Becoming a Hausfrau in Germany

The first thing my mother said to my husband-to-be right after he announced our intentions to get married was, “Good luck!” How else to congratulate a man who may soon end up doing more housework than his mother ever did? Of course, the reality hit the poor man only after he had paid up for the wedding banquet and shipped all my personal belongings to our new home, in a country where you don’t meet Philippino nor Indonesian women very often. And so I became the most unlikely housewife, from a land where someone else has always done the laundry and scrubbed the bathroom. As I am to find out gradually, becoming a Hausfrau in Germany requires a level of cultural assimilation that I didn’t expect would invade my private space so quickly.
Although professionally a housewife, I started intensive language lessons the day after I arrived. It wasn’t stressful but time was still tight. I found myself sometimes leaving certain household chores to the weekend when I didn’t have class. One Sunday afternoon, I took out the vacuum cleaner and was about to run it, when the husband stopped me. Apparently, nobody does housework on Sundays because it’s supposed to be a rest day. And since it’s a rest day, we shouldn’t disturb the neighbours by creating unnecessary noises. So no vacuuming, no hammering, no blah blah blah. If we really need to, we have to do it before noon. It’s not even an unwritten rule. The rule lies somewhere written. I’ve been challenged to look it up in the Internet.
On the one hand, I have great respect that everyone makes this social obligation to their neighbors. It’s a good show of civic mindedness, seemingly small but adds up to a great deal if you consider that there are 52 Sundays a year and if you are a normal European, you would be having a hangover on Sunday at noon.
On the other hand, I am annoyed by the fact that I simply have to find time during the weekdays, and before 8pm at that, to vacuum the apartment.
“Why not Saturday then?” you may like to encourage me. Well, Saturdays are reserved for shopping, groceries, furniture and what nots.
“Then shop on Sunday, since you can’t vacuum anyway!” you say as you start to roll your eyes.
“I would love to, if the shops would be open!”
All shops, big or small, are closed on Sundays in Germany. Only cafes, bakeries and restaurants are allowed to breathe. Where I’ve always lived, Sunday is the day of the week on which neighbours compete to make the most noise and the best shopping deals are to be grabbed. The only way I could overcome this culture shock is to become totally humanistic and start to pity shop assistants in Singapore who gets a Sunday off a year. Even though I wholehearted agree that having the shops closed contributes to reducing consumerism, increasing quality time for the family and providing sales staff a better work-life balance, I still get a tiny panic attack on Saturday evenings, wondering if I’ve enough food supplies for Sunday. It’s a ridiculous fear because there is always a “Döner Imbiss” around the corner and we have already sniffed out at least one Turkish newspaper stand which stocks a wide range of daily essentials beyond newspaper and magazines. In actual fact, our pantry would easily last us a couple of weeks without visiting any food establishments.
Till now, I still wonder when a working mother gets any housework done and how long it takes for a working family to complete their furniture shopping. This society is nonetheless much less harsher on its citizens than ours. Few families here hire a cleaning lady and nobody is expected to sweep and mop the floor twice a day to qualify as a good wife. As well, using instant packs to prepare meals is considered cooking.
Guilt still pricks me whenever I get desperate and head straight to the Knorr and Maggie shelves full of delicious sounding dinner ideas like “Meatball Marinara with spaghetti”, “Salmon fillet in cream sauce with rice and “Oven baked pasta with cheese and ham”. And that’s because I’ve grown up in a family where the assigned cooks mince onions, pound chilli and murder garlic for every single meal they prepare. Anything simpler is considered cheating. So I’m half glad to find myself in this country while being in charge of putting food on the table.
Now that I’m stepping slowly but steadily into the working world, I’m getting a little nervous about juggling commitments to provide home-cooked nutritious food for the family, keeping the apartment (half) decent looking and (20%) clean and jump starting a business. As the Germans will say,they will ‘press their thumbs’ for me. -keeping fingers crossed- and chin up!

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800 Bus Loads of Danes

My first response to a spontaneous invitation to a football match was an usually quick and firm “no”. I haven’t watched much football since my teens and it’s the last social event on my mind as a worthy time off activity from the baby. But last weekend, I found myself sitting amongst 51 thousand others, eyes on a single ball for a good 90 minutes. Being somewhat discontented with the variety of life experiences I’ve had, I resolved to tweak my current selection of social events. This is certainly a good beginning. I thought I was there only to observe the progress of a sport. But my corrupted eyes spotted the social snippets and gathered enough to write a whole blog entry.

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American ear infections

Our little family had been turned topsy turvy the past weeks because a little ear was infected. Leanne was prescribed a round of antibiotics but the condition was back a week later. Concerned with the overuse of antibiotics, the doctor and I concurred we would try our luck this time round with ear drops, antibiotical no less, anyway. During the doctor visit, I mentioned that I’ve already been trying to get her off the bottle because I read on various websites that when a child lies down supine to drink, liquid tends to accumulate in the tube within the ears and become susceptible to bacterial growth. She was smiling as I spoke and when I was done, she tried diplomatically to reassure me that we need not change anything. Continue reading

Gypsies are humans too…

Gypsies have a pretty nasty reputation, at least here where I am. I have not heard anyone speak kindly of them before. My sole ‘interaction’ with a gypsy thus far is with a teenage girl who cleaned my windscreen during a traffic light stop despite my protest. I naturally see them too as eccentric beggars who need not exist. Until I met a group of gypsy kids who showed me a different side of them. Continue reading

Une Grande Madame – A three-tiered 70th birthday fondant cake

If you still have breath to blow out seven big candles on your birthday cake, you certainly deserve no less pomp than this cake. My mother-in-law celebrated her 70th birthday with us last week. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to prepare something grand, something that would touch her and make her smile in the midst of tears. Recently, the husband retold something wise his mother told him once: there are two things nobody can ever take away from you – whatever you eat and see. I was glad to have provided the object for the two experiences to occur. Continue reading

Toddler Recipe – Yummy Cheesy Tortilla


Potato and egg – two of Leanne’s all-time favourite foods. A dish containing either one ingredient is usually completely eaten up, plate even licked. So imagine the joy when the meal consists both items. A big fan of tortilla myself, I came up with the following recipe for my 18-month-old. Admittedly, it’s a little more tedious to make than spaghetti bolognese. That’s why I make enough at one go for a couple of meals. It’s an ideal dish for self-feeding as the tortilla can be cut into bite-sized pieces and served with cherry tomatoes and sliced cucumber. With the vegetable sides, it’s more than a perfect nutritional meal.

Recipe

Makes 2 15cm rounds

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-sized potatoes
  • 100g chicken breast fillet
  • 1/4 onion, minced
  • 50g (or more) grated Mozzarella cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • Some salt*

Some oil

*Salt is of course optional but I believe the chicken fillet would taste rather nasty without. I always add a little to improve overall taste. That’s all the salt I use in the recipe anyway, by the way. Better to have a toddler eating some salt than rejecting food that’s simply too bland.

Method

1. Precook the ingredients. Peel potatoes and cut into very thin slices. Slice fillet likewise, into very thin pieces. Sprinkle a little salt on fillet. Boil potatoes and steam chicken. (My setup is simple. I use a small pot to boil the potatoes and top it with a bamboo steamer for the chicken.) Cook both items till they are tender.

2. Beat eggs in a bowl, add onion and cheese. Mix well.

3.  Heat frying pan. Add a teeny bit of oil. Pour a quarter of the egg mixture into pan. Let the egg solidify a little. Arrange half of the portion of potato and chicken slices on top. Pour another quarter egg mixture over. Press down on tortilla with a frying ladle to bind the ingredients together. Flip tortilla over once the bottom is browned. Brown the other side. Remove from pan and allow to cool. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Cut into bite-sized pieces and serve.

Hints

I used one of those special double-sided pancake pan to make the tortilla. Alternatively, you can try flipping the tortilla onto a plate and then sliding it back into the pan. That works equally well.

A Shabby Chic Kitchen

The days of oilcloth being considered tacky are officially over, now that the selection of patterns has increased to include the very trendy polka dots, vintage style roses and paisleys. Higher popularity means more choices and less spending – any bona fide housewife’s dream. Not only does it let you add personality to your kitchen easily, it is easy to clean up and provides a good work surface for baking. After deliberating for a good whole week, I finally made up my mind about having a pale and cool coloured tablecloth in the utility kitchen. Since the kitchen cabinets are grey, I went with pale mint for a complementary hue effect. Since the chairs are already a bright fire engine red, I didn’t feel like another huge glaring piece of surface. The husband was also very  taken with the colour choice. Continue reading