The Frankfurt Files


“Your writing is beautiful. I guess you took English classes instead of metal workshops in high school … I’m glad you had time to truly observe your surroundings and got a chance to really understand Frankfurters.” Sandra Stein

“Your Frankfurt Files are a blast … clapping my hands like crazy!” Jette Reissig

“I felt as if I was there thanks to all the little details and observations…. Always looking forward to your cultural encounters.” Ines Kabbe

“Loved it. Good stuff … I too had a weird 4th experience on the banks of the Baltic, but made sure to throw down some horrible Bud, cook some crappy meat and even hoisted the stars and stripes on the in-laws’ flagpole. Keep on truckin’.” Greg Poehler 

"You have an amusing sarcastic style and I like it.” Stacey Vesela

“Hilarious … thanks for the laughs!” Anonymous

A charming and entertaining read!  (4.0 out of 5 stars)

This is a charming collection of short essays - though maybe "essay" is too formal. Each piece is a few pages long, so maybe they're more like vignettes. The author mixes humor with cynicism, and I like his writing style. I also like his choice of words, e.g., the "ignominious photography contest" of which he was the sole participant, in "Horses and Mojitos".

Rather than being ordered chronologically, the essays are arranged by theme, though they are presented in such a way that you imagine they might be a good representation of the author's overall attitude over time. They start out harmless and entertaining enough as the author first gets accustomed to living in Germany. While some of the stories keep German culture in the background, other essays are explicitly about some aspect of German culture (e.g., spas).

Gradually, as the author begins to air his cultural grievances, you start to feel like he's got some kind of chip on his shoulder, or else he's cranky from being perpetually hungry. Still, he is clearly self-aware, he keeps his sense of humor, and he is sufficiently self-deprecrating that you're pretty sure he's not really as big of a jerk as he makes himself out to be. Any American ex-pat who has been frustrated by the ways of his adopted homeland, or who has tried (in vain) to celebrate American holidays while abroad, would find some validation in these pages.

In chapter five - aptly titled "Coming to Terms?" - the author seems to be coming to terms with Germany, and German culture is more center-stage. Here the book has an upswing, and the author is downright happy in chapter six! In chapter seven, the author writes about his first time visiting other European cities, and his excitement is contagious - despite an almost
obligatory run-in with petty crime in Italy. (The bureaucratic miracle that follows is enough to restore one's faith in humanity!) These are the stories that fellow travelers to Europe would appreciate.

What made this collection particularly delightful was its in-the-background depiction of the author's relationship with his then-girlfriend/now-wife. It's a storybook romance - boy follows girl to Europe, boy and girl make a great team, boy and girl have spats, boy ups his romantic ante, boy and girl live happily ever after. What's not to like?!

The only thing missing was photos! I sort of wished I could see some of those horse photos from that ignominious photography contest.

Will delight many and annoy some (4.0 out of 5 stars)

In The Frankfurt Files: Tales of an American in Germany, David Conte provides the reader with a series of memoirs about his move to Germany in the Spring of 2006. Following
his girlfriend, a German native, the author tells of his initial impressions of the German culture, a not-so-positive assessment of a culture to which the author had not been previously exposed.

At first, he appears to concentrate on the lack of luxurious accommodations, cramped and pressured amenities, his inability to understand the language, the annoyances of slow, pedestrians and the nuisances of unruly German bureaucracy. The reader begins to conceptualize the author as an emotionally immature, ugly American abroad.

Mr. Conte finally decides to take classes in the German language after he has lived in the country for several months. From that point on, his judgments appear less harsh, and he occasionally makes fun of his own rigid personality characteristics, a refreshing self-disclosure for the reader. He goes on holiday, touring France, Austria, Italy and other famous European venues. Although he does remain somewhat negative toward the German culture in general, he begins to open his sensitivities to experiences which would delight the majority of foreign visitors.

The author writes in a sarcastic, but humorous, style, and his recollections are an ongoing source of information to the reader. If the reader dares to read between the lines of the recollections, there will be rich information as to the relationship between the author and his soon-to-be wife. This is a well-written book which will delight many and annoy some. All in all, it's an interesting read for those wanting to know about expat life and the psychological transition from rigid idealism to stark reality.

(3.0 out of 5 stars)

I'll admit, I had a false start with this book. In fact, I felt a bit annoyed after reading the first few tales or "vignettes". At first, I didn't enjoy the author's humor laced with cynicism and sarcasm. I even found myself rolling my eyes at some of the humor. I don't know. I just
felt the author was trying too hard to make his point. I thought to myself, "I've traveled to many countries, have friends and family who have traveled to many countries and are even expats in different countries. We've all struggled and felt self-conscious speaking an unknown language in uncharted territories, lived in cramped little spaces with no furniture and poor plumbing, bumbled around with our guide maps only to find ourselves completely lost, gawked at, wondered about, cursed and eventually accepted the different manners, behaviors, and cultures of other countries, some of us even have had our share of petty crime. We get it. It's not easy. So, what makes this guy's story any different?"

However, I was determined to read and finish this book since it was a gift by my cousin Irene, who's recommendations I hold in high regard. After putting it aside for a week, maybe two, I picked it up and started over. Nearly half way into the book I found myself enjoying it. I was even laughing out loud at some of the author's descriptions and I kept wanting to read more. I finished the book in a day. The author's self deprecation I found endearing and he's downright romantic. After all, he went to Germany for a girl. This is my kind of guy. Yes, the story is like a fairy tale and not just 'Tales of an American in Germany' which is probably one of the reasons why I liked it so much. I'm a sucker for a good romance.

(4.0 out of 5 stars)

In The Frankfurt Files, Mr. Conte moves to a foreign country, all in the name of love. In a series of essays, he regales us with witty, sometimes sarcastic tales of learning to live abroad. At times disillusioned, other times enchanted in his new home, nothing is sacred as he attempts to navigate an unfamiliar culture, and still manages to keep the girl.

As an expatriate, he acclimates in bizarre ways, such as ordering Thai food in German. Expounding on the idiosyncrasies of the German's use of cream cheese, their love of ice cream, and their indulgent sneezing practices, he takes us on an insiders tour of Europe. He clings tightly to his "Americanism" as he celebrates the Fourth of July, but in the end, he embraces living abroad, and entertains along the way.

The Frankfurt Files is a humorous look at living immersed in a foreign culture. There is no real flow, at least chronologically, in the stories, but they all stand on their own. Add in the romantic element and you have an entertaining, whimsical, happily-ever-after story.