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Stuck between cultures March 19, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture, Random musings.

When I lived in Germany I frequently referred to myself as a Stranger in a Strange Land. I never quite fit in. The people (particularly those in positions dealing with customer service or more likely the lack thereof) would frequently frustrate me. I wasted time on German men who were impossible to read. My neighbors never quite understood me (although I did get a complement from one older woman on the Christmas lights in my window 🙂 ). I became a little bastion of America in Germany. And yet I loved living there. I made a lot of friends and embraced the cultural traditions like sitting in a beer garden or sitting in the sun at a café with a Milchkaffee, a nice piece of cake and a good book.

I am currently reading several books set in Europe, Spotted Dick, S’il Vous Plait by Tom Higgins and The Private Patient by P.D. James. Spotted Dick is about a translator who opened an English restaurant in Lyon, France. It’s enjoyable. I just wish he would translate his French phrases for those of us who don’t speak French… Anyway, I started The Private Patient last night and was seized by a wave of “homesickness” (or Fernweh – whatever you want to call it…) while reading a paragraph explaining how she walked through the center of town listening to the church bells. It’s amazing how just a simple sentence or description can transport me back to Europe and make me wish I lived there again.

But things wouldn’t be the same if I did. My friends have scattered to the wind, gotten married or had children. Living in Europe in my forties wouldn’t be the same as it was in my late twenties. I am sure I would be able to meet new people and make new friends, but there are lots of benefits to being home as well. I love having all my things around me, for one. I lived a temporary life for six years, with minimal property and lots of used furniture. I now own new furniture and have both new and old things from my childhood/college years/etc. surrounding me. It’s great to have all my CDs in a shelfing unit and just pick out the one I want to hear. I love being a dog owner and doubt I could bring her with me without a lot of hassle and paperwork.

But there’s also a lot to be said for wandering along cobblestone streets and listening to church bells peal – or sitting in a beer garden on the Rhine River watching the barges go by. I decided the way to deal with this is to make sure I actually get to Europe this year, come hell or high water. It’s been a while since I’ve been back, and I do really miss it.

It’s amazing how our adopted countries can quickly become home – and how home never quite feels the same when we return. We translators are a rare breed of people who learn to live stuck between cultures. In the end we adopt the practices that we enjoy the most. I have several German, Spanish and Czech cookbooks that I can use when I get a craving for a bit of the old country. I celebrate Karneval instead of Mardi Gras. I give friends who move into a new home a basket with salt and a loaf of bread. We become the best of both worlds. How about you? What do you miss about your home and adopted countries?



1. translatingbulgarian - March 19, 2009

Hi Jill!
I know exactly what it feels like. America and Europe are worlds apart in terms of lifestyle and traditions. I’ve been traveling all around Europe but I’ve never missed so much my home town with the narrow streets, the creeping houses on the hills, the meandering river, the medieval castle. But most of all I miss sitting outside in a cafe, watching people passing by, enjoying the sunshine, and chatting with my friends… I come from Bulgaria, but all you wrote about Rhine, the cobbled streets and the church bell, all by magic transported me into my home country… Now, the nostalgia comes back again 🙂 Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between the old world and the new world, and the thing that I can’t find here, in the new one, is the joie-de-vivre lifestyle of the old world; I guess it’s what you call here ‘old world charm’…
I love reading you blog,

2. Corinne McKay - March 19, 2009

So true!! For whatever reason, the smell of the Paris metro always takes me back to the time that I lived in France. I think that the nostalgia also has to do with the freedom that comes from leaving your home and native culture behind. For me, part of what was so great about my time in France was France itself, and part of it was becoming a real grownup after leading a pretty sheltered only-child existence in the U.S. and going to college in a town with one stop light. A few things I don’t miss: dog poop on the sidewalks, the absence of customer service as even a concept and the innate French inability to form lines at the bank, post office, etc. But I’ll always think of France as the place where I really became an adult, and where I really started to realize “wow, it’s a big world out there!”

3. Kelly Wester - March 19, 2009

I had that same “hell or high water” feeling for all of last year, and now in two weeks I am finally traveling back to my adopted country: Ecuador. It’s been 18 years since I visited and 20 since I lived there. This time my husband is coming with me. We’ll be staying with “family,” and I might be able to see some old friends. In general, however, I hope to adopt an attitude of seeing it all for the first time. Some of those memories from 20 years ago are pretty strong and emotional!

4. Susanne Aldridge III - March 20, 2009

I am not sure if that helps but in the US (or at least in my area) I stick out like a sore thumb and will probably never fit in either 🙂

5. Ryan Ginstrom - March 20, 2009

I left home at 17 to join the military. In the 21 years since, I’ve lived in my home town for 2 years. My home town is gone now, replaced by another city with the same name.

In the meantime, I’ve spent the past 10 years living in Japan. Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb! But it actually feels more natural here than in the place I grew up. At least here, I’m supposed to be strange and not fit in. 🙂

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