I’ve lived in Germany for 15% of my life. Although I’m not exactly comfortable doing it, I speak the language and I have learned to tolerate being nude in the sauna with a bunch of unspeaking* strangers. I don’t know everything about Germany, though, and the tricky thing about living your life without benefit of full cultural context is that when your 5-year-old comes home from school and tells you that she ate 4 bowls of hot cucumber soup for lunch, you just believe her. You’re can’t walk through your culture’s flowchart to find out what she really ate for lunch (e.g. did you have grilled cheese with it? Then it was tomato soup. Or, was it garlicky and in a really small bowl? Then you ate everyone’s tzatziki. That was supposed to be a garnish. Or, is your teacher/cook/superintendent fucking insane? Then, yes, you might have had hot cucumber soup.)
We’ve trained Frida to have good manners, I’ll admit, but four bowls is more than politeness calls for. Was it actually hot cucumber soup? And was it actually good?!
*’unspeaking’ is not the problem. The problem is that I am naked. Small talk would make the situation unbearable. This is why in Italy we wear bathing suits in the sauna. It’s either chattiness or nudity. Never both.
As I think of Germany more and more as home, I have new and different worries. I can relax a bit about the cost of Max’s long term care: staggering, maybe impossible, in the U.S. but part of the social insurance scheme here in Hamburg. I don’t need to set aside $100,000 for Frida’s college if she stays in the German system – university here is free or nearly. The bullying, consumerism, and obesity risk that American kids contend with are very different in Germany – even little kids here eat dark bread and I have seen with my own eyes 13-year-olds play accordion in front of their peer group, unironically, without dying of embarrassment and without being made fun of. It was, to anyone who’s gone to middle school in Olathe, Colorado, astonishing. (I remember thinking, ‘No, no, kids, why did you pick the accordion? Do you NEVER want to get laid?’ But I think actually they’ll be just fine. Tobias was at one point a beekeeping 19-year-old virgin and he turned into the kind of stud who picks up hot chicks at the airport baggage claim, a man sexy enough to make me move across the world and bear his children.)
So, Germany has its plusses and that doesn’t even count the architecture and the green space and the educated voters and the public transport and the museums and the ridiculously good apple juice. What, then, are the minuses?
Imagine that you’re trapped in Hamburg for the rest of your life. What’s the problem? Read through the list below, then add your own ideas in the comments!
- When I smile at strangers, the assumption is that I am mentally unwell rather than simply friendly. In return, a deepening frown is as likely as a smile.
- You cannot find a good 38/85C bra here.
- It is extremely difficult for anyone listening to me speak German to appreciate the power of my intellect. You know those memes with the hilarious translation fails? That’s me in German.
- This weather may be slowly killing me, drip by depressing drip.
- The marshmallows in Germany taste awful.
Ha ha! That was a trick – marshmallows everywhere taste awful unless they’re grilled over an open fire by my Uncle Joe during a successful fishing-and-camping trip in the Rocky Mountains.
I guess after 7 years in Europe, I’m realizing that I live here and I’m finally homesick! Since another visit to the family farm in Colorado isn’t on the books until winter, I need to do something to make Hamburg feel a little more homey.
Time to go ridicule some preteens. (Oh, come on, you’re asking for it! You’re playing handball!)
I must be feeling better; here are my impulse buys at the market:
- a pound of drool-worthy chicken livers
- really stinky cheese. (The kind that is drippy and that you should clean up with a paper towel rather than a reusable wipe.)
- all the wild boar (almost a kilo of odds and ends.)
- turnip greens
- fresh sauerkraut
- a shitload of plums. (Ha! That’s anything more than two.)
Yes, folks, poop jokes are funny again*. Hurrah! Hurray! No one diarrhea’d on me today!
I’m the fourth member of our four-person family to get the stomach flu this week. (There’s no joy in knowing that my exposure was due to processing contaminated laundry and cleaning contaminated toilets.)
As the lone non-German in the house, my sickness comfort foods seem strange: rather than Tuc crackers, a local version of Ritz, I want low-salt saltines, graham crackers, and brightly colored fitness beverages in flavors like Power Frost and Arctic Melon Crush. They’re almost impossible to find here, and not having them makes me homesick, but I thought I’d lucked out today at the grocery when I saw a knock-off Gatorade in the drinks aisle.
I am outraged about lots of things – the Global Gag Rule, Trump’s recent rollback of DACA, Hungary’s willingness to turn away people who need help – and generally find that modern Germany is getting right what other political regimes are getting wrong. Why, then Germany, why, when I’m at a vulnerable point three days into this stomach bug, do you carbonate your Gatorade?
When I think about the various kinds of privilege I enjoy, I am embarrassed and grateful. And now I have a convenient shorthand for my specific level of privilege!
“Whines About Carbonated Gatorade.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the occasion of a birthday-festivity-induced light hangover produces plenty of existential angst. Life is short! And I forgot to get an MBA in my 30’s. Shit!
Still, with the years comes wisdom. (With the years come wisdom? Wisdoms? Hmm, might have to take it back.) Wisdoms like:
- it’s hard to maintain envy if your answer to the would-you-trade-lives-with-them question is no. e.g. I might be jealous of someone’s job or their painting skills or their ability to walk gracefully in heels but I do not want to be Barack Obama (the stress!) or Frida Kahlo (the angst!) or Melania Trump (the obvious!)
- sleeping more is the easiest, cheapest way to feel good. Exercising and a nutritious diet work, too, but sleeping you can do lying down.
- for most situations, nuts make an appropriate gift.
Tobias and the kids, on board with the concept but fuzzy on the details, proudly served me homemade breakfast in bed this morning: a cup of coffee and an entire cheesecake.
Tobias has taken charge of the birthday planning, which means that it’s 9:30 and I’ve already been to the gym. (Fair, given what I had for breakfast.)
Frida explained that she couldn’t tell me about the surprise party because it is a surprise.
Max gave me a good morning hug and said that for the evening hug he isn’t going to use his arms. I’m looking forward to finding out what that means.
So far, 41 is fantastic.