Archive for October 26th, 2014

October 26, 2014

Some like it hot

Deutschland, these last two years together have been really great, but it’s time for me to move onto something hotter…like Florida. It’s not you, it’s me. Or the Air Force. Whoever is easier to blame.

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As with all moves, you leave behind what you know and enter the unknown. This time, I entered a world I was both familiar and unfamiliar with: back to America (familiar), into an American community as a working adult (unfamiliar).

It’s a strange feeling, not belonging to a place yet knowing you will have to. Even stranger to know that you eventually will, and feeling alone and separate will be a thing of your less-attractive past. So, before I forget what it is like to move from one country to another, here’s what I’ve learned thus far:

1) Europe is one giant hobby. Travel, eat, sing, drink and read. Repeat. Back in the good ol’ US of A, I’ve realized I need hobbies. You can’t just walk outside and BAM! You’re drinking in the rich, abundant experiences as they pass you. Here, with everything so large and isolated in its convenience, I have become like an adolescent with ADD, collecting all the trendy apps and games to play on my iPhone of life. Sometimes, I’ve only gotten to Level One and stopped playing, but leave it just in case I ever get bored enough. So far, it’s: salsa dancing, scuba diving, home buying, tutoring, graduate school, running, potting (plants), potting (pottery), woodworking, spear-fishing, and stovetop cooking (see #3).

2) It’s strange to understand everything that’s being said around me. It makes eavesdropping and people-watching simultaneously easier and less exciting. Foreign languages create a mystique to the activities of those around you.
Germany: Oh, that waitress must be the ex-girlfriend of her customer, by the way she’s glaring at the woman in the booth, who appears to be pregnant! Perhaps she’s a spy from the future pretending to be a waitress, and her target is the child who will become a mass murderer!
America: Oh. It’s just her sister.

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3) I am loathe to admit it, because the term conjures the concept of someone who shuns spontaneous adventure, but some say I may be am a homebody. I’m lucky enough to have two lopsided metal burners to craft a hot meal, and a desk that I can serve it on, with a cheap plastic tablecloth to create the illusion of a dinner table. But when that dinner table faces the large window, with the parking lot and garish energy-saving light slipping through worn plastic blinds, it erodes a sense of home. That, and I constantly stub my big toes on my partially hidden suitcases under the bed when I walk by. Thus, I have determined that I maybe…could be…a homebody, and I look forward to settling somewhere a little more “mine.” And, as shameful #5 will reveal, space is nice too.

4) There’s a lot of talking here. There’s an ease of connections; deep relationships are not the primary reason for striking up a conversation. Here, we casually learn about each other, asking questions perhaps we care to know the answer to, perhaps not. Then we go our separate ways when the encounter’s usefulness has ended. Perhaps we as Americans value friendliness and the immediate gratification of that friendliness more than communal, lasting connections. Whatever the reason is, it makes for easy socializing on outings, and difficult relationship-building.

5) I am space-spoiled. I have learned this by staying at an extended stay hotel that boasts its cleanliness in an almost defensive way (example: the decor along the walls are posters with Tripadvisor quotes about the squeaky-clean showers and impeccable laundry rooms).

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I’ve had kind offers from coworkers to live with them, but I know better. These friendships are too new, and I don’t like discovering that my toilet paper was stolen for someone else’s defecation needs (they probably don’t either). More than half my clothes hide in the suitcases that can’t for under the hard bed, and the others barely fit in the drawers. Two steps from the bed to the drawers, three steps to the double-burner, four to the fridge. If I go in a circuitous route, the longest way to the toilet is nine steps. I feel trapped, and I clearly have fallen a far way from my hardy grandfather, who grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with four other siblings. #thatsreallife #iamspoiled

6) Hello, diversity! I forgot how much America fits the melting-pot stereotype. Even in this area, jokingly called the “Redneck Riveria,” there’s a menagerie of cultural diversity.

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Yes, there are a few Confederate flags riding around town on the back windows of lifted trucks (which to be fair is a sort of culture), but there’s also a potpourri of international influence, including Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Thai, Mexican, Filipino, Jewish, and Korean communities. While I certainly can’t find a respected opera house or century-old art museum nearby, I can’t discount the bright, myriad community I’m now a part of. Any butter-loving Swedes in the house?

7) Here’s a new thing: “thank you for your service.” In Germany, it is pretty unheard of, with the exception of the USO lounge in airports. I’ve yet to figure out how to respond appropriately beyond a smile and gratitude for their gratitude; I certainly don’t feel worthy of their appreciation. Recently, I was waiting for the elevator in my uniform with an armful of laundry. The doors clunked open and three children, apparently pressed against the doors like a cannonball waiting to explode, leapt out of it and ran into me. “Sorry!” they yelped, and darted past me. Then, as if recalling the manners their mom taught them, one turns back and says quickly, “Oh, and thank you for your service!” I was so taken aback, I think I managed a “my pleasure” before the elevator doors shut the red-faced boy from view. Still working on that response; I’ll get one eventually.

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