Finally, 13 months after my application for a visa to legally enter the United States, our 10 month old son and I stepped off the plane in Austin to reunite our family and hug my husband, his dad. I left behind more than 30 years of life in Germany to start into a new adventure, not knowing what to expect, but kind of thinking it would be similar. My brother-in-law drove us and Oma, that’s German for grandma, our six suitcases and a stroller to what would be our home for a while. We thought. Not knowing when we would be able to come to the US we hadn’t bought a house. My husband had made himself a home in a beautiful little house owned by his sister. Their mom had lived there for many years and you could tell she had taste. I loved the house. It was little (for Texas standards), but it had 50s charm, red carpet and a huge chandelier on the staircase. It also had two little balconies overlooking the river and I could picture us sitting out there having a glass of wine. The squirrels would come up on the porch and you could hear the birds singing and one of those typical Texas birds, the red cardinal, could be seen in the trees every day. The only problem: The set up was not really family-friendly. But it would do for a while.
Exactly 11 days after our arrival, I don’t think I had even unpacked all the suitcases, the home was sold. Exactly 4 weeks later, my husband went on a trip to England. Oh and I forgot that two days after the date the house was sold, we got married; so we had a lot of stuff to get done including finding a new home.
I thought, let’s make it easy and rent a nice place. We wouldn’t have as many obligations and we could still be flexible in a few years and maybe move back to Germany. And coming from Germany, renting was a totally normal thing to do. I always liked to keep my flexibility. Quickly I realized that in the US you don’t rent, you buy. At least eventually.
So we found a nice realtor and started looking. My husband had a few criteria and I was mostly overwhelmed by the thought of buying a home. It has never crossed my mind to buy a house so quickly. And we were in a rush. I think on one day, we looked at 10 homes. And we never really agreed. I liked one, he didn’t like it. He liked one, I didn’t like it. In one house the neighbors were too close, in the other house there was a dog looking through the fence that was twice the size of our son. The next home had a beautiful garden, but it smelled strange. And so on.
One day, after a week or so, my husband called me and said “I found our home”. “Yay!” “It just has to be built.” “What!?” He found this great lot in the neighborhood that we had lately been looking at. But it was just a lot. It would take four months until we could move in, so my husband suggested to move in with his sister for those four months. Move in with his sister? Don’t misunderstand me, I love his sister and her family. But I had just spent six months living with my mom while waiting for the visa. After having lived by myself for almost 20 years. In Germany, moving back in with your family is kind of like a defeat, like you didn’t make it on your own. I quickly realized that this is a big difference between our cultures, when I met many people in the US who moved back in with their family while building their home or saving up money to buy a home.
So we got packed up again. Our poor little son was 10 months old and had to move for the third time in a short life. But not only did we have to pick up our suitcase and a house, we also had to decide what we wanted to put into our new home, so during one of my husband’s lunch breaks we met at the design center. Normally those decisions about the home are nothing one makes in a hurry. But we were in a rush since we wanted construction to start before my husband left for England. And I didn’t worry too much; I knew exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, that was not exactly what my husband wanted. He arranged for his stepmom to join us, she is a successful interior designer and would be able to give good advice. Well, she had to witness how after two weeks of happily being married we almost got divorced over the color of tiles. Looking back at it now, it’s kind of embarrassing. But I had my European view and expectations. I came from a home with bright white tiles in the bathroom and light gray tiles in the kitchen. And I couldn’t understand that you would put down beige-brownish tiles that have “spots ” on them and look like you always need to clean them. I could already picture myself on hands and knees trying to wipe away spots that are no real spots. And yes it has happened. My husband tried to convince me that you could not put down bright white tiles in the South. He argued that we would never be able to sell our house again. “You have to trust me with that.” Trust? What does trust have to do with tiles? And who is thinking about selling the house while it’s not even built? That is such an Un-German view on things. And I wanted a white kitchen. According to my husband though, that didn’t work in the South either. Ironically, now you can find a lot of white kitchens in model homes and also a lot of white tiles. And grey is a new trend color. So we could’ve been trendsetters, but we missed that chance… Our builder didn’t even offer a beautiful white kitchen, but only this kind of old looking off-white.
So we settled for dark brown cabinets with a natural looking finish, which of course didn’t come with the base model of the house but was an upgrade /something that I also had to learn: the model homes are never the base model for the base price). Not only did I picture myself with bruised knees after cleaning the floors, but I could also see myself getting deeply depressed between those dark cabinets. Easy to imagine that picking out the ingredients for our first home as a family was not the happy moment it was supposed to be. But we managed to make it through those dark hours and keep our marriage alive. Four months later we happily moved into our home. We are still happy here and love it very much. I did not get depressed, but my husband has to listen to stories about white kitchens a lot, especially now that I see many of them. My knees are also still working fine.
But every time we have visitors from Germany, I hear questions like “what do you mean, there are no gutters? Isn’t that standard?” “Why is the heat blowing at you from the ceiling?”
Because it’s Texas. Things are different.