International Writers Magazine: Kulture Shock:
Dementia (The Emigrant's Fate)
Remembering how I have changed
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
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.
Family on the Block
New Life in Germany
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