That German Thing

Two years ago, in February of 2018, I went to a family wedding in Naples, Florida. My family is large and friendly, and any time a lot of us are in one place, we talk up a storm.    At one point during the festivities,  I was having a conversation with… well, I don’t remember who.  I think it was my aunt, and she put a fairly innocuous question to me.  Two years later, I don’t even remember what the question was.  What I remember is that my answer started with some version of, “I lived in Germany for three years, and…”  Ten seconds later, I was just cringing.

Even now, two years later, I am still wincing at what a pompous, self-important blowhard I can be.  That sentence, “I lived in Germany,” comes out of my mouth way too often.

OK, yes, I did live in Germany for three years.  I’ve been back in the US now for six years, though- twice as long as I was away.  The urge to bring up my time abroad in almost every conversation is a giant lurking, looming thing.  It’s like a pressure valve that I can’t properly close, and it threatens to spew garbage all over nearly every interaction I have with another human being.  It’s infuriating to me.  I replay conversations in my head afterward, over and over, beating myself up about things that I said when I would have been better served saying nothing at all.

My good and dear friend Charlotte wrote a post back in January of 2018 pondering whether being an expatriate was still part of her identity even after being back in her home country for more than three years.  One particular section from her post got me thinking:  “Now I’ve settled down in my life back here. I still feel years behind people my own age, and feel like this is the “this is what you could have won” section of a gameshow.

When Charlotte wrote her post, I had also been back home for about three years, and I was already feeling many of the same feelings and doubts.  Repatriation can be kind of weird and stressful.  I’ve said many times before that living abroad can be like pressing a giant pause button on your life, and it’s easy to feel like the rest of the world went on without you while you were away.  I commented on Charlotte’s blog that I had a similar post in mind and that I would write it soon.  That post is this one-  I’ve been writing it in fits and starts again and again over the last two years, without ever finishing it to my own satisfaction.*  I’ve kept a browser tab open to Charlotte’s post ever since, and I’ve re-read it many, many times, noting different parts of it on each subsequent re-reading.

The plain truth is that my time as an expatriate changed me.  How could it not have?  Packing everything I owned into eleven large boxes and moving five thousand miles to another country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t have an apartment waiting was a huge adventure.  My brief German life is a major part of the fabric of my current identity, and it’s never far from my mind.   My time there allowed me to grow and become a better person in ways that I didn’t understand fully until I was back home.  I am absolutely not the same person I was before I left, and in some ways, I think that expressing that is a big part of why I keep harking back to my time in Germany.    That doesn’t make it sound any less pretentious when I hear myself saying those four words- I lived in Germany–  for the millionth time, though.

I saw one of those artsy motivational images recently with text that said, “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”  It hit home because this particular worry and frustration has been living rent-free in my head since I came back to the US in late 2014.

I worry that my constant need to tie my current life back to my experiences in Germany is a personal failing.  I spiral through feelings of doubt: Have I become boring?  Am I living in the past?  Is there some deeper psychological failing that keeps me talking about that time? Why do I talk about the past so much- is my present life that uninteresting?  I suspect that I won’t know the answer to any of these questions in the very near future, so I turn my attention toward managing the symptoms instead of fixing the root cause.

In recent months, I’ve been trying to find ways to make the same points during conversations without tying it back to my time in Germany.   While talking about living in a place that is colder in winter than Florida, for example, I’ll just say that “I’ve lived in a place with real seasons,” or “I’ve lived further north than this.”  Sometimes the conversation rolls around to beer and the various types thereof.  I like to say that I became an accidental beer snob because of my time over there, but now I mostly try to just talk about the suds themselves without bringing my personal experiences into it.  This is absolutely impossible if I’m with friends in a German restaurant, though.  When I have a nice order of Sauerbraten and a cold Dunkel in front of me, my stein- and my urge to talk about Deutschland-  runneth over.

It would be better if I had no need to interject my experience into the conversation at all, though.  That’s the dream.  Keeping my stupid mouth shut and letting other people do the talking is what I aspire to do.  Now if only I could remember the question from two years ago that started this whole thing…

Do you have any topics that you can’t leave alone in casual conversation?

7/52

* – This post is still not completed entirely to my satisfaction, but finally publishing SOMETHING about this after two years will be a great relief to my Checklist Brain.   And, as a bonus, I can finally close the tab that’s been open to Charlotte’s post for the past two years.

298 Days

My residence permit expires at the end of October, and I’ll be heading back to the US around that time.   October may seem like a long way off, but it’s really not.   I have less than three hundred days left in Germany.

I wrote a 500 days post back in June, after I passed the halfway mark of my time here.  It listed a number of the things that I wanted to accomplish before I leave.  Between June and December, I finished five of them.  Here’s an updated list of things that I really want to do before I go.

I want to see the Tulip Festival in Holland.  This will likely happen-  My partner-in-crime Jenny and I are planning on trying to make it out, but you can’t really plan that too far in advance.  The tulips don’t bloom on a set schedule and if they’re not blooming when you go, it’s a wasted trip.

I kinda want to see Mini Europe in Brussels.  I’ll probably pair Brussels with a visit to Luxembourg-  they’re in a straight line, more or less, and they’re all on my Geographic to-do list.

There’s a bunch of other places in Germany that I want to see.  A selection: Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  Oberhaus Fortress in Passau.  The Tomb of Charlemagne in Aachen’s Palatine Chapel.  The Auto Technik Museum in Heidelberg.

I’m going to see Carnival in Cologne I already have my hotel room reserved for the events of Carnival Sunday and the Rose Monday parade.

I’m attending a wedding in July.  I’ve wanted to write a post about weddings here for a while, but I haven’t been to a wedding in Germany yet.  That’s going to change though:  Over the holidays, Jenny and her boyfriend Robert got engaged!   Jenny is my best friend on this continent, and  I’m wildly happy for them both.  I’m sure I’ll be writing about this happy occasion several times this year.

We’re going to DrachenstichI found out about this too late last year to make it happen, but I’ve already got tickets for this August.  I’m really looking forward to this!  Drachenstich is a festival in Furth Im Wald which is kind of like Medieval Times, but with a giant robot firebreathing dragon!

furtherdrache2010

Here’s a trailer thingie so you can get a sense of the festival.

I need to visit more countries.  I haven’t been into Poland, Romania, Turkey, or Croatia yet, and I’d like to.  And maybe Greece, if there’s time.  There’s still so much to see!

If you only had one year remaining to live in your current country, what would you want to do before you had to leave?

At The Closing Of The Year

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, or Silvester to the locals. They’re not directly analogous. Silvester is a religious holiday, the Feast Day of Pope Sylvester I. They both fall on December 31st, though. It’s traditional at this time of year to take a look back and see what you’ve accomplished over the last twelve months.

I visited these places that were new to me:

I repeat visited a few places:

  • Frankfurt a bunch of times.
  • Mannheim
  • The United States twice, once in March and once in November.
  • London twice.
  • Nuremberg and Munich countless times because they’re the closest large cities and neat stuff happens here.

I saw some great concerts and shows:

I had some new experiences:

I had some other things happen that were interesting:

Did you have a good year? What’s the most memorable thing you did this year?

Inside-out Elevator

 

 

The elevator at the hotel where I stayed in Paris was one of the strangest elevators I’ve ever seen in a hotel.  There are no buttons inside the elevator except for the open and close door buttons.  You select your destination on the panel outside the door, and then the little LCD screen on the top shows you which elevator will take you.  When the elevator door opens, there’s a tiny set of lights showing which floor numbers that elevator will stop at.

Weird, but effective.  Although sometimes that elevator got really full.

mercure-elevator

Have you ever been on an elevator with an unusual configuration?

August Break: Two Things About Hotels In Europe

I’m on an August Break from my regular blogging schedule. Here’s today’s pictures.

Just two things about hotels in Europe that I’ve seen Americans get confused or surprised by.

Item one:  The room card.  In many hotels here,  you use your room key inside the room to activate power for the hotel room.  In many cases, you have to use your hotel key to get the elevator to go up past the first floor also.

hotel1

Item two: In many hotels in Europe, the bathroom is separated more than it is in the US.  The toilet sits alone in its own little room, and the sink and shower are in another place entirely.

Also, it is very common for toilets in Europe to have a toilet brush installed nearby- in this photograph, it’s the thing mounted to the wall to the left of the throne.  This is because Europeans expect you to use the toilet brush after you’re done,  even in places that have maid service.  It’s a courtesy thing.

hotel2

What interesting differences in European hotels have you been surprised by?