5 Life Lessons the United States taught me
Living in a different country eventually changes you, whether you want it to or not. While my journey is just beginning, I have already gathered some valuable insights about sweatpants, German punctuality, excitement overkill, non-existent public transportation, and futile Mondays. More lists of valuable life lessons shall follow.
1. I have officially stopped complaining about the never-ending failure that is the German train company, Deutsche Bahn.
It used to drive me insane standing on a platform of some shabby, rundown train station in Germany, waiting for the train to arrive and take me away, far away. Ten minutes delay. Fifteen, tweeeenty minutes. Like a date that never shows up, if the train leaves me hanging, I can always just choose Plan B: Boycott the Bahn and take the bus! Woohoo! By taking the cheaper yet more time-consuming bus, I could also travel the entire country and visit every backwater town in the middle of nowhere. What I wouldn’t give to go back to the shabby train station with the small bakery and the stale bread rolls. No, that is a lie. Bread in Germany is always great. Who am I kidding? What I wouldn’t further give to wait impatiently for the train so I can visit my grandma who lives in a village in the mountains with a population of 42 people. There is no place I couldn’t go to in Germany. You just gotta be patient enough, bags filled with books, snacks and a fully charged phone.
Lesson learnt: Whining about a train that is twenty minutes late is a luxury complaint when living in a country with almost no public transportation at all outside of major cities. Patience and composure became a virtue. I shall never complain about Deutsche Bahn ever again. Please remind me when I’m back in Germany.
2. My internalized punctuality is no longer called for (and it’s not the trains’ fault)
Back home when I invited a friend, let’s call her Gisela, over to my place for, say, 6 pm (or as Germans would say 18:00 because we use fancy military time), there would be three possible scenarios, in hierarchical order of likelihood:
1. So-called Gisela would be standing at my door, 6 pm sharp.
2. I would receive a text message at 5:57 pm with an apology that Gisela would be 5 minutes late.
3. So-called Gisela would arrive at 5:50 pm, apologizing that she is a bit early.
Here in the US, the odds of any of the above scenario occurring is as likely as the Deutsche Bahn being on time.
Lesson Learnt: I never have to rush again to have my house cleaned in case [add person with an American sounding name] shows up early or on time. On the other hand, I have wasted soooo much time waiting impatiently for my American friends and always regret having my house cleaned. A late friend never deserves a vacuumed carpet. And that just sounds like an excuse to not clean up anymore, but it’s not. I swear…
3. I can keep wearing leisurewear for non-leisure activities.
Wearing my comfy, slightly coffee-stained sweatpants in public (in Germany, that is) is allowed in two scenarios only:
1. Getting the mail in the morning when the mailbox is in sight of the house and the whole process does not take longer than 30 seconds. Tops!
2. When just getting back from the gym, not bothering to get changed in the dressing room, and sitting on the gross train seat anyway. I see a pattern here…
A few days ago I went to the post office in my sweatpants, which is in another town! I felt like an insurgent rebel who just took his very first deep breath of freedom. There was still a hint of shame and displeasure in my well-bred, civilized mind though, but it vanished instantly when I noticed various sympathizers in line with me. Ah, the patience, the comfort, the freedom. ‘murica.
Lesson Learnt: As long as there is someone dressed like you, you don’t have to feel ashamed.
4. Mondays are worse than Sundays now.
I used to hate Sundays. Truly hate them, from the bottom of my heart. On Sundays, I’d feel trapped at home, forced to linger in front of the TV all day long (Netflix in Germany is still kinda underdeveloped), eating ice cream in pajamas – which in itself might sound glorious, but only if you really want to. Heaven is only cool if you want to go there, not if you have to. Every store is closed the entire day, every outfit store, bakery, supermarket, pharmacy, and bank. Everyone is at home, being forced to eat ice cream in their pajamas. Public transportation is reduced to operating once an hour or stops arriving late in the afternoon entirely. I cannot visit my grandma in the mountains after 3 pm for a ‘Kaffeeklatsch’. Even the trains are boycotting their own schedule.
Ironically, Monday used to be the day that my life, spirit and mental wellbeing came back after a restless Sunday. Here in the US, it’s the other way around. I get to do eeeeeeeverything I want on Sunday, but now Mondays are lame. I can never be pleased, it seems. Maybe the weekend should start Thursday and end Monday. Just in case.
Lesson Learnt: Sundays are still and will forever be dull and lame in Germany. No matter what, one day of the week will always be the worst, and now that it is Monday, I can at least find solidarity amongst my American friends.
5. My excitement over little things has awesomely increased
If someone would buy me the house of my dreams (say, a brick house in the Alps or Alaska, with snow-capped mountains in the background and a rocking chair on the front porch), I would stutter words of unbelief and awe by using expressions that feel most natural and honest to me, like “cool” or “unbelievable” over and over again. The same few understated words, because anything else would just feel like too much. Germans prefer it modest. And yes, it might be magnificent, fantastic, spectacular, and mind-blowing, but still, “cool” will do.
Now that I’m in affable America which apparently is the embodiment of ultimate exhilaration, literally everything is “the best, most fantastic, most gorgeous and beautiful thing you have ever seen”. A new show on Netflix? Absolutely fantastic. A new black sweater? Outstanding, superb, terrific, magnificent. Everything at once. Spaghetti with tomato sauce? Mouth-watering and scrumptious.
What does that say about me and my limited vocabulary of enjoyment? Well, at least Gisela understands that when she asks me for my opinion on that new black sweater and I say “Oh, that’s fantastic!”, I am in fact lying.
Lesson Learnt: The idea of adjective overkill is non-existent in the US and my linguistic modesty is probably considered a sign of arrested development (which, by the way, is a cool Netflix show).