Here I’m creating a space to jot down my thoughts about the various idiosyncrasies of living in Germany as experienced by an American expat. I moved here in June, so overwhelmed with excitement at the thought of being immersed in the European and specifically German culture, which, like many Americans, I associated with modernism, art, sophistication, progressive thinking, and casual alcoholism. What I discovered since has simultaneously reinforced and destroyed those ideas.
I’ve seen some of my favorite Expressionist paintings in person, heard Daniel Barenboim and the Phil in Berlin’s Bebelplatz for free, smoked hand-rolled cigarettes and drunken Pils over conversations about Nietzsche and linguistics. On the other hand, many of my daily experiences involve noting things such as the bizarre obsession with spreadable meat to the awkward cold-yet-polite social interactions to the annoying and absurd fear of fans. I’ve been surprised, both pleasantly and unpleasantly. At times I’ve felt the overwhelming desire to return to familiarity, convinced I am not wholly myself here.
For several years I’ve had this self-narrative going: I want to be seen by others as brave, independent, maybe even (secretly) badass. To me, nothing could fulfill this narrative better than to expat. I absorbed this fearless rebel ideal in part from the authors I so loved to read, such as Hunter S. Thompson. It’s not so unusual to sport this look and attitude as an American, and I brought that as part of my “brand” when I moved to the very white, square, and objectively boring albeit beautiful Rheinland-Pfalz region. Since moving I’ve encountered some pretty difficult obstacles, and I’ve questioned whether that brand is such an authentic part of me, or if it’s something just artificially tacked on. I’ve realized that expatriation is a process in which, suddenly not being surrounded by the comfort of your home culture, you’re forced to examine what you’re really made of (this is where the “loathing” comes in). You have to dig a bit deeper and open yourself up to the possibility of change, even seeing that change as growth. Yes, that means suffocating your desire to scoff at the crowd of German pedestrians waiting dutifully at the red light even though there’s NO CAR IN SIGHT. Hunter would walk, just sayin’.