The Atelier, Visa Limitations, and a Pesky Little Number
Setting up business in a new country was not so easy….
For those of you starting out as freelance immigrants in Germany, here are my experiences, to tell you what not to do and hopefully to inspire new ideas.
My justification for allowing myself to live in the sweetest part of town was that it would be good for business. Finally, I wasn’t living in a condo run by a board of nosy bitches who prevented commercial use of residential space and also wouldn’t let me advertise! The joys of mixed zoning! I would re-open Atelier del Feld and it would thrive in a city where people would appreciate it. Its central location would mean that people already in the neighbourhood, bored with vintage shopping and gallery-hopping, would be able to Casually Pop In. I would entice people in with classes and parties and would show my work on the walls with price tags. I would hold salon concerts as I had in Pacific Heights, and figure drawing sessions with live models, I would hold storytelling sessions and writing, meditation, and somatic experiencing workshops, it would be awesome.
I listed Atelier del Feld, multidisciplinary creative and healing arts studio and event venue (and independent publishing house), on Google Maps and gloated.
Except you have to list your Tax ID when you list a business on Google Maps.
And if my Tax ID is explicitly connected with any business other than teaching English and translating, bing: red government flag, investigation, and goodbye, visa.
My friends and visa counselor reminded me of this. I took the listing down.
I got partway through listing assorted Experiences on the AirBnB Experiences page, because if anybody could expensively entertain tourists, it was I. Except then I got to the part of the form where they asked for my Tax ID…so no.
I started to set up a Facebook Business Page for the Atelier. Except then I got to the part where…they asked for my Tax ID…so no. (The fine print from Facebook was blackly humourous. The last time I had made a business page, nobody needed my #; this was a new thing. And in the fine print, Facebook says, this is irrelevant in all countries…except Germany.)
I made a cognitive leap from a Jeffersonian (the only thing that’s allowed is the letter of the law) to a Hamiltonian (everything that is not forbidden by the letter of the law is allowed) interpretation of my visa. As long as whatever event I offered was in English, thus enhancing the language skills of all present, I could offer anything I wanted. As long as I was helping people find their voices / express their ideas / share their creative truth, and they were doing it in English, I was, technically, teaching English.
So I invented Wordcraft Language School, posted it on Google Maps, made my friends say nice things about me on the listing, and made a Facebook business page. I tried offering parties with baklava and Arabic coffee, magic spell parties, witchcraft classes. I advertised on Facebook and InterNations. I made tickets available for sale on EventBrite. Nobody came.
I didn’t know where to advertise. If this were San Francisco, in addition to EventBrite and Facebook, I would advertise on TimeOut, 7x7, SFGate, SFCheapFun, SFChronicle, etc. I knew how to do this in my native culture. I had been an excellent salon concert organizer. But this was Germany: people don’t advertise.
I asked every human being I could, “where do people advertise?” ….Nobody knew. “Word of mouth?” Right, but, how does the word get into the first mouth. Some people said, “…flyers in coffee shops?” And then when I said, “look, I have been to hundreds of coffee shops in this city and I’ve only ever seen two with flyers in them,” they all had a moment, of, Oh Right, 1988 called and it wants its business model back. The internet is today’s coffee shop, except with no effective Craigslist, and people not really caring on eBay Kleinanzeigen, and people having to already know about you on Facebook in order to be notified of events, where does one advertise?
I told the non-native English speakers at my German language school about my school, and they said, “that’s nice but we don’t want to pay.” I found out that my language school also offered English, so I put in a resume, to no avail. (I had already applied to all the others in town, twice. There are just too many English teachers in town, especially because of Brexit.)
I made posters but had no idea where to post them.
I made awesome business cards, because I am good at doing that, and I forced them on people who didn’t want them. (“Wordcraft Language School: Saying the Unsayable Since 1976.”)
I advertised my teaching on the Facebook Expats page. I joined the Expat Parents page because parents like their children to learn English…but it was the same problem on both: nobody wants to pay. (And too many teachers. And many expats already speak English.)
I paused with the language school because I realized that what I was doing was not working and I was wasting my efforts, tiring myself out, and getting depressed. I needed a new approach…but what. I was out of ideas.
I keep asking people for ideas about how to get the school off the ground. I had dinner with my dear friend Jane from Southampton, and she furrowed her eyebrows and came up with this gem: “you only need one client to get started!”
I said, yes, but where to find that first client.
Wordcraft Language School is just a legal disguise for Atelier del Feld. Once people are in my clutches, I can do whatever I want with them, make them sing, make them dance, even force them to walk past photographs and art with price tags under them. And I can give them all the legally admissible receipts for ticket sales they could shake a stick at, as long as they say Wordcraft Language School. So it’s a handy ruse. But how to get people in the door….
I have no idea. I keep waiting for more ideas. I try things and they don’t work, I try other things and they don’t work either. I ask people who don’t know, I ask other people who don’t know either.
Eventually? Ideas welcomed!