Every once in a while I notice my perspective has shifted and it happened again on Halloween, our 4th one in Germany. Like we’ve done the last few years, we went to the Siedlung in Frankfurt, which is the housing compound for Americans employed at the U.S. Consulate. Besides having more Halloween festivities than a typical German neighborhood, it has the added draw that all the candy passed out is from America! The residents here have access to military base commissaries where they can purchase American goods. It’s at the Siedlung where we rediscover lost loves like Tootsie Rolls, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Nerds, Laffy Taffy, Twizzlers, and Milk Duds. So, as we walked around in the dark the other night, collecting treats, seeing other friends, and speaking English, it felt cosy and like a mini homecoming.
And then, I ran into some new friends, Nicole and Kim, who moved here from America a few months ago. “Happy Halloween!” I smiled and said. Their normally kind faces looked looked dim and I sensed a bit of sadness. A day or two later I saw Nicole and asked if she had a good time. “It was fine, you know, not like home, we only stayed an hour or so. It all looked the same.” Ah, yes, the Siedlung is the place where every two-story building is built in the same non-descript way. It’s the one where earlier in the evening, I only found my friends Allison and Maria because they started yelling my name until we could locate each other. Trying to talk me through it on our mobiles was not working. Later on, when Gary was trying to meet up with us, I didn’t know where to begin when he said: “Where are you?”
Shortly after that, another friend also named Kim, approached me full of apologies. “That was me who cut you off on the street a little while ago.” It took me a moment to figure out what she meant. Then I remembered…Traffic was heavy and, as I tried to turn left into a cramped parking lot, a car facing the opposite direction crept forward so I couldn’t get in. I remembered sighing in resignation and commenting to Nora and Jack: “Germans.” But that was it, I didn’t sit there incredulous and frustrated as I may have been a few years before. I just settled in and waited. It turns out, Kim’s car had suddenly developed a major problem and it was all she could do to move it forward. Even so, I congratulated myself with, Wow, I’ve really progressed, I don’t care about belligerent Germans behind the wheel anymore. That moment of zen was gratifying but, a few days later, when I was in a parking garage situation, resentment sprang to life. I couldn’t help thinking: Who put all these mean robots behind the wheel and who is going to help me destroy them?
So, to my friends who are rather new to this place, think of it as the first year of your first child. Even if by textbook standards, your adjustment to your life with a baby is going well, it’s still a baby and your life has changed dramatically. And, then there are some of us, by luck of the draw, who don’t have a textbook beginning with their baby (accidents, illness, work problems, etc.) Life can be hard that first year. Some moments may feel defeating but there are many joys to experience as an expat–so, chin up, eyes open, and don’t let the bastards get you down. P.S. You will make German friends too and you will like them a lot.