I think it’s a really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone living abroad is something doing something more glamorous, than those at “home”. I think it’s an obvious conclusion to come to, seeing as those who have never lived abroad (really, moved even) can’t understand perhaps the unique challenges and rewards. I think this is true regardless of which country you come from. It’s true for my European friends, as it’s true for me, and even though Germans may not express scorn in public that so many of their compatriots lead lives outside Germany, behind closed doors, I think they are just as skeptical about why someone really wants to leave Germany.
Perhaps the key misinterpretation is that the whole endeavor revolves around leaving and not expanding your horizons.
That being said, these last few months have been busy, stressful and full of lots of uncertainty about what the future holds. I’ve had no choice but to make commitments to things before I even know if everything will work out. Every time I think I’ve finally completely taken care of something and cross it off my list, something pops up and it feels like I’m just treading water here and not making any progress.
So I thought instead of focusing on my frustration for once, I’d make a list of all the little things, which are so easy to overlook, but really add up to the reasons I love living abroad.
1. The architecture: plain and simple. Nothing beats walking to work surrounded by 1000 years of artistic creations and styles. Or taking a weekend trip and feeling like you’ve suddenly woken up in the 18th century, then going to the next town and seeing only modern creations. I think that’s why I love London and Berlin so much. It’s just centuries and centuries of history existing side by side. One of my favorite shows in Germany is called Rent, Buy, Live. (can’t embed a video here, so you can look at the videos on the station’s website). The real estate agents are sometimes super annoying, but the apartments they show are divine. For a few short weeks I seriously thought, screw languages, I’m gonna study architecture, until I realized I can’t draw and don’t really love math. And I don’t really want to knock America, but with the exception of (by no means small) cities, most of it is really just suburbia, and I never realized how boring it was til I saw the contrast myself.
2. Coffee and cake. Yeah we got muffins and cookies, and pies and donuts America. Trust me, I love those too! And I must add, my own baking skills are far superior to my European counterparts, simply from my upbringing. We Americans dominate baked goods. In fact now my bf’s family expects me to bring goodies to every holiday get-together. BUT we sometimes just snack mindlessly, cause it’s all around. Here if I want coffee and cake, I go to a restaurant or a bakery and take my time, sit down, talk linger, people-watch, enjoy the little moment and the little luxury. I love the whole afternoon custom and it only costs a few Euros. Unless you are in Switzerland, like my coffee and apple cakes here, in which case tack on another 10.
3. Europe is the best place to be (young and) in love. So I haven’t been to any continents outside North America and Europe, so please take this comment with a (huge) grain of salt. I’ll spare you my opinions of prude Ami-land, and instead share some amusing anecdotes on my “europa-zation” here over the years. When I studied here and left for train trips early in the morning, I’d very often be waiting on the platform surrounded by couples just out of their beds, making out. Usually I’d drift farther and farther away from where I started, not wanting to listen/hear/ see such a spectacle close-up. Fast forward a few years, on the beach in Greece with the bf, a couple not 2 meters away straddling each other, etc etc I start getting really put out. The bf hasn’t noticed a thing, I lean in and in German, try to translate can’t they get a room. Bf, clueless, looks over, what are you talking about? Who needs a room? When I finally point out to him what I meant, he thinks it’s the funniest thing he’s heard in ages. The rest of the trip he peppers me with question if perhaps this couple needs a room, or if that couple over there are still allowed to be out in the open and in love by the grace of miss ami here.
He also now knows what PDA and TMI stand for and his favorite joke when we are walking around town is to find an American tour group, get in their line of vision, and start making out. It’s very romantic, esp when he’s got one eye open looking around for the looks of disgust! It’s amusing cause when we’re around his family, he is reluctant to be too affectionate, and only now around his friends is he a bit more relaxed about PDA. But before we headed off to America I gave him the whole list of things to avoid and esp pointed out that an Americans personal bubble is very large, so err on the side of caution. Sometimes my German friends get too romantic too close to me, and it’s still very awkward for me.
But really it’s fantastic being in love in Europe. We can sit next to each other in a restaurant instead of across, rudely ignoring the waitress, we can stay in a cafe for hours staring deeply at each other and sighing, we can go for walks in the city, holding hands or arms interlaced, we can go round Greece together taking pics of us in the beautiful places, and just be another couple in love, with no one getting disgusted or angry. It’s very very beautiful. Even though he’s a Greek man and definitely macho, he writes me poems and can be romantic while still being a man. I’d take it over backward compliments and kindergarten punches that seemed to comprise Ami men’s entire repertoire any day. I guess it’s a stupid cliché, but it’s true and the only thing in my life that sometimes is as glamorous as it seems.
4. Being American and light years ahead of European race ideas. I just read and article from slate predicting how right extremism is taking over Europe. Look it’s not. It’s just a typical article (from both side of the ocean) wishing the worst for the other to feel better about their poor state of affairs. I try to take it all with a sense of humor. The kids come in and ask me questions like I am the ultimate source of Afro-Americans. I can’t get mad, but tell me how you would react when teenage girls want to know, why all black men only like fat woman? Dude I know I am guilty of a few generalizations or too, but I don’t think, because all the other Germans are too racist to date them, so they have to hook up with poor white women, who get pregnant to get more money from the city and to make sure they permanently tie down the man they are currently sleeping with is the answer that they are looking for. They’d like me to confirm all the racist ideas they get from others, not tell them that they are the racist ones. Or I also love when my seniors tell me, the worst American soldiers in the war were black. Someone I knew saw a man gunning down people from an airplane and he was definitely black. My God. What can I say? Nothing, I just look appalled until she starts backtracking. Or here about a Dutch newspaper publishing an article calling Rihanna the N word. Or my boyfriend saying he thinks all Indians are unattractive. I call him out for it, saying I had numerous crushes on men I’ve met, and find Indian women esp. beautiful for their eyes. But he failed to see how this could be the tiniest bit racist, or how this could harm children growing up in a world, where only the Western standard of beauty is valued.
I could go on and on. My favorite German let’s be oblivious to racism bit, are Asian restaurants. I call it the let’s all stand around a wok and look Asian bit. The owner is not from Asia, but he hires only Asian waitstaff so it looks authentic. I would love for American lawyers to sink their teeth into this lawsuit waiting to happen. As an expat it’s easy to get caught up in the world of generalizations, Germans this and Amis that. I am more than guilty, but I swear it’s no longer amusing to explain to my kids that saying the n word is just never ok in America, despite what gangsta rappers say. And that even though Europe seizes on every news story as proof that Americans have huge race problems still, I know that in America a black man getting on the subway will more often than not, not be stared at intensely as an oddity, nor would a court of law be so quick to uphold the police’s right to ask for the ID of every black passenger travelling on the German train, nor do we need to ask such stupid questions, like my kids do. We’ve had those discussions, we are better for it and it’s interesting living abroad and being able to appreciate just how much the struggles of people before me have done to improve intercultural understanding.
There are more, but these have been on my mind for a while and felt deserved their own post.