21st Century
The Future
World Travel
Books & Film
Original Fiction
Opinion & Lifestyle
Politics & Living
Film Space
Movies in depth
Kid's Books
Reviews & stories

The International Writers Magazine: Kulture Shock:

Cultural Dementia (The Emigrant's Fate)
Remembering how I have changed
Lois Tietzel

The bedding I use, the toothpaste I use, drinking bubbly water and not choking, eating a hard boiled egg for weekend breakfasts and actually liking it, the word I use to express pain (“ouwah” instead of “ouch”), the number of jackets and coats I own, buying a pair of cold-weather boots in 2001, street and road signs that I understand and consciously obey, the currency in my wallet, my sense for “hip” and “non-hip” English vocabulary, ...

These are only a few of the things that I suppose I can remember having changed after coming to Germany, in a cultural sense. See, after so long in a foreign culture, you forget what has changed and what hasn't, what you were like before and what it was like having culture shock, not to mention the ability to define yourself period. That's what it comes down to: defining yourself. Yes, we all somewhere on that journey, but it becomes a talk-about with strangers subject, not just a write-about in diary subject when you have been voluntarily (or otherwise) displaced from all the things you remember in your childhood and young adult hood.

(Of course, I am speaking from my own experience, which is voluntary displacement: having moved to Germany for an exchange year and then getting “stuck” due to an illness called love. After 8+ years I am happily married to that “illness” and have a wonderful daughter, a German university degree and the desire to rediscover myself – maybe an early middle age crisis, but not so early, really. (Am I really that old? Naaawww!) When you turn a page, you have to remember what your just read; otherwise, you don't know what the story is about.

When you have been away from your own memories of growing up and all the familiar things you once knew, you even forget how to be in your home culture. You can't remember how to act, plus, you are now almost a decade older and shouldn't necessarily act like an 18 year old anymore. Culture shock takes on a different angle. That is when it gets really shocking: when you go home and visit your family and friends and feel so out of place. You could sit down and cry because it's not that you want to go back to the foreign country, but that everything seems all screwed up and you don't know what you are supposed to do or feel or why. You feel like you are trapped in a frozen ice cube observing your robotic actions and watching your family and friends interact with one another and with you, but you cannot understand them or understand what they want you to do. You can't anticipate anything anymore, in either culture. It's that simple.

The ability to anticipate the other has left you. You are so confused by this simple fact that you want to retreat to a safe, warm place and wait for the storm to pass. But it doesn't because it is not a storm, it is your life. Your life that will pass you by in a whirl of frustration, guilt and loss if you let these things scare you into retreating into the comforts of intolerance, prejudice and refusal. To really gain any ground in this struggle up the sandy dune, you have to climb out of your shell and face the (other) facts, which are, actually, few:
1) You have come over to this country to find something, so don't give up that quickly.
2) There may be closed doors everywhere you look, but I actually believe the phrase “If God closes a door, he opens a window, too.” was truly invented by the Germans. (They are just afraid of drafts and like to keep good odors in and bad odors out, so don't forget to close the door!)
3) Whatever you came here looking for, you will not find (see 1) , but the adventures along the way and the realizations that will change you irreversibly are the reason you dumped all your best friends, all your 24-7 grocery and wally world stores, the 7-11 Big Gulp, easy driving and your grandma's fried chicken and cheese grits and flew all the way across the pond to see what the European way of life is really like.
Once you have admitted these facts, life seems a little easier.

After all this self-talk shrouded in cultural-talk, I guess you could say I am searching for myself. However, this is not the usual lost and found: I haven't really lost myself. I haven't found it either. I'm somewhere rummaging through language, syntax, semantics, culture, subculture and the thin threads that connects two worlds: my worlds, the worlds I know – Austin, Texas, down town hangs, my parents' house, street, the Texas hill country, South Texas, the US in the late 90s and the down town of Lueneburg, German academics, public schools, down town Hamburg, my in-laws house and neighborhood, German Sports and Sport Clubs (Fencing) and now the “outback” of the Northern German countryside, Germany in the 21st century.
Where I will end up, no one knows.
But the journey will be full of highs and lows.
If there's one thing I now know for sure,
It's that apple pie and vanilla ice cream are definitely my cure.

© Lois Tietzel July 2008

Lois Tietzel lives in Northern Germany, writing and painting many of her experiences as a voluntarily displaced American.

New Family on the Block
Lois Tietzel
New Life in Germany

More Travel Moments


© Hackwriters 1999-2008 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility - no liability accepted by or affiliates.