We had fun imagining life in the heart of Europe and David entertained us with his rusty High School German.  But, surprise surprise, they wrote back!

The kids and me at Disney

This particular job is for a game-play engineer.  So, they wanted him to take a coding test- not uncommon these days.  But, this test was supposed to be 8 hours long!  That is a lot of work for a job you don’t really expect to take, but we figured that if nothing else it would be good practice.  So, I gathered up the free tickets to Disneyland that the kids and I had earned for volunteering at a Microtrash Clean-up earlier in the year. Yes, there is a little irony that Disney played a role in David’s job acquisition process.  In any case, I made sure everyone was out of the house so David could concentrate on his test.  As we were coming back, he called to let us know that while he had done well on the test he hadn’t finished the final question, so he didn’t think we would be moving to Germany.  Ah well.  It was a fun day at Disneyland, anyways!

But, as you might guess, the story didn’t end there.  The German company wrote him back and encouraged him to finish the final question.  So, the next day he finished it up (realizing a trick he had missed the first time through) and sent it in.  A few weeks more went by.  Then they set up a phone interview.  That went well.  And, a couple more weeks went by before they asked David to do a Skype interview with them.  Every step seemed to take several weeks.

Now, despite being fairly well-developed geeks, I have to reluctantly admit that we had never used Skype before.  And, in fact, none of our computers even had a video camera.  So, we made a small investment and brought ourselves into the more modern age of computer video conferencing.  (Actually, turns out it is really simple!  Friends and Family, I expect you all to get set up so we can chat :)  Anyways, since Germany is 9 hours later than here, they set up the interview for the end of their work day and the wee hours of ours.  David interviewed with the CEO, a producer and one of the technical leads.  By the end of the interview the CEO leaned into the camera and said something to the effect of “Now, David, what I need you to do is think about what it will take to convince you to actually embark on this great adventure and come work with us here in Germany”.  Whoa!

The next day we sent him a letter detailing the sorts of things we were interested in.  We wanted to be able to earn enough for a family of 4 to live comfortably, have some time to travel, get some help with the move and be able to homeschool.  We also suggested that things like a committed contract and the ability to return to the States on occasion might help convince us to seal the deal.  A few days later he wrote back to say that what was “comfortable” would depend on our own perspective and that we could spend our vacations as we liked, but that homeschooling wasn’t an option in Germany.  There might be some chance that we could live in France, which does allow homeschooling, but he didn’t think it was likely.  And, of course they would help us move.  We were a bit discouraged by the tone of the letter.  But, still, we talked things over with the kids.  Surprisingly, they didn’t seem all that concerned about the potential of attending school in Germany!  Well, maybe “concerned”, but not afraid or adamant or upset.  Hmm, maybe this wasn’t such a far fetched idea after all…. More thought needed.

A few more weeks passed.  In the meantime, David had entered into a series of interviews with two other companies.  That was a rollercoaster and a half.  The first one said they would make an offer the next day, then got cold feet.  But, they still kept saying that he was their top pick and that they *might* make an offer to him soon.  The second one dragged their heels but kept picking back up again every time we thought they were done.  Apparently at one point they changed recruiting agencies and he had to start nearly from scratch.  I think he did 8+ phone interviews with them, plus a design test and a few other contacts.  Up-down, Up-down.  My stomach turned somersaults daily.

Next, David got email from the German producer, a friendly gentleman named Vladimir.  He was in LA and wanted to meet!  Well, heck.  Why not?  So, David met him at a local Web business where Vladimir had friends and they chatted for a couple hours.  During that time Vladimir impressed on David how cool they thought he was and said that the reason they were slow was because one of the main guys had just had a baby.  In any case, they would make an offer soon.  And, even if it was too low, David should still drop by anytime he was in Germany.  Cute :-)

Another week or two went by before we finally got an emailed job offer.  The money wasn’t great, but, it was doable and all our other concerns were covered.  Company paid trip to the US, 1 year contract firm, and they had hired a consulting firm to see if there was any way we could live in France with the kind of visa we needed.  David asked for 2 weeks to think about it.

Those were some stressful weeks!  My stomach was now permanently on a trampoline.  The other two companies kept talking, interviewing and asking us to wait.  David even had two phone interviews on Superbowl Sunday!  We were also trying to find out all we could about Germany.  And, Vladimir called back to say that the best of their research said that France wasn’t an option for non EU citizens.  He seemed pleased and surprised when David said that didn’t seem to be a deal breaker. 

Finally, on the last day of our 2 weeks, it became clear that while the other two companies liked David, neither one had an opening that they thought was a great fit at this moment.  We *could* wait and see if anything shook loose.  But, a bird in the hand- and a German bird at that- really seemed to be worth much more than a bush of possible birds in the future.  SO, we wrote back and accepted the job.

If you can find Strasbourg in France next to the Key, we will be just across the Rhine from there, SW of Stuttgart

Current Status
That was last Thursday.  True to form, everything has moved in slow motion since then.  Apparently the CEO is the one who needs to get the visa going, and he has been out sick with the flu.  Once they start the visa process, they will send us the contract and we will be off and running.  Until then, we just have an emailed job offer and a house that needs some SERIOUS culling.   I suppose it is not beyond imagining that things may go very south very fast, still.  But, at least at the moment, we are operating off the premise that we will be in Baden-Württemberg in a little over a month!

Feb 162011

Bienvenue!  Willkommen!  Welcome!
And Greetings.  For those of you who may not know me yet- or those who do know me but need to get caught up- introductions are in order.  My name is Stephanie Paris.  Thus the catchy title.  Our family generally likes to regard most of life as an adventure.  But, recently life has handed us a doozy and several of my friends and family have prevailed upon me to to write about it.  Last week my husband accepted a job offer in Kehl, Germany.  So, away we go!

First, the characters in our little story…

The Paris Family

Me in a Holiday Sweater

Stephanie- That’s me!  I am a freelance educational writer, which means I write those books and workbooks that teachers use to help them in the classroom or parents buy to help their kids get ahead [ Please see the page at right or click here for links to my work].  I am also a homeschooling mom of two (see below).  My background is, perhaps not surprisingly, in education.  I have been both a classroom teacher (grades 2/3) and a computer lab specialist for an elementary school.  I am Californian.  I am REALLY Californian.  My family has been continuously in CA for 8 generations on my Mom’s side.  And, while I do love to travel, I haven’t had many opportunities. I have never lived anywhere outside of California.  Heck, I have never lived anywhere with weather.

DH and DS

David- My husband of 17 years.  About a decade ago David decided to switch directions.  He went from a traditional Silicon Valley career in software engineering to one following his lifelong passion in computer games.  He has been an engineer, a designer, a manager and a producer in his chosen field- often all at the same time.  David’s family moved around a lot when he was a kid so his desire has always been to settle down somewhere and stay put.  But, somehow that has not stopped us from moving around CA every few years to follow where his career takes us. (Sometimes I may refer to him as “DH” for “Dearest Husband”).  David is brilliant, sardonic, handsome, reserved, supportive and occasionally emotionally clueless.

DD with Rat, Pokemon book, Drawing and DS (game, not brother)

DD-  I am going to avoid naming the kids here for what should be obvious reasons, so instead I will refer to the Elder Child as “DD” for “Dearest Daughter”.  She is 13 and what they like to call “extremely bright”.  How bright?  Well, by the time she was 1 year old she was sorting her bedroom by shape, color, texture and size.  When she was 10 she began teaching herself computer programming and completed several programs. She is quirky, prickly, funny, has an enduring love of Nature and is becoming quite the talented artist.  Public school has not proved to be a “good fit” for her.  Actually, it was a pretty horrible fit.  We pulled her out 2 1/2 years ago and have been successfully homeschooling ever since.

DS at his Arrow of Light ceremony.

DS-  That would be “Dearest Son”.  He is 10 and also “extremely bright”, but in a very different way than his sister.  How bright?  Well, let us just say he could likely invent Flubber, but if he wore glasses he would definitely lose them atop his head.  He would also probably walk into several walls trying to find them.  He loves mechanical engineering and has one of the most untethered, creative minds that I have encountered.  He is the kind of kid who will wake up in the morning and shout “Mom!  Mom! I just realized that centrifugal force is caused by inertia!”  He is also the kind of kid who will see an elderly person at a store and strike up a conversation and help them get their groceries. 

 Next up- Plot and Setting