Wednesday, September 2, 2015

One year of contractor life...

About a year ago, I wrote what has turned out to be a very popular post about the difference between Army life and contractor life in Germany.  Today, I have decided to update everyone on how our first year has gone.

First off, Bill is doing really great work in his job.  His employers are very happy with him and he's managed to get a raise in his housing allowance as well as a cash bonus.  He also just received a retention bonus which, as long as we stay for another year, he gets to keep.  Don't throw us in the briar patch!  We still love living in Germany, so staying another year is not a problem for us.  Bill has also gotten to do some interesting travel during our first year.  I even got to go with him one time.

We ended up with a decent house in a nice neighborhood.  Although our house is a duplex and I was originally concerned about noise (both from us and from other people), it hasn't been a big issue.  Our neighbors seem to have gotten used to our dogs and everyone is respectful.  I've also gotten more used to driving in Germany.

Bill tells me his office still needs qualified people, but apparently there has been a problem with German authorities issuing SOFA status to contractors.  We were very lucky because we got here before this became an issue.  Currently, a lot of people are only able to do 90 day stints (as long as the tourist visa lasts) before they have to either go back to the States or work somewhere else where this isn't a problem.  I am told that the issue is being addressed, but there is no telling when or if it will be permanently resolved.  Also, I don't know if this issue is affecting everyone or just some people in certain jobs.

Bill has also told me that adjusting from being an Army officer with clout and decision making authority to being a contractor (aka "hired help") has been somewhat hard at times.  I often remind him that as frustrating as it is not to have any real power, it's not his ass on the line if something goes wrong.  He says it helps to remember that, though I'm pretty sure he still gets stressed out a lot.

I was a member of the local Facebook groups Stuttgart Friends and Moving to Stuttgart for most of this first year.  I ultimately left both groups, but definitely recommend them for anyone planning to move to Stuttgart.  They are great resources for finding out how living in Germany, especially while on SOFA status, works.  You will know when it's time to abandon the groups.  Also, Stuttgart Bookoo is a great site for finding housing or used items people tend to discard on their way out of Germany like air conditioners, furniture, washers, dryers, fridges, or transformers.  Toytown Germany is a good source of information for English speaking residents of Germany.  It also offers a non-military/US government perspective.

Duolingo offers a good basic place to practice your German skills.  I used it for about eight months, until I finished all the lessons.  Then I fell off the wagon.  I am thinking about restarting/reviewing Duolingo, since it has helped me understand more German.  I probably should take a class and maybe I will at some point, but for now I think it's helpful... especially for those who have trouble getting out of the house.

Panzer Kaserne is going through massive building projects right now.  A new commissary is slated to open there in a couple of years and the high school is now located there.  In the midst of all of this construction, there is also a road widening project going on that has been in progress since the summer.  It makes getting to and leaving Panzer a bit of a pain.  Since a lot of in processing is done at Panzer, I'm forewarning newcomers.

Last year, there was some hullabaloo over German authorities cracking down on expired American driver's licenses.  As you might know, if you have SOFA status, you get a special "license".  But really, what makes you legal to drive is your US license.  German police were stopping Americans with expired licenses and forcing them to get them renewed (and they were not allowed to drive once they were caught).  This issue has since been rectified.  Still, if you think you might be in Germany for any length of time, you will want to renew your license before getting here if you can.


Worth coming back for...

This time around, I have been using Amazon.de a lot, as well as regular Amazon for shopping.  The APO mail system has been really slow lately, so it often makes more sense to buy stuff locally.  I still buy clothes and some other items from American Amazon, but use Amazon.de for appliances and stuff I need right away.  Amazon.de is pretty great about quick delivery, though unlike in the United States, you will have to sign for all of your packages.  Fortunately, Germans seem quite willing to accept packages for neighbors.  I have done it for my neighbors and they have done it for me.  Last time we lived here, I didn't use local Web sites for anything!

I don't know how long we'll be here.  At this point, we are willing to stay for as long as we're allowed to.  I can't say I miss Texas much, even though some things about living in Germany can be a bit of a pain sometimes.  But you get used to it...  and really, some of the things that seem annoying at first can turn out to be blessings.  For instance, not shopping on Sundays...  you end up finding fun stuff to do instead.

So, that's my update so far.  We're making it just fine.

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