Friday, April 09, 2010

Taking Part

I have been thinking about the subject of this blog post for a few days now and it's rumbled around long enough that I felt the need to put it down on paper. Well, not paper, on electrons perhaps is more accurate. Please bear with me while I give you some background information.

When I first moved to Munich, I ended up joining a Bavarian oom-pah-pah band. I was a member of the Pullacher Blasmusik, the local wind band for the town of Pullach. It was such a fantastic experience, I could write for hours (and probably bore some of you to tears) about why I enjoyed it so much. I played with them for all 13 years I lived in Munich. They were the only group I actually cried saying goodbye to at the end of our stay in Germany.

The reason I mention this is because if I moved to Munich for the first time today, it would be highly unlikely that I would join them. When I first moved to Munich in 1993, I found the band by putting an ad in the local free ads paper, saying I was looking to join a band. Nowadays, every one would fire up their computers and do a search. And for Germany, English speakers searching the web will probably come across the extremely useful and informative website of Toytown Germany. I am still a member of the forums there and they are goldmine to anyone moving to Germany. Not just for information about the place, but as a friendly place to ask the questions you don't know who else to ask. Like why do Germans stare at me? Or is it strange that I saw a woman in her 70s having beer with her breakfast the other day? And it's a great way as a new expat to meet other expats. Lots of them plan organised events and in Munich, they have even formed the TT Orchestra and Singers.

So if I moved to Munich now, I would probably have joined the TT Orchestra, assuming they would have me. Why? Because they would have been easy to find. Because they would speak English and when I first moved to Germany I didn't speak any German. Because when I first moved, I only planned to stay a year, so an expat band would have been easy to get to know people and less intimidating than joining a German-speaking (or Bavarian speaking!) band. But I am so glad they weren't around and I didn't join them.

Now don't get me wrong please, especially my friends who are in the TT Orchestra. I think you guys are great for forming and you sound like you are really taking off and doing fantastic things. Things I would certainly have enjoyed. But I would have missed out on so many other things by not playing with a local band. I went to Ukraine and France on tours with Pullacher Blasmusik and Pullach representatives. Because of PuBla, as we affectionately called the band, I learnt not just German, but Bavarian. This is a dialect of German that other Germans might not be impressed that I know, but most Bavarians certainly were. Probably the majority of my German friends came via the band. Being in the band gave me a good advantage when I applied for a job offered by the Pullach local authority. I even got together with my husband by convincing him to come along and join the band.

I moved to and stayed in Germany to get to know the country and the language, and playing in an expat band would not have done much towards that goal. I lived in much of an expat bubble as it was, with most of my friends being other people from countries other than Germany. PuBla was my best and strongest connection to the country I actually lived in and I'm forever grateful for having made that connection.

I know not everyone is in a foreign country to be part of that foreign culture. But even if you are there purely for work or for family, I think your experience is improved by trying to take part in the local (no longer foreign) culture. You aren't still at home, so you should try somewhat to make where you are home. Who better to help you feel at home than the people who are from there to do it?

I'm not saying that where ever you are, you should "go native". Be yourself and be proud of where you come from. But also accept you are in a different place now and try and be proud of that place too. You chose to live there so you should enjoy there. You don't have to join a local band to do that, it could be a local sports team, an art group, volunteering at a retirement home, whatever. It could be simply hanging out at the local cafe and starting conversation with the people there. It doesn't matter what it is, just take part in the world around you. Trust me, it's good thing to do.