After a bit of a hiatus because of work and my personal life, I’m getting back to interviewing! This interview with Michelle was so much fun because she has got the greatest sense of humor. She is still pretty new to Vienna, but is determined to integrate herself in the community as much as possible, as well as give back as much as possible. You can check out the amazing things she does with her camera here and following her on Facebook will make your day a little more fun! Happy Wednesday!
Hi. I’m Michelle and I’m in Vienna because my husband got a job at the UN. What I really should do when I introduce myself is tell people that I am professional photographer and that I work part-time for a company back in the states. But I never feel like that’s enough, so I often tell people the shorter version which is “I’m a trailing spouse. I just followed my husband over here.” But what I really am is a photographer, a part-time social-media manager, and then, of course, a trailing spouse.
I was first introduced to the term ‘trailing spouse’ a couple months ago through a book called the Expert Expat (excellent read by the way) and again through an article in the Wall Street Journal. The term ‘trailing spouse’ is a pretty generic, non-sexist title, I would say and it summed up where I currently was/am and the direction my life was going in. The term kind of resonated with me and I took on that title, that label, more or less. If you read the WSJ article, it sums up what a trailing spouse gives up, you know, the whole “I’m going to give up what I have here to follow you”. It’s about sacrifice. But it’s not always the worst kind of sacrifice, I mean, hello, Vienna! What a great place to relocate to! And of course, I kind of have a crush on him and I wanted to follow him here so I could smother him with myself, and of course so I could try the schnitzel.
I had backpacked through Europe while I was in college with a friend before, but this was my first time here in Austria. I think I had a better idea of what it would be like more so than my husband did (or so I thought). Prior to leaving, we had packed and prepared for summer in Vienna and on the day we landed the entire day was really cold, rainy, and drizzly (suffice to say I was not prepared for that!) However we had made the wise decision of staying in a hotel in the first district for a few days which made it feel more like a vacation and helped us forget the cold, rainy, dismal weather.
I was born in Jacksonville, grew up in Fort Lauderdale, and went to the University of Florida for school (go gators!) After that I went out in to the workforce and soon after that, decided I wasn’t getting paid enough. So I went back for a master’s at Florida Atlantic University (go owls!). During that time in college, I met this cute boy at a party and pick-pocketed his cell phone to which he then decided that he loved me so much that he couldn’t live without me. So we started dating and then we got married shortly after I finished my master’s. That’s the short version of how I met my husband that I usually tell people.
The real, slightly longer, version is we were introduced at a party. As the night went along we broke off from the group of people were introduced to and me and my girlfriend, because we weren’t drinking and were very much sober, got kind of bored. So I told her I could pick-pocket people and because she didn’t believe me I, naturally, had to prove myself. The majority of the people at the party were enjoying their alcoholic beverages a bit too much so it was fairly easy to pick pocket items. So I just went around pick-pocketing people and he, the boy I was introduced to earlier, was one of the people I pick-pocketed. Side note: Whenever I pick-pocketed a cell phone, I would take a picture of myself and return it to the owner. So I started that selfie trend, I just wanna make that clear. That was me.
I originally went to school thinking that I wanted to be a big, bad journalist because I really enjoy talking to people and I’m incredibly nosy. Then I realized after graduating with my journalism degree you would start out making twenty-four thousand dollars a year. Four years of hard work for twenty-four grand a year to survive on? Nah. So I went back to school to study social networking because I really enjoyed it and was using social media profusely already. My research topic was based on Stanley Milgram’s six degrees of separation. My theory was that because we have a greater retention of our networks online, for example Facebook and Twitter, the six degrees of separation was actually shortened to about three. A couple months after doing qualitative research and positing this theory, another university released quantitative study on their research and I believe their number was something like 4.86. I felt that I got pretty close, and to see their numbers align so closely with my theory was pretty validating.
There are a few things here in Vienna that I haven’t quite gotten used to. Like the fact that some Austrians are pretty much bi-lingual, especially here in Vienna. For the first month and a half I was always asking “Excuse me do you speak English?” and they would kind of sigh and say, “Of course I speak English”. When I first arrived I was never sure and didn’t want to be rude and assume. But now I’m very conditioned to the fact that almost any Viennese you speak to here, in English, will more than likely understand you.
The other thing I haven’t quite adjusted to here is the unfortunate poor customer service at the majority of restaurants- that I haven’t gotten used to. I landed my first job when I was fifteen and it was at a coffee shop. It was an excellent establishment and it trained me on how to give good quality customer service. Then to come over here and adjust to a different kind of customer service which is not quite on par with the kind of customer service in the U.S., that took, and still is taking me awhile to adjust to. It’s a different way of life here in Vienna and my personality (I’m a type A personality) is learning to adjust. I like to always be going, doing something, or accomplishing a project. Being here has been a challenge for me. For example, major shops, malls, and some restaurants shut down on Sunday, almost everything stops. That’s a little rough for me because I always have some physical or mental list of things I’m looking to get done that day. And when you’re not able to have the freedom to access everything to get stuff crossed off your “To Do” list, you have to adjust. Thankfully I have adjusted by spending my Sundays watching Netflix.
The great thing about being here though, is it has really made me slow down and focus and think about what I want to do now. I have this time to kind of recreate or rebrand myself if I wanted to, so to speak. I’ve done wedding photography, I’ve done social media, I went to school for that, but what are my passions now? What do I want to be spending my time doing? And, surprisingly, now that I have time to answer that question, I’m finding that it’s a much harder question to answer than I originally thought. It hard to change and evolve, I guess.
When I took pictures of Kam recently, I realized how much I have missed photography. I’ve picked up my camera to do little things, but I haven’t really had the time to stop and think about the shot; what’s the best approach, how do I compose it, what do I want to incorporate or exclude? But I had that chance during Kam’s portraits and it was the most liberating feeling that I’ve had in a long time. As I was doing it, I realized I had forgotten how much I missed it; how much I love photography.
My intention when I moved to Vienna was to get more into film photography rather than digital photography. I wanted to go old school because I really like the look of film. But unfortunately, I haven’t made that a priority. Buying rugs and settling into my apartment is more of a priority for some reason for me right now.
I think I’m more extroverted online. I think people have an idea of who and what I am based on what I write on the internet, but I feel like I am actually much more reserved, introverted, and low-key. When I’m in large groups I get intimidated and usually don’t say very much. I also do a lot of self-censorship of the things I’ve said both during and after. So much after. For instance, when I went to Women of Vienna’s book club, there was so much that I said that later, when I was in the shower- which is way too much information- but often I’ll be in the shower or lying in bed and think, “Why did I say that? Were you not using a filter, Michelle? Why did you say that!?”
Also when I’m talking to someone in person, I think about what I’m going to say before I say it. I do that around people I admire a lot and it’s such a bad thing to do because then they’ll say something I wasn’t expecting them to say and then it takes me too long to find something witty or fantastic to respond back with. Consequently I’ll get distracted because I’ve been trying to think of something great to say and I don’t realize what they’ve even said.
Random fact about me? I can lick my elbow. I always tell people that. It’s a weird trick. It got me a lot of beer in college.
Also, I did date a con artist when I was eighteen. He had conned a doctor, who was part of Republican Party, out of almost a half a million dollars, if I recall correctly. I’m not joking. He told me he was from Harvard, but he wasn’t. He had the Harvard jacket, like the letterman jacket. He had the Harvard license plate and he had so much money so I always assumed it was true. But there was something about him that made me uneasy, something about him didn’t match up. I think it was just that in the end he wasn’t telling the truth. Just goes to show you should trust your gut instinct.
I met this con-artist when I was working at a restaurant. This girl and I were hostesses that night and we were working the front desk and made a bet with each other to see who would be the first one to get a guy’s number than night. So we flirted with the guys that would come in and I ended up winning the bet because I was the first girl that night to get a guy’s number.
I had seen him once before and people had told me he was a regular customer. So I had stopped by the table after I had seated them and asked if there was anything they needed. He said no, but that he wanted to take me to dinner. He gave me a piece of paper and said, “Here’s my number,” but I said, “No here’s my number and you can call my dad”. So I made him call my dad. He did it. I didn’t think he would, but he did. But that’s the long story of how I met this guy, who I found out later was a con artist.
Things I’ve learned. Trust your intuition. I learned to trust my intuition from that experience. I think a lot of women don’t trust or they undermine their intuition. You have that gut feeling that something’s not right and you think you’re being crazy, but I think we need to put way more stock in that. That was again reinforced when I met the man who is now my husband. I would date guys and it seemed like these relationships were a lot of hard work and something about it just didn’t sit well with me. I was always thinking, “Well he’s really nice.” Or, “He has the right background”. Or “He’s going to school, he’s doing something with his life. It should work.” “He’s got all the boxes checked”, but it always seemed like such a struggle to make it work out. When I met Todd, it was easy. Relationships should not be hard work, I mean, you’re going to have to work at it, but you shouldn’t have to swim upstream to make it work. And that’s what I felt like a lot of the times when I would date people. It just wasn’t fun, it was a lot of work; but with Todd it’s easy and fun.
Because of that experience, that would be my one piece of relationship advice to women: date somebody who’s easy to get along with for you. And only you will know what that is. If you do decide to commit and get married it becomes so much easier. If you are naturally on the same page and he gets you and you get him, it makes it much easier in the long run. Life is hard enough as it is, make it easier for yourself and date someone that’s easy to live with and fun.