July 23, 2004

The Big News

Those of you who also read Shelby's blog already knew this news a while ago (and have been updated since then), but I don't think I've confronted it in my own blog until now, mainly because I've been having some very mixed feelings. We'll be re-patriating ourselves back to the States very soon now -- at the end of this month! Shelby goes back on Monday (just three days!), and I stay behind for a little bit longer to clean up the apartment, tie up loose ends at work, and tell the authorities we've left before I fly out next Friday morning (just a week!)

So, for those of you who recently added my blog to your lists of links to expats blogging abroad, you'll have to tear me off again in a week. Sorry about that ...

If you remember, our decision to stay in Hamburg came down to two things: money (six months' back taxes!) and homesickness. The "money" part mostly worked itself out; the company looked under the couch cushions and raided various funds to come up with enough money that our tax bite would have been significantly reduced. Still, we would have had to make a noticeable -- probably about 3,000 Euro, possibly more -- lump-sum payment out of our own pockets, and when we're focused on buying a house after we get back to the States, paying big money to continue working didn't make much sense.

The homesickness was a bigger hurdle. Shelby went back to San Francisco in June to attend a friend's wedding; before she left, we'd provisionally agreed to stay in Hamburg, and we were both looking at her trip as an 'America break' -- a chance to relax, speak nothing but English, and come back recharged and refreshed for the next six months. Instead, she came back massively homesick, ready to cut and run back to the States as soon as possible.

I certainly can't blame her. I'd like to stay in Hamburg for longer -- but of course, I've got a much better handle on the language and a job, something that provides me with guaranteed socialization and something to focus on every weekday. The question of how the "trailing spouse" is supposed to keep occupied and feel meaningful is a big topic in expat literature; I'd say that we did as poor a job of planning for it as most expat couples. The "isn't this new" feeling rubs off in a few months; you can't be a sightseeing tourist forever, and the feeling of endless leisure gets tiresome. When I first came to Hamburg in 2000, my language classes gave me something else to concentrate on and a good supply of friends my age to pal around with; Shelby's classes seemed mostly to be populated by frazzled businessmen, burned out at the end of the day, and middle-Eastern housewives who were expected to go straight home and not talk with anyone except for the teacher. (Why go to a language class if you're not supposed to socialize? So that you can be a better grocery shopper, I guess ...)

Another reason I wouldn't mind staying in Hamburg is that it would save us from having to confront the Southern California housing market, which is as scary as ever, for a little while longer. I sold all of the company stock and stock options that I'd been holding onto for years at the beginning of this month, and it felt more than a little anticlimactic. We ended up with a fair bit of money -- enough to buy a house outright in most parts of the country! -- but looking at SoCal house listings, I'm left worrying over whether we'll have enough to make a good down payment.

Still, it's exciting to look through houses and think that one of them -- our own house! -- could be ours. And when you consider the income-tax deductions, and just how much we were paying our evil landlord to live in a threadworn house in San Jose, I guess that it all comes out about even. It looks like we'll definitely have to either resign ourselves to living really close to a freeway or moving into a fixer-upper, though.

Most important of all, what will I call my blog now? Who will read it? An American In . . . Anaheim? Pasadena? Doesn't quite have the same ring to it. (There are many Americans who'd regard California as just as much of a foreign place as Germany, but I don't think they're the people who're on the Web and reading blogs. Even if they were, I'm not sure I'd want them reading ...)

Maybe I should start writing my blog entries in German. I can differentiate myself and keep my skills up ...

Posted by Kevin at July 23, 2004 08:43 AM