Americans just think they can go anywhere

Our friend Uwe, who fronts hard rock cover band "Rockfever."

Our friend Uwe, who fronts German hard rock cover band “Rockfever.”

It’s part of what makes us great and OK, sometimes arrogant, self-important, disrespectful: the fact we think we can go anywhere in the world, just show up, and do what we want or buy what we want, sometimes just by pointing.

And so it goes, my mom lives in Germany and we concocted this fabulous idea, this idea to quit our jobs and just go live there for a year. Everybody learns German, we get to travel a bit, work on our novels, come back better people. Right? Richtig?

And maybe because I’m American, I just assumed this would be easier than it is. That we could just rely on the truth of our story and that would be enough to get the necessary permission to stay. But it’s not.


I will try to keep this short and clean. Our in-country assistance starts and basically ends here, in San Francisco. My step-dad John used to say countries put their assholes on the border. In this case, they exported their assholes and put them in the SF Consulate.

When speaking to dogs, children and adults it’s true: people respond to tone. It’s not what you say sometimes but how you say it. And so when the fucking SF Honorary Consulate cops a tone with me, suggesting it’s unusual or off-putting my mom is not married to a German (in fact he was English and now dead) and asks my education-level, then sort of laughs and says I sink you have a weak case, well that was a bad start.

A week later we called back to see if we’d get someone else. Dawn called, this time. Same story: even worse, in fact a tone of “what do you do for income, hippy.”

I called a third time yesterday, having exhausted the other Honorary German Consulates in Seattle and Portland, who both said call San Francisco since they’re doing the fingerprinting now and we’re not allowed to talk to anyone about visas.

And the same woman answers but transfers me to someone who sounds like she’s gone to the same school of No.

And then they go outside to smoke and put their phones on DND.


There are a variety of websites to help, at least. This one is probably the best. It links out to other sites and rephrases things in a cogent fashion. Yet there are gaps of course, because you can’t cover everything online.

At the end of the day, it seems we need to go to Germany to apply for our visa within the first three months of arriving and then, we will either know right away or possibly three months later if we can stay longer, or just need to leave.


So we’ve rented our house out for a year, turned down job offers, and even started CLEANING OUT OUR GARAGE in expectation of realizing our plan, our manifest destiny.

But having done as much due diligence as I can without killing myself, our plan is to:

1. Apply and “hope” under the Family Reunification act we’ll get permission to stay for one year.

2. Prepare a back-up plan if we have to leave the Schengen (look it up, really!) after 90 days.

  • Back-up plan is to move to Croatia or the UK (not part of the Schengen agreement), then re-enter Germany 90 days later (requires buying a car, etc.)

3. Learn Deutsch. Continue our studies at a local community college, hire tutor for the kids.

4. Hire an emigration lawyer (you read right).

5. Coordinate enrollment of kids in local German school.

This is what I didn’t like about project management, how things get impossibly complicated (almost supernaturally complicated, shit you couldn’t make up [I couldn’t, as a fiction writer] and when you talk about it [status reports] no one wants to listen or read about it because it’s painful, it’s work).

But nothing so grand as this should be so simple.

The real reason we want to go is for our kids to be different. Different in that way people who travel the world are, or at least enough of it to see things differently, to appreciate other points of view and cultures. To gain the confidence that comes with making it in a foreign place, and the attitude that yes, we can go anywhere.

Photos below of my mom’s house, some include dates/milestones in its lifecycle, built in 1494. Advice from expats, friends, artists, attorneys welcome.

"Achtung! Kinder."

“Achtung! Kinder.”

Front door, 1666

Front door, 1666

Der Keller, 1544

Der Keller, 1544

Detail by front door, 1579

Detail by front door, 1579

Door to root keller, by barn

Door to root keller, by barn

Categories: travel

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31 replies

  1. I hate immigration law. Good luck.


  2. Your owning your own home in the US is helpful because it shows that you have a reason to go home. Putting down the rental income will help highlight this “attachment” to the States and shows you have money coming in.

    Enrollment in a school in Germany can get you a student visa – turn studying German into German studies.


  3. Dude, I feel for you. I think your step-dad was right about the people that get put on the borders. It’s enough to make you give up. I got lucky when I went to Poland. I got a job I probably shouldn’t have gotten, but the rest took care of itself. My employer took care of all of that mess you’re up against. I hope it works out for you. Like I said before, if you can just get past the part where they shout dance in German and shoot at your feet, it will be worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thank you Walt. It will work out. Sometime, I’d like to hear about your time in Poland. Our German teacher is Polish, and I’ve always wanted to go east of Germany and pick around those countries some. Though we’ve been there several times, I haven’t even been to Berlin yet, and I think this time we will go. I like the image of them shooting at our feet, that’s good. And funny, you read one of my posts yesterday from 2009! You made me go back and read it myself, and realize I’m starting to reiterate on old posts. I’m burning pieces of my raft bit by bit.


      • Yeah, I noticed your archives go back to like the beginning of time, so I picked one more or less at random. I have a couple of abandoned blogs floating about in the interspace from around ’03 or so, but there’s only one or two posts on them and they are garbage. I fired up this blog in 2010, but it was dormant until just over a year ago. I will probably be reposting some old stuff that was originally greeted by the crickets. I haven’t seen much of Germany but I was in Berlin for a night one time. And Wittenberg was the last stop on my backpacking tour of Europe when I was a wee lad. We showed up not knowing it was the anniversary of the day Martin Luther King Jr. nailed up his 95 theses. There was a big hootenanny going on. And some guy who claimed to be from Australia but sounded like an American was there looking for something called Cuckoo Beer.


      • That Martin Luther thing was probably a big deal. I like the unusual holidays they celebrate, there. And the root festivals: like one, for asparagus. And it’s not the green asparagus but the cream-colored kind, that looks crude put on ads.

        Thanks for rooting around in my basement of posts; sometimes you might find something that looks worth keeping! Ha!


  4. I’m not surprised you’re encountering this sort of difficulty. Immigration is a hot issue the world over.

    Have you spoken with an attorney? Immigration law is not my area of expertise, so I’m not offering my opinion as anyone other than another loudmouth on the Internet, but I imagine it will be pretty near impossible to get a tourist visa for that length of stay.


    • Yeah, thanks Karen. I know we can’t get a tourist visa for more than 90 days. I suppose it is pretty generous they allow you to be in the “Schengen” for up to 90 days without any sort of visa. But beyond that, we’ll need something. And because I can’t figure it all out with available resources you’re right, we are hiring an attorney. That sounded a bit odd to me at first, but now it sounds really comforting. (Someone who can provide facts.)


  5. Today I spent far too much time explaining to a trustee that ctrl-click is just the way links work in Word and that it SOP for everybody and everybody. This has nothing to do with immigration, although she was Belgian, now that I think about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Was there an age thing at play? What I mean is, it would be nice if she were younger than you because that would make you feel extra-special and smart, with your edge on technology.

      I recall when I started in office work I didn’t know anything — truly — other than how to type. I didn’t know how to attach something (or what that meant, really) and was delighted to see it was a paperclip icon that enabled that. Like, how clever! And easy to remember. That’s good technology I think.


      • She’s about my age, but the funny thing is earlier that day I had to explain to a 28-year-old that I couldn’t just make a copy of her DVD. Or can I? Maybe I’m the rube. This is what happens from being self-taught.


      • Dude I’ve made digital copies of vinyl. Like with the pops and everything. Did that with Let It Bleed and it sounds like a record to my damaged ears. So yes I think you could dub a DVD so to speak. I think the gap is opening for me though. I am starting I research AI and something called The Singularity which is quite ominous.


  6. I wish I had some constructive advice for you. We’ve always relied on work visas (which are the reason we’re overseas, but also the reason it’s difficult for me to get work). Recently the CPH Post ran an article about how impossible it is to get a resident visa in Denmark even if you are married to a Dane. The funny thing was that, other than the language requirement (which would certainly be a requirement if the US had an official language), the requirements weren’t all that different to the hoops you have to jump through to stay in the US, even if you’re married to an American. (I’m married to a Brit), which is why so many people just take their chances and stay illegally. Obviously you’re not going to do that, but…well, there really is no but! Good luck cutting through zee German papierkrieg.


    • Nice, thank you Dina. Yeah, it is what it is and we’ll work through it. But thanks for your condolences as it were. I respect their laws and policies; what has us on edge is just the tone of the people here in the US who we thought would be the ones to help advise but such it is. I feel better just getting it off my chest, and like my friend Mia says, where there’s a will there’s a way. Or where there’s a will, there’s a forgotten family member.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Are ‘t you considered a diplomat there, Dina? My husband was at the WTO which gave us all diplomatic status and I was able to work.


      • Not here, Elyse. We have some diplomatic status, but not full. Technically as a spouse of an EU citizen I could work, but I need a visa to work. In Denmark, it’s the tax situation that makes me working an unattractive option.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh. How interesting. I was supposed to hand in my diplomatic card when I started working at WHO. I was too lowly to qualify. But I didn’t. So I continued to be a diplomat. In spite of my actions 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This is how you tackle seemingly impossible tasks, apparently. I’m in awe, just really excited for you and your family.


  8. best of luck to all of you on your new adventure. once it gets started. immigration is a huge challenge to deal with. my daughter went through a crazy amount of hoops to live in australia for a length of time before she married her aussie husband. after all the nutty things she had to go through, the longest available visa was called a ‘fiancee visa’ – you could stay for 9 months and then had to leave the country or be married by then. old british law, assuming i guess, that you would become pregnant upon hitting their shores and you had to be made an honest woman or leave.


    • Hey thank you Beth. Didn’t know that about your daughter. I’m thinking of going to see an Australian band The Church who’s coming through Seattle the next couple nights. Remember them? 25 records over 35 years…feel like I should go see them. That’s a lot of time doing that. The immigration laws are nutty but I respect them at the same time. Thanks for sharing your story and your positive vibes!


  9. While I can’t offer you any advice, I do wish you good luck. My family and I went to Switzerland for 5 years when my husband got a job with an international organization. It was a wonderful experience. My son was 6-11 years old. We did not, however do well in learning French but we saw a lot of Europe.

    International orgs often hire locals — which means anybody they don’t bring in from another country — and then you can overstay your visa. That happens all the time in Geneva.


    • Good luck is a lot! Thanks Elyse, I had forgotten that you lived in Switzerland for a time. Probably a nice time for your son to be there. And what a great thing he can talk about and remember for years to come. Best, – Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Make lots of mistakes, detail them so I can learn from them. I’m a school of hard knocks guy. Good luck, or Gut Luck. My German is not good.


    • No problem Jon on the mistakes, the detailing of them, the sharing. It will be my pleasure. We are really entangled in a variety of ambiguous possibilities, but it will turn out nicely…and I tooled around on your blog to read about your adventures through Germany. Looks like you’ve had lots of fun there yourself. I hope it’s a good week for you and your family. Sun’s out! Cheers, – Bill


      • Beautiful day, blood counts are up a little, things are trending up.

        I love Germany. We did a house exchange in Hamburg and got to live there a month. I really like Berlin primarily for the museums and history. I want to go back to Munich soon, but it will probably not happy in due time, but Prague/Vienna/Munich is one of my favorite travel periods.


      • Glad to hear things are trending up. And thanks for sharing scenes from your time, there. My mom lives in a small village near Stuttgart, a Swabisch area. It seems she’s three hours away from anywhere, right smack in the middle.

        I went to Munich for Oktoberfest but was glad to leave there and do a grown-up thing (surprising, for me) by going to Dachau. It really moved me, to be there. Whereas I’d never wanted to go, but was glad I did. And will go back, and take my kids perhaps when they are older.

        That raises an interesting issue on memorializing human events like that, and the value of it. Like, whether it’s important to maintain those places as a reminder of our history. I know how I feel about it, at least.

        Liked by 1 person

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