Archive | June 2012

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!