A few days ago, I wrote about an article in which I was featured. It was a two part series in which six people were interviewed. These people had one thing in common (including me) - we moved away from our home country. We were asked about how life had changed, what was different, what stayed the same, what we missed, what we learned, how we adapted. The interview process was quite interesting for me; putting all my feelings into words was quite powerful.
But because each interview was limited to a certain amount of words, not everything we discussed got published. Therefore, I've decided to share it with you in full here, for a more detailed insight into my feelings, my experiences and what I've learned from moving to a different country. Canada to Germany.
What is your name, age and occupation?
Holly von Hoyningen Huene, 29, interior design student and blogger for Trendir.com
Are you married/how long/Spouse name?
Married to Paul von Hoyningen Huene since November 1, 2010.
Were you born in Montreal?
Do you have extended family in Montreal?
Yes, almost my whole family is in Montreal - except my sister who lives in the Caribbean. I also have close relatives in Calgary and some extended family in the States.
Why did you leave the city?
My husband and I (he was my boyfriend at the time) left Montreal end of summer 2009 (I
was 27) for the simple reason that we thought it would be fun. I guess we were looking
for a different experience and it just seemed like the right time to do it. But we by no
means left because we didn’t like Montreal. It remains one of my favourite cities to date
and will always hold a special place in my heart. I feel that I carry its essence with me
everywhere I go.
Do you still think of Montreal as home?
That depends on how one would define home. For me, home really is where the heart
is. It is something internal and defined by a sense of well-being. No matter where I go, I
carry home with me.
What do you like to visit when you go back home?
Hudson - a charming town, west of the Island, where I did a significant portion of
my “growing up”. Then of course downtown Montreal – Westmount, Monkland Village,
Old Port, Plateau. I love the vibe of the city.
Do you have a favourite Montreal food you miss?
Poutine!!! and real Maple syrup.
Do you keep tabs of the Montreal Canadians?
Of course! The internet is a great tool and we subscribed to ESPNplayer.com so that we
could watch games live, or on demand when we just can’t stay up that late because of the
Do you read Montreal news or don’t pay attention to what happens in Montreal?
Yes on the internet. Plus, I stay connected via my family and friends.
Are you the sort of person who feels tied to your roots or not?
This is a hard question. In some ways I do, but in other ways I don’t. I guess you could
say I’m tied to my roots unless my roots get in the way of experiencing new things. If I
feel they hold me back from something in some way, then I can untie them. But most of
the time, I think my roots enhance my experiences.
Are you proud to be from Montreal? Or do you struggle with this concept?
100% proud. Every time I tell someone I’m from Montreal, I always get a positive
Do you have Canadian friends where you live or seek out like-minded fellow foreigners/
people who speak your language or have the same religion?
At first, I wanted to make friends only with German people. I guess I was afraid that
if I made friends with expats I might end up isolating myself from this new culture. It
was important to me that I integrate as much as possible, learn the language and really
live the true experience. But soon enough, I found it so nice to interact with people who
can relate to my experience as a foreigner. I now have a nice mixture of friends – native
Germans and foreigners like me from all over the world.
What are some of your favourite Montreal memories?
Watching the traffic and the action on the corner of Sherbooke street from my apartment
window. Studying outside on the grass in the sunshine at Loyola Campus. Picnics
in Westmount Park. Going to see Cirque du Soleil in the Old Port. Hanging out with
friends on our favourite terrace in Hudson. Working Grand Prix weekend at Newtown
Lounge on Cresent Street. The St. Laurent street fair. The colours of autumn. My room
in my parent’s house. And all my memories of time spent with family and friends.
What are some of your worst Montreal memories? (Might as well be fair!).
Waiting in winter blizzards for a bus that never comes, especially when you’re ankle
deep in slushy snow.
Do you miss the cold weather and snow?
Not a single bit. We have winter here too in Germany but it’s not as intense and it
doesn’t last as long. It’s just enough to get to enjoy that coziness that the beginning of
winter brings. And when you are fed up of it you can see the light at the end of the tunnel
– not like in Montreal, it just drags on forever.
How often do you visit?
For now, only once a year. But I would like to soon increase that number.
Are your parents still in Montreal and if so, does this affect your frequency of visits?
Yes. I would like to see them more often. Ideally it would be great if we could see each
other 4 times a year – twice in Montreal and twice here in Germany. It is important to me
that my family can experience parts of my life in Germany.
Is your spouse also Canadian?
Yes, he is Canadian, just like me.
Does this impact on where you live?
Well, I guess I should mention that he is also German but born and raised in Canada. I
guess that had some impact on where we chose to live and the fact that we both hold
European passports. Europe seemed like a wise choice for us and since we’d been to
Berlin before and loved it so much we decided to move there. Now we live in Frankfurt.
Were your children born outside of Canada?
We have no children.
I know this article is meant to be about former Montrealers who do not intend to go back
to Montreal but is there a chance you might perhaps return “home” when you are older
Anything is possible. It’s not part of the plan but I believe one should ‘never say never’.
If not, where do you see yourself living in your retirement?
I imagine retirement on the beach, somewhere hot. But I do like the city so much… so
maybe spending time between a penthouse apartment overlooking an exciting city and a
quiet breezy beach house might be the perfect solution. Boy, it’s nice to dream isn’t it!
Honestly though, I have no clue. I can’t think that far ahead.
How is your life different since you moved?
My daily life is pretty much the same fundamentally. I am working, studying, hanging out with friends, wondering what to shop for for dinner ... you know, a regular life. Probably similar to the one I would be living if I were still in Montreal. But what makes it very different, is that everything is in German and that my family and friends are not here with me. And for me these are the biggest challenges.
Can you say more about the challenges of learning German?
I speak intermediate level German now and the more I learn, the more restricted I feel - surprisingly. At the beginning I could only say basic things but I felt proud because my scope was limited and I felt like I was accomplishing a lot - the novelty of it all was quite exciting. But now that I have a better understanding of the language and that I am more comfortable with it, the desire to express myself in a deeper way is also increasing and here is where I realize how limited I still am. I am sure this will come in time. Meanwhile, I have learned the crucial value of hand gestures and facial expressions! Everyday I learn something new and I try to take German lessons as often as I can. Although, living in big cities like Frankfurt and Berlin where practically everyone speaks English, I have to be careful not to get lazy. It's very important to me that I become fluent in German.
What about being apart from your loved ones?
Being apart from my family and friends is a challenge that will never go away. Not being able to walk down the street or drive twenty minutes to see them is a sad realization that still affects me and always will. Time passes, we get older, we are not in each others' lives to experience the day to day so we miss out on a lot of things. It's a hard reality to live with at times, but it is nevertheless my reality and I must deal with that. Thank goodness for Skype and Facebook though. I guess this technology helps to deal with it all on some level. I even started a blog in an attempt to provide a space where my family and friends could pop by to see what I've been up to. I post pictures there and share my feelings about various topics. But even though all these factors help keep us somewhat connected, there's no replacement for seeing them in person and spending quality time together. I am planning for more frequent trips in the future and have been so lucky that some of my loved ones have already visited me here.
So why with these major challenges do you still live in Germany?
Well, at the time the decision was made, I was searching for an exciting and personally challenging experience. When the idea of moving to a different county became a possibility, all I kept thinking was the following: if at the end of my life I could say, "In my mid twenties, I moved to different country, learned a new language and still managed to achieve my personal goals", then I would be so proud of myself. So here I am in the middle of all that with plans of soon finishing my studies and beginning a career as my next personal goal. When I stop to think about that, I feel utterly exhilarated - and that's why I'm still here. Plus Germany is really awesome.
What can you say about Germany? How is it different, what have you noticed?
Of course there are some cultural differences between my homeland and Germany. I feel them, but it's hard to say exactly what they are. I get asked this question a lot and I am always unsure about how to answer it. Maybe I am a bit naive or un-noticing but I feel quite at ease in this culture. That probably has something to do with the fact that I am still in Western Europe - elsewhere, the culture difference is probably more apparent. Or maybe it's because I don't concentrate on what's different but I focus on what is similar and find comfort in that. Or maybe it's because I really don't like making generalizations. I don't know ... but here are some random things I find interesting about the German way:
- Generally, Germans take turns speaking in conversation and there is rarely any interruption. I think this has something to do with the structure of the German language. Often times the verb comes right at the end, so you really have to hear someone out before knowing what they are going to say! This is different for me, coming from a boisterous Italian family who constantly interrupts each other.
- Germans like celebrating and they have lots of festivals and traditions, making it a fun and lively culture - opposed to what some people may think.
- On your birthday in Germany, you are expected to provide the cake.
- Vacation time is very important to Germans and traveling is a priority, even if it's not far.
- Germans value efficiency and this is apparent in urban infrastructure. Punctuality is also very important. Public transport, for example, is always on time, and if it happens that it's not, you can see people on the platform getting quite antsy. They keep looking at their watches, sighing loudly and basically acting like this is totally unacceptable even if the train is only late by 2 or 3 minutes. To tell you the truth, I have become one of those people - but only because here I have learned to expect punctuality - because usually everything happens on time.
- A "green" lifestyle is highly promoted in Germany. Waste and excessiveness are not part of the equation. This is a culture that pays for the water they use and pay a lot for gasoline (even more than in Canada). Every building, residence and neighbourhood have designated bins for waste and recycling. One for garbage, one for packaging, one for green glass, and separate ones for brown and clear glass, one for compost and finally one for paper. And if you put something that doesn't belong in one of the bins, be prepared to be called out on it. Bulk/discount supermarkets are not very common and you can't get milk in a bigger size than a liter. Driving compact cars and using public transport is the norm. This has probably something to do with the fact that space is a luxury in most of Europe. I've always tried to think about my impact on the environment, but since being in Germany I have enforced existing behaviours and developed new habits to live a "greener" life. I don't let the water run when I brush my teeth anymore.
- Germans answer the phone by saying their last name.
- Football (soccer) is for Germans what hockey is for Canadians.
- It is a common opinion here that Northern Germans are generally seen as more socially reserved than Southern Germans, although politically, the North is known to be more liberal.
- The social system is hard to beat.
- Coffee to go is not very popular. People sit to have coffee, outside if possible. On that note, it seems like Germans sit outside as long as humanely possible. Restaurants provide blankets for patrons deep into autumn when your breath is clearly visible in the air. I mean it's practically winter and the terraces are full. There have been days when even I, a Canadian woman, have found it a bit silly.
That's it. Based on these questions and answers, she wrote a nice article about me.
What about you? Have you also moved away from your home country? Are you planning to or thinking about it? Any comments or thoughts you'd like to share? If so, be sure to leave me some comments below.
'till next time,