The Expat Mama Meets...
This month we head to Europe to talk to globe trotting Mum of one Sasha Romary. I've been following Sasha on the old 'gram for a while now, ever since she sent me an email last year to say she was just about to move to Singapore with a little one and knew approximately zero people here. But, like so many other women in her shoes, she's more of a trail blazing spouse than a trailing spouse. When she's not taking pics of her lovely little boy Oliver and super cute pooch Gaspard (I for one very much feel a need for a Cavalier King Charles spaniel to add to the chaos too), she's also working on her business The Modern Mama. And, in case you're not convinced on the compatibility of expat life plus family life plus a dog plus a business, let it just be said that Sasha has been living abroad since the age of 15, is married to a Frenchman, has a 21-month old son who has already lived in three countries and speaks three languages, and the dog has the most stamped pooch-passport going for a non-celeb dog having also been travelling with the family for the last six years. Oh, and did I mention she's created a business she can operate from anywhere? Forward thinking or what? Sasha is definitely our kind of expat woman....
Hi Sasha! So tell us, where are you from and where are you now?
This is always such a hard question for an expat but also the one most frequently asked! I am originally from New York City but after spending 15 years in Paris, France I truly think of Paris as home. Most recently we were in Singapore. And now, Munich.
How long have you lived there and how long are you planning on staying?
We have been here for almost 2 months so pretty new! This will be a longer move than Singapore and we will be based here for at least 3 years.
What made you move?
My husband got a job opportunity here and since my work is pretty mobile we decided to go for it! I must say that leaving the fabulous expat life in Singapore was a difficult choice but it is nice to be closer to family in Europe and I am really enjoying Germany so far.
What has your experience been like so far?
Wonderful! Munich is so child-friendly and life here has been generally quite easy! I do think that I am a bit biased coming from France where everything is exponentially more difficult than it should be but settling into Munich has been pretty efficient. There is a lot of administrative paperwork but that is just Europe, honestly.
Apartment hunting was a challenge as apartments in Munich are on and off the market in a matter of seconds and the fact that we had a dog made it a bit more difficult, but with the help of a relocation agent we landed a beautiful centrally located apartment and are thrilled. I was delighted with the apartments that we saw here in general. Most apartments are large with lots of natural light and freshly renovated which is a real perk after the apartments in Paris that are mostly dark and tiny unless you want to dish out some serious dough for rent.
What has surprised you most about your move?
How much the German stereotypes stand true! People follow all the rules here. Literally, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain, when there are no cars on the street, people we stand at a red light and wait for it to turn green. Cracks me up and drives the New Yorker in me a tad bit crazy.
Also, it really surprised me how much people still pay with cash here. We had to pull out over 2000 euro in cash to pay for our kitchen which was absolutely ridiculous in my mind! There are so many coffee places and restaurants that don't accept cards so carrying around cash was something I had to get used to for sure.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Apart from the apartment hunting, I would say the language! I have really forgotten what it is like to live in a country where you don't speak the language and how debilitating it can be. After 15 years in Paris, I was completely fluent in French and truly felt like a local. While really almost everyone speaks some English in Munich, I really hate being the person that has to ask! Additionally, German is really difficult! I am taking lessons but it is really a challenge.
Would you recommend Germany to someone else?
Absolutely! Munich is Bavaria which is generally very different from a city like Berlin. Here, you are Bavarian before you are German and there are deep traditions that are followed and observed. We arrived just before Oktoberfest which was a bit crazy but also a bit of a "pie in the face" introduction to Munich. People are serious about their traditional wear and we were given all sorts of advice on what to buy and where to buy and what not to do because "that is what tourists and expats do."
Additionally, one of my favourite things about life in Germany is the food! Beyond the beer, sausages and pretzels, I buy exclusively organic fruits and vegetables here and it is all so affordable! After a country like Singapore where fresh fruit and veg was a serious investment, here it is truly the focus of people's daily lives and I am eating it all up (excuse the pun)!
If you plan on moving again, what would you do differently?
I think that depends on where we would be moving to! I think the big thing with this move was that we were really starting over. When we moved to Singapore we had sold all of our furniture and donated so many of our items that we moved into an unfurnished apartment with absolutely nothing but clothes and a few toys for Oliver. I think our next move, I would hire a proper moving company to bring all of our new belongings with us. I think it will help our new apartment feel like home.
How does Munich and Germany compare to your home country in terms of quality of life, family benefits, career prospects, healthcare and opportunities for women?
The quality of life in Munich is really high. It is the most expensive city in Germany in terms of real estate but is still cheaper than what I was used to in Singapore, Paris and NYC and the apartments are beautiful and new. Germany is also incredibly family-oriented and we get a nice little monthly allowance for having a child which is a plus!
The taxes are definitely one of the highest in Europe but that gets you a lot. Pregnant and new mothers are assigned a midwife that follows them through pregnancy and visits them at home up to 8 times postpartum. All covered by insurance. One of the things I am most impressed with is parental leave. New mothers and fathers can take up to a year off combined and then after maternity leave, new mothers have the right to return to their jobs part-time to be able to ease back into work. I often see fathers with babies on the playgrounds and I love how the government encourages equal parental leave for both mother and father.
What is your favourite thing about where you live?
How child-friendly it is. Singapore was like heaven on earth with kids and I was very hesitant to come back to Europe with a toddler but the playgrounds in Munich are fabulous and the culture around children is warm and welcoming. Many cafes and coffee shops have toy areas and they have these great indoor "play cafes" where kids can play and adults can have a cup of coffee.
What one piece of advice would you give someone who is thinking of moving to Germany too?
Openness and Patience. I think this is my advice for any international move really. Things that you think will be easy will not always be so and other things will just fall into place. Moving back to Europe, I think we expected a lot to be similar to life in Paris and I think we struggled with the fact that so much is the same yet so much is so different as well. As soon as we thought we had something under control, we would get caught off guard by the differences.
In all of my international moves, I have found such help and support from local expat communities. In Paris it was the Message member community and Instagram community, in Singapore it was the Facebook groups and in Munich I am meeting a lot of people through Facebook communities but also word of mouth which is lovely. Don't be afraid to ask for help from people who have already done what you are doing. They will know all the tips and tricks and help you through it. Just try to roll with the punches. It takes time, all cultures are different and and it will all settle eventually.
Thank you so much for telling us a little about your expat life (so far...?). If you would like to find out more about The Modern Mama then pop over to the website (click here!) and if you're up for snippets of brilliant maternity and motherhood advice (plus really lovely pictures) then hit @_themodernmama and click follow.
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