Category Archives: Being expat

To drink or not to drink…

To be honest, I wanted to write about this topic for years, but always hesitated because I can’t find a  way to talk about “to drink or not to drink”… But when a friend linked to this article on facebook, I decided it is time to write about it.

Cultures where drinking is a no go, and others where it is part of a rite of passage into adulthood

I grew up in a country where people don’t need to drink alcohol to enjoying themselves and where being drunk is frowned upon (cfr. Italy). From a very early stage on I realized that this was one of the major differences between the local culture and our “home culture”. My parents are German and grew up in the post-war era. Every time we visited family and friends in Germany, I observed that it was considered normal to drink alcohol at gatherings. I don’t mean the usual glass of wine or two during a long meal, no, it’s the massive drinking the one where most of the people would end up drunk, where being drunk was one of the goals of the gathering… People would pressure each other to drink more, to find out who is the most trinkfest (hard-drinking).

In cultures where you have to drink in order to “belong” , it is perceived as a faux pas if you refuse a drink and is only accepted if the person is ill, pregnant or a child under 14. In Germany it was (or still is) part of the rite of passage into adulthood for confirmands. From that moment on, one is allowed by society (but not by law, see here below!), encouraged and expected to drink alcohol at social gatherings.


What is allowed in private settings is not legal…

Apparently German teenagers consume less alcohol nowadays, like stated in this article on Deutsche Welle Teenager trinken weniger Alkohol: “only every tenth teenager between 12 and 17 yo drank alcohol once per week in 2016, whereas in 2004 it were twice as many teenagers and in the 1970ies it was every forth teenager” (Jeder zehnte Jugendliche zwischen 12 und 17 Jahren trank 2016 einmal pro Woche Alkohol – im Vergleich zum Jahr 2004 ein deutlicher Rückgang. Damals konsumierten noch doppelt so viele Jugendliche einmal in der Woche Alkohol. Schaut man auf die 1970er-Jahre, war es nicht nur jeder fünfte, sondern sogar noch jeder vierte Teenager.) The quantity of alcohol consumption is not mentioned as the main objective was to point out it is already a regular habit for children of this age group. Also: teenagers tend to have their first drink at age 15 – “quite “late” compared  what happened in the past…”

A study from the OECD in 2015 stated that “85 % of the 15yo Germans has experienced alcohol compared to 25% in 2002″ and that the general alcohol consumption among youngsters is increasing – not decreasing! (cfr. 85 Prozent der 15-jährigen Deutschen haben schon Erfahrungen mit Alkohol gemacht – 25 Prozent mehr als noch 2002. Laut OECD nimmt auch in vielen anderen Ländern der Alkoholkonsum von Jugendlichen zu.)

Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.48.42Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.48.53Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.03Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.14Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.25

cfr. OECD data about alcohol consumption (in litres per capita) and other sources about alcohol consumption in 2017 


Binge drinking, Rauschtrinken or colloquially Komasaufen, is part of a drinking-culture that is hard to understand for someone who grew up in a country where drinking is not common.

What I find interesting (disturbing!) is that these studies consider alcohol consumption starting even before age 16 or the legal age for purchasing alcoholic beverages:

Legal age for purchasing alcoholic beverages


Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 17.56.31

When and why does it start?

I wonder why entire societies find it acceptable that children drink alcohol.

I think that more than reacting to the phenomenon itself, one should ask where and when this starts.

The country I grew up in is known for allowing young children to have a sip of wine when they’re really young. I have witnessed this a few times myself and have been offered “soltanto un goccino” as a child, “only a sip”, it’s like medicine… When asked why they would do that, they responded that it was more a joke – but still: what if a young child enjoys the regular “goccino”?

What about those young mothers or parents, who openly share their longing for their evening drink, because they “deserve it” because parenting is so stressful?

What about those parents who head to the pub every week and are unresponsive the next morning? What is the message they send to their children? That it is normal to get drunk once a week?

Is it ok for parents to drink in front of their children to “relax” or to “enjoy their free time”? Aren’t they modeling that “if you are stressed, upset, tired, drink a glass of wine/or other drink and you’ll be fine”, that it’s perfectly normal and ok to drink to relax and enjoy?

Cfr. About the effect of drinking alcohol in front of your children 

What would be a healthy way to approach this?

Many schools teach how to approach this in a healthy way. They explain the side effects and how our awareness is clouded by drinking too much, that it is difficult to recognize ones boundaries. “Being responsible is taught from an early age in school and at home. Pupils in our locality (in the last year of primary school) completed an awareness program on peer pressure, social behavior, drink and drugs awareness because research in an older group of students (i.e just started secondary school) showed the risk of alcohol use was rising”, said my friend in the facebook post, “raising this awareness in children doesn’t stop the use but is believed it can reduce the incidence abuse.”

I believe it is the responsibility of families, friends, to foster a healthy approach.

Is it possible to do without…?

I seriously had this discussion with some friends who didn’t believe that one can really enjoy each others company without alcohol.

Not only can I confirm this myself, as I only enjoy a glass of wine occasionally and always with a meal, but I have many friends who don’t drink any alcohol and they genuinely enjoy gatherings, get togethers (and surely don’t have an easier life than others!).
Teetotalers are abstinents from alcohol either because of their faith, religion or conviction.

Don’t get me wrong…

I don’t condemn adults drinking alcohol occasionally. What I worry about is excessive alcohol consumption among young people and the social pressure they are exposed to in some societies and settings.

I am also concerned about the social pressure internationals are exposed to concerning this aspect. It can become a real social barrier.

  • What is your experience with this?
  • Do you find it acceptable that your teenagers – starting from what age? – drink alcohol on a regular basis (weekly)?
  • What are your family rules when it comes to alcohol consumption?


Interesting reads on this topic:

Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking

Religion and Alcohol






Stille Nacht & Astro del Ciel

One of my favourite German Christmas carols is Stille Nacht (heilige Nacht), not only because its message and the sweet memories singing it with my parents at Christmas when I was a child, but also because there is also an Italian version of it, with the same melody, but different words.

The lyrics of this carol are by the Austrian priest Joseph Moor in 1816 and it is believed that Franz Xaver Gruber produced the German melody in only a few hours (in 1818), written as a guitar accompaniment. The melody and words altered slightly over the years, but this is the carol like many sing it today:

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

Words: Joseph Mohr, 1816
Music: Franz Xaver Gruber, 1818


Silent night, holy night
All is calm all is bright
‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav’nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

The Italian version follows the same melody, but the lyrics are completely different.
Don Angelo Meli (1901-1970) published a set of Italian lyrics in 1937 that were supposed to accompany the melody of “Stille Nacht” under the title of “Astro del Ciel” (Star of the Sky)

Astro del ciel, Pargol divin,
mite Agnello Redentor!
Tu che ai Vati da lungi sognar,
Tu che angeliche voci nunziar,
luce dona alle menti
pace infondi nei cuor!
luce dona alle menti
pace infondi nei cuor!

Star of the sky, divine Child,
Redeemer meek Lamb!
You, whom the Prophets dreamt about from far away,
You, whom angelical voices announced,
give light to the minds,
bring peace to their hearts! x2

Astro del ciel, Pargol divin,
mite Agnello Redentor!
Tu di stirpe regale decor,
Tu virgineo, mistico fior,
luce dona alle menti,
pace infondi nei cuor! 

Star of the sky, divine Child,
Redeemer, meek Lamb!
You of pride of regal descendancy,
You virginal, mystical flower,
give light to the minds,
bring peace to their hearts!

Astro del ciel, Pargol divin,
mite Agnello Redentor!
Tu disceso a scontare l’error,
Tu sol nato a parlare d’amor,
luce dona alle menti,
pace infondi nei cuor! 

Star of the sky, divine Child,
Redeemer meek Lamb!
You descended to atone for our errors,
You born only to speak of love,
give light to the people,
bring peace to their hearts!
give light to the people,
bring peace to their hearts!

I wish everyone a peaceful Christmas


How to volunteer in a healthy and efficient way


I lead several volunteer groups in the past 20 years and have helped many volunteers who were close to give up to change their way to volunteer into a more healthy one, for them, their family and the organization or group they were volunteering for.

Here are 6 question you should ask yourself:

1. Why are you considering to volunteer?

Do you want to help the world, your community, your children?

Do you want to hone your own skills, maybe learn new ones?

Do you want to make new friends?

Do you like what you do?

Do you want to share your skills with others or give something back?

– Before starting to volunteer, try to find out what you want to achieve. What is your goal? What are your expectations? For how long do you think you can or want to commit?

I volunteered for several reasons: to connect with the community, to hone my skills, learn new ones. The advantage of a volunteer job is that it’s usually time limited. You probably won’t volunteer in the same position for more than 2 years – I always recommend to change after 1,5 or 2 years as staying too long in the same role can take its toll on us: as it is usually an unpayed job, if we do it for too long, we tend to do more than necessary and not feel satisfied anymore. When you feel this, it’s time to say goodbye or to change something…

2. Choose the right role, the right organization…

Depending on what you answered under 1., choose the right place to volunteer. If you want to hone your skills (or learn new ones), and maybe want to gap a period where you don’t have a job, choose an organization that gives you the opportunity to grow and learn. If your intent is to socialize, a more flexible and relaxed setting is better (some volunteer works at schools, communities etc.)

3. Start small…and learn to say “no”

If you have already a busy schedule or if you are not sure if the volunteer job is the right one for you, start with only a few hours per week. Then, if you find you enjoy the work and have more time to pursue it, gradually take on more. – If you are too enthusiastic at the beginning, and say “yes” to too many tasks, people will be more likely to ask you more than you actually can or want to give. You may end up feeling exhausted instead of energized and rewarded by the work you’re doing!

When I volunteered for the first time after years, and after a longer break from work, I was so glad to have a new meaning and purpose that I overdid it. I committed to more than I really wanted and I resigned – yes, like in a real job! – after 6 months.

4. Voice your expectations

When you start in a new group, make sure that within a month of time you make clear what you expect from this new role. This might need that you have more meetings than expected, that you have to discuss a lot and negotiate, but it is better to find out asap if the new role fits you or not. – Like in a real job you can get overwhelmed and burned out quickly…

When I started volunteering in my 20ies I was way too shy to speak up every time I felt that something wasn’t going well. I kept on saying “it’s only a volunteer job and I can quit anytime”, but maybe I’m too responsible and conscientious: I once volunteered in a non-healthy position for 2 years and was very close to a burnout. Thanks to a very good friend who saw it coming, I quit on time…

5. Ask many questions…

Ask questions and do your research. What kind of prospectives will you have in the new role? Do you have a say when it comes to decisions? Are you ok with the role that is offered to you? How many hours are expected from you? What if you’ll work more hours?…

Sometimes you need to get your feet wet before realizing that the job is not for you. Don’t hesitate to speak up and quit if it’s not what you need right now.
I have volunteered in positions where I got a reference at the end. This is something you should always ask! Will you receive any kind of reference that you can put on your CV?

With the volunteer groups I am leading, I make it clear that if the role they choose is comparable to the one in a real job, i.e. if they take some responsibilities, use some specific skills, I will issue them a personal reference.

6. It is for you if…

I regularly do for my own business and my volunteer jobs. If you volunteer in a certain position, ask yourself regularly:

– Am I getting the feedback that keeps me going? – If your work is taken for granted and not “seen”, it is not rewarding enough. Getting regular feedback is essential. If you don’t get it automatically, ask for it. And if you still don’t get it, ask yourself why and if it’s healthy to keep on doing it.

– Am I getting the (personal!) recognition I need? – many organizations thank their “volunteers”: thanking volunteers personally is much more rewarding and healthy for a good relationship!

– How do I feel after an intense week? – Volunteer work usually requires a lot of flexibility, which can be very challenging. But it also can be immensely rewarding! If after a week of intense volunteer work you feel exhausted and grumpy, ask yourself why. Is there anything you can change in the way you work, the way your role is defined (maybe you want more responsibility, or less, or do something else). Voice your needs and if you don’t get the response you expect and need, find a way to change your position…

After great accomplishments we should take a time out to assess what went well and what went wrong, what could be done better. Always. – If your volunteer group is lead by a person who feels overwhelmed or unsatisfied, struggling, it is very unlikely that you’ll get recognized for the effort you make and it’s not a healthy environment to spend your energy for. It is very important to take good care of ourselves, to be aware of what we need to be happy to help and volunteer.

– Am I enjoying this? If the job/role gives you more energy, makes you stand up in the morning, it’s a good sign. If you wake up in the middle of the night, worrying or struggling: it’s the time to quit. As simple as that. Don’t feel guilty that you quit, that you speak up. Volunteering is not only giving, it’s also receiving. If you feel that you are constantly giving and not receiving enough in return, it’s not healthy to go on.

My very own experience

In the past 29 years (!) I have been regularly volunteering in many different settings and roles. I have created and coordinated student groups, local and international groups etc.
At my childrens’ school for example I first helped out occasionally at festive lunches, school trips etc., then as class representative (in total for 6 classes in 4 years) and PRC (Parent Representative Commitee, a sort of PTA) and finally as Team Leader of a Welcome Team and a Sessions Team at our Family Association. As leader of one of these groups I organized more than 20 talks in the last 2 years: all voluntary work and as a “solo volunteer”, i.e. I did the whole funnel, from finding speakers, agreeing on topics, coordinating the venue and the financial part until the actual speech (including all the technical aspects too). It may sound crazy, but I’m passionate about organizing and planning, so this didn’t cost me much energy – if everything runs smoothly. Wearing many hats simultaneously is what I’m good at, but I must be sure that every hat fits…

I use to say to my volunteers: “make sure that you keep your cup filled, that you fill it up from time to time, because you can’t pour from an empty cup!”… So when it was time for my regular assessment a few weeks ago, I realized that I spent much more time with emailing, double (triple- etc.) checking everything, for my volunteering than for my own business. Two of my hats felt like not fitting anymore – metaphorically speaking, of course… Things had gone out of balance for several reasons; circumstances had changed and required a constant adaptation and “re-inventing-the-wheel” which I was not able and willing to do anymore.
I did the “what if…”–test and imagined how it would feel if I would quit one (or two) of the jobs and decided which ones to keep and which ones to let go.

I am still volunteering, and it’s surely thanks to the fantastic work of my teams, that I don’t spend 20 hours per week anymore, but can keep the time under 8 hours a week– the right amount for me to keep my cup full!




If you would like some help with self-assessment, contact me at I’ll help you to make sure you keep your cup filled.



(this post was also published on my other site Ute’s International Lounge)


5 Fun Activities You Can Do With Your Kids at the Comfort of Your Backyard

kids playing at the backyard

I’m very thankful that Simon Barker kindly offered to write this post for my site on this very timely topic.

A lot of people are looking for a way to escape the busy and noisy city life in exchange for some fun and relaxing activities. However, if you are someone who’s on a tight budget or you have a very busy work schedule, the idea of taking traditional vacations might not fit on your list. Between fancy meals and trips, the cost of a family vacation can surely add up.

Fortunately, there are still ways for you to give your kids the ultimate fun without spending a big chunk of cash. All you need is to prepare your backyard for these fun activities.

1. Sandboxes

It may sound like a lot of dirty work, but sandboxes give your children the opportunity to play with their imagination. You can teach them how to build sand castles, move around toy trucks or create their own army. You can even let them make their own planets from sand, mud or clay.

To start, it doesn’t have to be a great or expensive sandbox. In fact, even 4×4 timbers can work just as great as professionally done sandboxes. You just have to be creative in what you encourage your kids to do in their play area. For added fun, you can load up the sandbox with a few toys or you can hide them slightly under the sand.

When setting up your sandbox, make sure to consider your children’s safety. You should think of how they’ll get in and out of it and how safe they’ll be once inside. It’s also a good idea to consider their comfort. Keep in mind to place your sandbox in a shaded area, too.

2. Camping

Take your camping gears and sleeping tents in your backyard for the ultimate camping experience that isn’t as expensive as an out-of-town trip. To make the experience more realistic, you can start a campfire and cook some barbecues and smores. You can also share scary stories to your kids or go stargazing with them in the middle of the night.

Another good idea is to invite some of their friends or cousins over. This way, you can enhance your children’s social skills while allowing them to have fun.

3. Traditional Backyard Party Games

You don’t need to start a full barbecue or family party just to have fun in your backyard. You can do backyard party games for no reason at all- other than letting your kids have fun.

One of the most popular backyard party games is the potato sack race. All you need to prepare is a burlap sack or pillowcase big enough for each of your child. Set up a starting and finishing point in your backyard and make sure to place some obstacles in between these areas. If you can’t find big pillowcases, you can start a three-legged race instead.

4. Play Cooking Up Games

Take your old kitchen cabinets and turn them into pieces your daughters can use for their mini kitchen. Stock them up with any spare cooking pots, pans and other utensils you don’t use anymore. You can also buy them a set from any thrift store near your area. They can add plastic cups and spoons for their “guests”, too.

If this is an activity you can see your kids enjoying very much, you can designate a specific part of your yard to have these cabinets affixed. Setting your kids’ toys this way can save you time and effort from building and rebuilding. It will also enhance their sense of responsibility since they have a specific area they need to maintain. Encourage your kids to clean up after and store their toys properly.

5. Set Up A Treasure Hunt Game

Setting up a treasure hunt is a great idea if your kids frequently complain about feeling bored or if they’re overusing their computers. Treasure hunts are fun, easy to plan and can be modified depending on your children’s age.

With treasure hunts, all you need to do is set up a bunch of clues in specific parts of your yard. They can be riddles, questions or tasks your children need to complete or answer before they can move on to your next clue. You can let them choose a leader or divide them into two groups to start a friendly competition. Just make sure that they’re aware of the rules and boundaries of the hunt.

As an alternative, you can also start a scavenging hunt. It’s a bit different from a treasure hunt game in that players need to collect as many items on their list as possible within a given time frame. You can create a list of fruits or household items and hide them in certain areas of your yard. For added excitement, you can let your kids wear their favorite pirate costumes.


Author Bio:

Simon Barker is a travel enthusiast who’s very passionate about sharing his thrifty ways of journeying around the world. You can see more of his work in, where you can find his best electric coolbox reviews.