Saturday, January 21, 2012

Self-improvement

It has occured to me that being an expat in a small German city requires some new and improved skills. For a while I thought moving here would eventually make me smarter. Now I'm not so sure. But at least it might make me more well-rounded.

There are things I have gotten better at since we moved here, such as:

  • Being humble. It takes you down a few notches when you realize you don't speak the language and don't really understand how things work. Like the time I wanted to order a beer and ended up with tonic water. Or the time Brian and I got on a train that was headed to Frankfurt instead of Hannover. Or when we speak with Germans who apologize that their English, one of the three or four languages they speak, is not impeccable. When you understand about 20% of what's going on, it's hard to have a big ego. 
  • Sense of direction. Since the streets change names every few blocks, and I can't pronounce them all anyway, I have stopped relying on street names and gotten better at knowing where I am. I just couldn't tell you how to get there.
  • Cooking. I now have time to try more new recipes and to make dinners that take two hours to cook. I've also made more things from scratch just because the German stores don't sell them. I now make my own lemonade, salsa, and coffee cake. Since there's no cream of mushroom soup to cheat with, I've learned to make a roux. (I never knew what a roux was before. If you don't either, you don't need to admit it. Just Google it). My next endeavor will be making my own tortillas - I'll keep you posted on that one.
  • Stair climbing. We live on the 5th floor. No elevator.
  • Pack mule-ing. For example, yesterday I went to the grocery store and carried two full bags of groceries up the stairs. Then I went to the liquor store and carried home 18 beers and 2 bottles of wine in my backpack. I am not sure that pack mule-ing is a real word but I've gotten better at hauling around things I used to throw in the trunk of my car.
  • Speaking German. It's coming slowly, but it's coming.
  • Blogging? I'll leave that up to you.

And there are other skills that have gotten a little rusty for lack of use, like:
  • Friendliness to strangers. It's true. In an effort to blend in with the Germans who don't make eye contact or speak to people they don't know, I've started to behave that way too. Today an elderly woman asked me to reach something on a high shelf in the grocery store and I wanted to hug her.   I could go on a friendliness spree and smile and say 'guten tag' to everyone I see, but they would think I was crazy. It's possible that some of them might appreciate it and start speaking back to me. Then I'd really be in trouble. 
  • Driving. I haven't done it in five months. I'm sure I haven't totally forgotten but it'll be a little scary next time I'm behind the wheel.
  • Being a boss. I used to be responsible for a lot of people. Now I'm just responsible for me and Brian, and a couple days a week I am also in charge of a room full of sixth graders. Since I am usually trying to be inconspicuous or really polite in public so that people forgive me for being foreign and clueless, I am very out of practice at telling adults what to do. 
  • Barbecuing. I've always used a gas grill, and used it pretty well. So when we bought our charcoal grill here I was a little over confident and I rushed it. In one of my first attempts I was responsible for some lighter fluid flavored chicken.
  • Speaking Spanish. I am keeping up a little but not speaking as much as I used to. It's still there in my brain. It's just a little dusty and buried under the German somewhere. 
So will living abroad make me a better, smarter, more cultured person? I am not sure. But if I need to figure out where I'm going, carry a bunch of stuff upstairs, and cook dinner when I get there I'll be set. Just as long as dinner is not on a charcoal grill. 

1 comment:

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About Me

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Thanks for coming to my blog. It started as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, and now has become an ongoing project. I'm an American living in Germany and trying to travel whenever I can. I write about my experiences as an expatriate (the interesting ones and the embarrassing ones), and about my travels. There are some recurring characters in this blog, particularly my husband Brian and several of our friends. The title comes from the idea that living in a foreign country means making a lot of mistakes. So the things you used to do easily you now have to try over and over again. Hopefully, like me, you can laugh at how idiotic it feels. If you have happened upon my blog, then welcome. Knowing that people are reading what I write makes me keep going. Feel free to write comments or suggestions for future posts.