To summarize the last three points in the piece:
#3. What You Hate About America, You Find Everywhere
#2. Adapting Will Be Harder Than You Can Imagine
#1. You Will Likely Just Hang Out With Other Americans
Regarding point number 3, “What you hate about America you find everywhere” is true, in my opinion, for a number of reasons. First, never mind that McDonald’s now serves over 100 countries in 32,000 locations. The fast food culture or the exportation of reality t.v isn’t really what the author is talking about, although it does help others criticize America for our lack of ‘real’ culture. When I was an undergrad, I was dating a guy who one night introduced me to one of his random friends and we went on a drinking binge. Coming home at about 4 a.m. we got real philosophical about life and America, of course, as one does.
This friend said (and forgive me for paraphrasing as it was about 6-8 years ago now), “Fuck America. America is so fucked man, I am leaving and have no plans to return!” And being proudly trained in civic advocacy (along with my then boyfriend, who didn’t really contribute a word to this conversation – which would normally be a rare treat. I suspect this was because this conversation lasted until roughly 6:30 in the morning. I asked him why leaving would make a difference and wouldn’t he just find the same old shit to be pissed off about where ever he went no matter where that was but, because it was not America, be even less inclined to do anything about it (either by personal choice or by not being a native of that country)? Well, never mind that it was after four o’clock in the morning, he didn’t see it my way or care. He left for South Korea (SoKo) a few years ago and has yet to return to America for more than a visit. I think people like that will be unhappy wherever they go, and I am happy I am not them.
I have a lot more I can say about this section, but for now will refrain. I walk around my city and much of Europe when traveling with my husband without saying a word, especially when we can hear other Americans or English speakers. We rarely, if ever, seek them out. Normally, we go into stealth mode, as my husband likes to call it to uncover (often but not usually) Americans being idiots in their own little worlds. To this point though, I cannot criticize too harshly, all too often I find myself and/or my husband in our own little worlds amid this other culture that makes us stand out (and sometimes we care not). This is also part of the reason I am writing this. I promise to share more on our encounters or eavesdropping later.
Number two, “Adapting will be Harder Than You can Imagine” is no joke. When I first arrived in Germany, my professor picked me up from the airport with a friendly face and nice stories only to bring me to my new place of employment at the university to meet the staff that had volunteered (!) to help make my settling in and general stay an enjoyable one. Blessed be for that, I tell you. I was so jet lagged and confused once people started speaking German to me I almost didn’t know which end was up – even though I did attempt to fake it and pretend like I totally did know.
Here too I have countless stories about the various stages of culture shock that will likely need their own entries altogether. For now, I will share this, that a) as part of my exchange, I DID NOT need to know ANY prior German as I would be teaching English and likely traveling throughout Europe. That, and I had the opportunity to take German at the university if I liked. I tried learning Spanish in both high school and at college and really feel like I failed other than being able to roll my R’s, which is now frowned upon as I am learning German, dammit – that was a hard skill to master. Amazingly, I have generally been able to retain much of the understanding I picked up albeit, I cannot say much more than my name in Spanish. I can still understand a lot, with the exception of the actual people from SPAIN, who often seem to speak so fast it simply sounds like, “blaplaquyablufluyabluyafluyapo.” Never mind all they said was hello, either that or they do way too much blow!
Oh yes, and point b) I was here to teach ENGLISH. I asked about fifty billion times if it really was okay that I not speak the language upon arrival and was told yes fifty billion times. It was more important what I had learned at my home university as a teacher that I would impart on the students. Great, I thought! The author of that article is right, learning the local language is hard and thank GOD that I don’t currently live in Asia (SoKo, Japan, China or the Philippines, etc) and am attempting to learn one of those languages. Also, never mind that the shitty-bitchy-drunk Erasmus students from America criticized the hell out of me once I told them that I didn’t speak German, that I was here to learn German and teach English. Through their glaring stink-eye I could tell I became lower than dirt in their eyes, likely one of those Americans. You know, the ones that assume everyone everywhere in the world speaks their language. The problem with this that I have found is that actually, in reality, most people (especially the young) in the industrialized world DO speak English so I am actually generally NOT imposing. It is also becoming increasingly popular in the developing nations because they want to be global economic players, so much so that it is in fact changing the way people actually speak English. I wish this last point was a big anvil that I could use to squish all the brash white American students who criticized me for doing what I came to Germany to do. The fact remains that I now live here and they do not, so I would call that a win if we were keeping score, but we are not.
It really (!) is the little things that seem to take forever here. Whether it be buying a train ticket, ending our cable, ensuring I have health insurance, or even grocery shopping – which I think we have improved by leaps and bounds… it has all taken forever! How nice it would be to be able to just know what we need to pick up at Home Depot and drive there, or that when we order a couch from a store it will be delivered in a week to ten days at the latest, never mind eight weeks (because it must have been HAND-MADE for us then packed and delivered) it took to be delivered. As a side note, my friend has been attempting to rename ‘The Couch’ as ‘Victor’, which is SO not okay since two people very close to me share that name and I CANNOT have an inanimate object also share their name. My husband and I named it ‘The Couch’ because, at the time it seemed clever. Life before The Couch was known as B.C (Before Couch) and life after delivery was known as that, A.D. So the name is more than appropriate. Never mind I think it is offensive to call the inanimate object after family members, might as well literally shit on them then. Never mind that no one seems to name their children Victor any more and it actually seems like quite a regal name, if I do say so.
The author does make a really good point in the article referring to point number one; that whatever we might have hated about America before we left, it is really only a matter of time before we begin to defend it like a family member (see above if that is in any way unclear). I have found that I actually defend both America and Germany when it is brought up in conversation and I am as quick as ever to draw comparisons if people are bashing one or the other (or both) too generally! I now consider both of these places my home and am happy and proud to do so.
I will admit though that I do spend more time with people speaking English than those speaking German and here I think I can relate to immigrants in America some. I mean that, well, I have a choice here, right. I can either take the time to learn the language, which may take upwards of 2 or 3 plus years or I can work right now using my own native language. Which should I choose? Now, there are more things going on here than I will readily admit in this post, as they do warrant their own post too, but seriously, which would you choose if you had to? Let me tell you however, that I am working on the language. I haven’t completely given it the finger.
Upon my arrival in Germany, I was placed in an orientation course for Erasmus students, because the people I was working with had NO other place to put me that would easily help me fill out all the necessary paperwork for living in Germany or studying at a German university. This placement also included intensive German language courses, which honestly freaked me out. When we took our placement tests it was no surprise that I scored at the bottom and so was placed in a A2 German course. This course scared the crap out of me because it was WAY over my head and consisted of vocabulary that the students who HAD studied German before they arrived wanted to learn. So I frantically wrote everything down really not knowing ANYTHING. The teacher even said at one point that she knows, “I shouldn’t be in the class as I was the bottom of the bottom of the class but, that she cannot teach to me because all the other students would get bored, so she would be happy to just continue to give me worksheets.” So, I stopped going shortly after this and was then afraid to take German that first semester, which actually really would have helped me. Instead, I focused my energy on teaching and doing the best I could at that.
I did pick up German again in my second semester taking 14 hours a week for 15 weeks thinking I would go home at the end of it. I am still here, and since that second semester have continued to attempt to learn German, usually averaging somewhere between 1.5 and 3 hours a week because the longer I am here the more work I am given which (I have mostly not refused because work begets work). I plan to take another 12 hours a week this upcoming winter semester, which may kill me with everything else I am doing, but what am I to do. I recognize that I NEED to learn the language to fully integrate and to get more work, but I cannot let the work that I have built up go, so what do I do? If I could go back and hit myself in the very beginning, or before I even left to come here I would, but I cannot. Hindsight is always 20/20. At least I can help influence and encourage the next students coming to do the same exchange program I did that first year. I helped in the dealing of these cards and so I must work with them.
My husband also does not really speak German. I joke to my students that we are the blind leading the blind, since I attempt to teach him the German I learn, but when he has questions I just don’t have the answers. So he too is signed up to learn German and theoretically it should be easier for him, since he already knows Spanish. Furthermore it should also help me since maybe we might just actually speak German at home a little rather than English only.
The one last thing I will say about this article, besides the fact that, yes, it does seem pro-American and that doesn’t surprise me (which I hope to explain later) is that, at least with the last three points, in my experience, the author is spot on and actually comes from Australia, where I spent four months of my life too. I had no idea I would stay here for two plus years. If I did then I REALLY would have put more effort into learning the language, really! But, going through this stuff, makes even this humorous article ring a lot of truth, at least for me, especially the top three points.