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How Germany Changed Me

Röntgen Memorial in Gießen, GermanyNumber 56 on my 100 Things About Me list is “Germany changed me.” Ever since I wrote that list (and learned about myself in the process), I’ve been thinking about how Germany changed me.

Every day I experience something that floods my heart with some small experience I had (or made?*) in Germany. Images, smells, sounds, they come rushing to my mind’s eye. And I realize day after day who I was there and who I am here and how everything is just the same but still completely different.

Every day in Germany was a struggle, a heartbreak, an adventure, a lesson, a memory. The most mundane tasks—getting to work, buying groceries, even paying bills—were new and exciting, unique, exposing a different pace of life, different values, a different thought process. Not worse, not better, just different.

I loved it and struggled in it daily. Everything was a challenge for me, nervous that the baker wouldn’t understand my funny accent, excited when she did. Dreading picking up a prescription because the pharmacist asks important questions and tells some complicated, often vital details, thinking surely she would find me stupid for saying yes when the right answer was no. Floating as high as the Johanneskirche bell tower when I understood everything she said to me. Feeling like the village idiot when I couldn’t remember the German I word for “postage stamp” (it’s die Briefmarke) when that is the entire reason I made the trip to post office. But realizing the experience was at least useful when I used the story in class to ease a student’s mind when she blushed at forgetting a simple word.

In Germany, so many of my students had spent time abroad, many as au pairs, many as exchange students. They knew the fears and insecurities of being alone in your world&mash;for I was alone in many ways. Yes, Rob was there with me, but he belongs in Germany, understands it as I probably never will. Experienced it as Home for 21 years of his life, as I have America. Fully bilingual, he can joke in either language, enjoy movies, hear more than gibberish in a crowd on the street. It’s been more years than we’ve been together since he was where I was. I’m not saying he doesn’t remember, but time and success often soften memories.

Now that I’m back home, there is a part of Me that I fear very few understand. When I find a kindred spirit, it’s like a refreshing spring rain.

I can’t spell words I’ve known all my life because the German or British** looks right too (“travelling” will probably forever trip me up now). And I’m an English teacher, for goodness sakes.

I can’t remember the order that shorthand dates go in: is July 4th 7/4/2010 or 4.7.2010? I usually remember eventually, but I have to deliberate, and even then sometimes I’m unsure.

I’ve become stubborn in ways I never imagined I’d be. I refuse to buy eggs in Styrofoam. I avoid using a plastic bag at checkout, even if I don’t have my “Schütz unsere Umwelt” shopping bag with me. And nearly every checker here give me funny looks for that. I enjoy my air conditioning like never before, and blast it in my car until I’m chilly. We dutifully remove our shoes at the door and put on unsere Hausschuhen. I have a hard time understanding why so many people get upset about gas prices but couldn’t care less about riding bikes more or spending tax dollars on installing more sidewalks and greenways***. And having used government-subsidized health care for two years, why so many Americans all bent out of shape about it, for so many wrong reasons.

Germany taught me that environmental consciousness doesn’t have to be a burden. That having an entire house and yard all to yourself is quite the luxury, not to mention the amazing luxury of air conditioning. That not owning a car doesn’t have to be an inconvenience (and—shh!—it can even be fun sometimes!). That taking a big leap out into the unknown with only your spouse and the suitcases you bring with you is always worth the excitement, tears, and memories. That being comfortable and yet not wholly a part of where you live day in and day out wears your spirit down in some ways, but creates in you a new sense of Place and recreates your identity. And that Brie for a buck, fresh bread every day, and a semi-weekly farmer’s market full of the most beautiful flowers is a simple recipe for a contented life.

Even seeing my name (first and last) everywhere affected me. In America, I always have to spell my name out and connect it in people’s minds with a president whose first name is a homonym of mine. I could never buy personalized pencils at gas stations because the closest names to mine were always “Linda” (which I often get mistaken for, even when I spell it out) or “Lindsay.” In Germany, I could just say, “Linden, wie die Bäume” (that’s “Linden, like the trees”) and the German would know exactly how to spell my name and how to say it. Somehow, seeing my name so often, it even being a little bit famous, makes me feel more normal, more connected, more like I belong. Maybe you think this is silly, but maybe you went to school with three people who shared your name.

I am American. But I hope Germans aren’t too insulted when I say that I am German too; like an antithesis to Voldemort’s Horcruxes, I left a part of my soul in Germany because I Lived there.

* That’s for my GLC students, a little inside joke.
**Two of my colleagues were British (Scottish, to be precise) and Germans are typically taught the Queen’s in school.
***Be quiet, Springfieldians, I know; I am proud to live in a community where biking and walking is supported, but considering America in general? Not the same outlook, it seems.

6 thoughts on “How Germany Changed Me

  1. Sarah

    13 Sep on 2010 at 8:36

    Yep. You were right! This spoke to me volumes. Not because I’ve had even close to the same experiences as you have, but because I long to with everything that’s in me. I got teary-eyed reading through this blog, just being able to understand a very small part of what you were feeling/felt. It was the hardest thing in the world to come back to my husband after being away for just a short 6 weeks. He’s the only thing that brought me back, otherwise I’d still be in merry ole England!

  2. Nathan Maulorico

    12 Sep on 2010 at 2:25

    This was really well written Linden, and I enjoyed reading it! I feel similar about Rome and Manhattan. They’re just areas of the world that connect with who we are.

  3. Lorraine

    11 Sep on 2010 at 2:57

    Linden, I can’t even begin to say how much this hits home. Even though I was only there for a whirlwind of 3 months, living there has contributed more to who I am today than all 4 years of college. It was humbling, overwhelming, frustrating, memorable, incredible…and it really made me grow up. I’m so glad you got to experience it too…but I’m also glad you’re home, too. :D

  4. The Tilted Tulip

    11 Sep on 2010 at 2:24

    I agree with this post on so many levels! Thanks for the insight–I love it!

  5. Brian

    10 Sep on 2010 at 19:46

    Linden, great post. I know I have felt much the same way after returning from my year in Switzerland. In fact, there are some words I am still unsure how to spell because I get the French and English spellings mixed up. I can hardly remember which is which sometimes!

    • admin

      13 Sep on 2010 at 15:25

      @Brian: About the words: I know! It’s so frustrating! I feel so stupid when that happens. Sometimes, I can’t remember the word in either language!

      @Tilted Tulip: How long did you live in Hong Kong? I knew you’d understand!

      @Lorraine: It is amazing how much living in another culture affects you, isn’t it? I’m glad we’re home too, but maybe we should take a little Thanksgiving jaunt to Deutschland? :)

      @Nathan: Ah, you put it so well, those places do connect with our very essence somehow.

      @Sarah: I got teary-eyed writing it! :( It was so hard to look at the pictures of Giessen, of the places a part of my daily life there. Homesickness. *sigh* And I’m only here because of dear hubby, too; he initially wanted to come back more than I did. By the end, I wanted to come back because I missed my friends and family so much it hurt. What I really want to do is take all of them with me to Germany and then I could stay there the rest of my life. :)