When orders come down for Europe, many people ask, “How do you handle living in Europe?” That question boils down to a simple answer: You embrace it.
When you move overseas, it is easy to fall into the same routine you had back in the States. Don’t let it! Daily life goes on but with some glaring differences. Your kids won't take a yellow school bus to school, but a coach bus -- something we would’ve only taken on long distance trips back in the States. If they compete in sports, they will travel to another country to compete. Despite some subtle differences, moving overseas can be a wonderful adventure for your entire family if you let it. Before your PCS, here are four moving overseas tips to keep in mind that will help you do just that.
Moving Overseas Tips: Talk
Utilize the niceties in the language of your new home country. Tell people "Hello" (Bonjour, Guten Morgen, Buongiorno) and "Thank you" (Merci, Danke, Grazie). These basic lessons that our parents taught us still apply today and even more when representing your country. Use them as you visit local shops; say them at your local market. Even if your pronunciation isn't perfect, your efforts will be greatly appreciated by the locals.
Moving Overseas Tips: Eat
When you choose a table at your local restaurant, don’t be surprised if your waiter ignores you. In Europe, once seated, you theoretically own that table until you choose to leave. Europeans aren’t in a rush to go anywhere; that is the standard. You have to call your waiter over to order and you have to signal them when you want the check. But also realize that you won’t get free refills on your drinks, including water.
Try the local cuisine and drink. Don’t be surprised at teenagers drinking. The drinking age is 16 for beer and wine and 18 for hard alcohol. The same shock factor may apply to cigarette smoking as it is still prolific in Europe.
Moving Overseas Tips: Shop
Europe is known for its flea markets. Lille, France has one of the largest flea markets in the world. You can buy everything from socks to World War II artifacts, and you can pick up collectible European housewares for next to nothing. Those oversized wine bottles (demijohns) in the Pottery Barn catalog that sell for over $200? You can buy them for under $50. Winter brings the Christmas market season. Don’t miss out on these open-air markets throughout the continent. Wander around, enjoy the food and try Glühwein.
If you’d rather not scavenge, you can buy Polish pottery or any other traditional wares directly from that country. The exchange rate and selection make it an enticing purchase and you can ship your items from one overseas U.S. Post Office to another for free!
Moving Overseas Tips: Travel
Driving isn’t a difficult transition. Traffic signs can be dissimilar but also logical. The left lane is for passing only. There is a purpose for each lane and the Europeans trust that you know that. But don’t be afraid to get out there and go places. If you can move yourself and your children across the Atlantic because your spouse had to get to a new base early, you can drive the three hours from Brussels to Paris. Instead of going across state lines, you are traveling across borders; it’s simply a semantic difference.
If you don’t want to drive to places, there are plenty of other options for exploring the continent. Train travel is economical and easy. There are stations at most towns and apps that make reading the schedule easy. There are local trains that will take you places as well as fast trains that can transport you elsewhere. Thalys, the train to Paris, and Eurostar, the train to London, offer low fares on their websites.
Airlines continually offer low rates on their routes and there are multiple low-cost airlines that fly throughout Europe -- like RyanAir. Lufthansa and Eurowings also offer the option for surprise trips. The only caveat with any discount airline is that there are no frills. Because of this, you need to make sure everything is correct when you book. Mistyping a name could incur a fee to change it. Talking to an agent incurs a fee. Paying with a credit card adds Euros to your bill. You might also be charged for bags, so pay attention. Once you learn how to navigate the system, it is a fun experience.
And if that still holds no appeal to you, take advantage of the organized tours that each military installation offers in addition to their other moving overseas tips and help. Grab a friend, your passport and go! It is a nice transition into overseas travel and it also introduces you to places you may not have thought to explore.
Once you get to a new place, take the time to enjoy it. Use public transportation. Explore the history. Soak up the architecture. Watch how people interact. Become rich in experiences. The Italians are known for their passiagiata or evening stroll. This is a time to slow down, enjoy life and what is around you. It is a valuable lesson for anyone living in Europe -- and these moving overseas tips will help you on your away.
--Karen is a part-time ESL teacher and a full-time military spouse. She’s been in this military game so long that her kids are away at college, leaving only the four-legged type at home. She’s moved 14 times including one overseas tour and she’s always ready for her next PCS adventure!
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