How living in Germany helped me feel comfortable with setting boundaries

Alisa: An extrovert with many long-standing friendships from different paths of life, including school, travels and work. Strong interpersonal skills, good at keeping in touch with people, and always, always socialising.

Yep, that was me before I moved abroad. To be more accurate, you could even add a third ‘always’ before ‘socialising.’ I loved being surrounded by people. Whether it be drinks and dinner after work in London, or being at my grandparents’ on a Sunday afternoon, my diary was always jam-packed. I saw (and still see) value in relationships and I was the extrovert who got their energy from being plugged in to those around me. And when it was good, it was great.

But at some point I’d realise that the candle was burning at both ends for so long that the wick was about to fizzle out. Other people’s energy could only charge my batteries to a certain level, and at some point I just needed some quiet time so that I could reach full power again.

Whilst I loved socialising, I often found myself battling with the extent to which I socialised for myself, and the extent to which I socialised for others. As well as having plans with other people, I also enjoyed making plans with myself. This would include doing yoga, visiting museums and journaling. But I felt that I had to justify why my plans for ‘alone time’ were just as important as my plans with other people, and why I didn’t want to rearrange them so that I could join the crowd. In doing this, due to the nature of British culture, I often felt harsh and outspoken.

Both the German and UK cultures are typically individualistic, however it’s a clear win for the Germans when it comes to being direct and ensuring that their thoughts and feelings are well communicated and understood. In comparison, the British public is well-known for its people pleasing traits, meaning that we often feel rude and selfish when voicing our true opinion, at the expense of potentially offending others. But I mean, was spending my own time in the way that I wanted to really too much to ask?

After nearly 5 years of living in Germany, this entire concept now seems odd. The German culture has played a huge role in helping me to hold my head high when setting my boundaries.

If you’re living in Germany, you will no doubt have heard the word ‘Ruhe’, which means quiet, frequently flying around in conversation. And I am not referring to the typical ‘Ruhe bitte!’ that we learn at school, instead ‘ich will meine Ruhe,’ which essentially means ‘I want some quiet time to myself.’

When first living in Frankfurt, I would almost grit my teeth with discomfort when Germans used this phrase. I found the common use of ‘Ruhe’ abrupt and couldn’t believe how brutally honest people were when explaining that they didn’t want to hang out with others. Whilst I found the honesty great, I certainly experienced culture shock because I was used to adding lots of fluff to such statements in order to soften the blow.

But as I became more familiar with the German language and culture, I eventually found it not only a relief, but also empowering to not have to justify setting boundaries and putting myself first. And it’s funny because for Germans, this indirect fluff that is used to lessen the blow of ‘bad news’ is seen as unclear, indirect and ambiguous. Which to be honest, totally makes sense.

So with a little discomfort and practice, I actively took on the German approach of spending my time how I like, and being honest about it. Whilst it may sound abrupt, the positives are that if I’m socialising, it’s because I want to be, and not because I feel that I have to be. I have a healthy social life whist also having time to recoup, unwind, and enjoy ‘me time’.

Since the lockdown restrictions of the pandemic, many of my friends in London have said how nice it’s been to not constantly be on the go, and to no longer feel so uncomfortable when turning down social plans. I am wondering if this experience will allow the British ‘people pleasing’ mentality to shift slightly.

I certainly ensure to activate my ‘German-boundary-setting’ when visiting back home. No more rushing around for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which leaves me deflated and desperate for some down time. Instead, making realistic plans, enjoying time with friends and family and never allowing the candle to burn at both ends.

Alisa: An extrovert with many long-standing friendships from different paths of life, including school, travels and work. Strong interpersonal skills, good at keeping in touch with people, and always, always often socialising, but also has a healthy amount of Ruhe.’

2 thoughts on “How living in Germany helped me feel comfortable with setting boundaries

Add yours

  1. It’s important to learn to be alone with yourself. It is (or it can be) a contemplation to get to know your true self better and better over time. And it is no lonelyness, it’s only beeing alone. It can be seen as a preparation for the next socializing.
    Just my 2 ct.

    Liked by 1 person

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