Saturday, December 12, 2015

nein Deutsch...bitte--JK

There are 3 things you need to know about me before moving on—
1) I care deeply and pay attention to the little things…things that demonstrate thought
2) I would much rather do nothing than knowingly half-ass something (life decisions*this does not apply to trying...if I try, I give it my all...or nothing)
3) I am skeptical…of everything/everyone. I don’t want to be—not to the degree I am and I’m working hard to unlearn some stuff. But if I’m really honest with myself, I'm skeptical.

Recently I took a trip to a small little town outside of Frankfurt Germany with my friend’s family. This trip had a number of first for me—1) First time in Europe, 2) First time to a country where I didn’t know the language, 3) First time I was dependent on others for a number of things, and 4) First time I felt small…utterly small.

I was invited to this trip a year ago, “the dad” is originally from this town—he had left it in his mid 20s to travel and eventually settled down in the States. There was a lot of coordination at play to get 8.5 people there (there was a toddler involved, they’re not fully human-are they?). He managed to pull it off, and I was the only one that wasn’t directly related to the family. This made for some comedic moments during the trip…mostly revolving--“who is she?”…and “what do you mean friends?”

It didn’t hit me until we got to Frankfurt. I didn’t understand any of the airport signs and largely depended on the international language of Pictionary…known everywhere (or at least everywhere that people have half an artistic skill). Here it began—the shuffling of all these people (6.5 at this point) with only one language “expert” on hand. We were bound to meet the parents—both of which had arrived a day earlier. From the get-go I knew this was a family trip, first and foremost. Second to that came the traveling around. I honestly didn’t mind, because I was deeply interested in the cultural experience—and what better way to get that if not by the family that lives there. SIDE BAR: I was really there for the food. No joke...well, half a joke—I made a list of 57 food items I wanted to try by the end of 10 days. I gained 8lbs #NoRegrets.

After we packed into this 9 passenger Mercedes…which by the way—it seems like everything there was a Mercedes. I mean, for F’sake—most delivery trucks and 18-wheelers I saw were Mercedes. I digress, but that awareness in itself made me reflect on a few things which I won’t mention here—but if you ever wanna talk shop—call me. ANYWAYS—I was given strict instructions on how to fight off jet-lag. We had arrived at 9am and I was told to nap for no more than an hour at 3p. We were going to be picked up for coffee and cake after that and then head to dinner…followed by more coffee and cake. SIDEBAR: This coffee and cake thing is no joke—they take it very seriously…I’m in love. Why don’t we do this in the States. What I gathered from my selective interest observation, is that it’s a wonderful and spectacular way for you to prolong a meal/snack and spend more time with people. Imagine the potential if people actually enjoyed spending time with people. GENIUS!
So I'm going to stop for a second right here and just call out a few things. Yes, this is a first world country and when it comes down to it, yes this could be considered a vacation. I’ve been to third world countries, and frankly, my upbringing was more third-world than most would believe…so I’ve come to live in a way that appreciates people, culture, customs, and values more than the geographical location of an experience. I only bring this up because European countries are not seen as beacons of spiritual and cultural awakenings—and that’s really unfair. These awareness-es are based on the individual—whenever the person is ready to receive their life lesson…that’s when it happens. I can go into my sociological rant right now…but that is for another time…or, you can call me.

Fast-forward to breakfast the next day. Forget the fact that I stayed up until 1am drinking with my friend’s mom and her brother-in-law (I love spending time with older folks…and in this case a local)…and that due to the jetlag, I was wide awake by 4am. I went down to the “hotel” for coffee. I ran across the lady that runs the kitchen. She started talking to me—HOLY MOTHER F…I can’t understand her. In my head I was rushing through every word I knew in German, which 98% consisted of food items. The only thing I knew to say was “No German”—not even “I don’t speak German”—just “No German”. I learned a lot by the end of the two weeks…but I’ll never forget that moment when I sat down with my coffee and thought to myself—‘what the hell am I doing here’? Not in a bad way…mostly in “I am in your country and I googled phrases to memorize, but only took screen shots of them thinking I’d look them over but they got lost in the shuffle of all the pictures that autosave when I upload to Instagram”. I felt I was disrespectful and rude and ignorant, and so many other things.
SIDEBAR: I grew up bilingual/bicultural speaking Spanish and knowing Mexican culture pretty intimately. Living up and down the west coast…Spanish is a popular language and being skilled in both English/Spanish and the culture has helped me connect with so many people from all over Latin America and Spain. I can detect accents pretty quickly and pinpoint where people are from. So any encounter I’ve had with an English or Spanish speaking person or country…it’s second nature to me. I don’t think homeland…I just think land. Well, until you start paying attention to the cultural economy of both…but again, different conversation….call me. Regardless, my friend, who learned German in college and speaks it with his parents was really struggling to help me feel included. It was mentally exhausting for him to translate and I noticed it take a physical and emotional toll. I have never been more appreciative of my own skills and abilities around language.

I was determined to soak up as much as I possibly could from all of this. From every person I met, from every place I went. Every breath I take, every move I make, I’ll be…oh wait, I got carried away. Anyway—my night drinking with my friend’s uncle resulted in him finding out how much I love food. We began talking about cheese and he said—“You and I, we go cheese tasting tomorrow morning”. Say wwhhhaaaaattttt? We were scheduled to have breakfast at his place and he offered to take me cheese tasting before we met everyone for breakfast. Sure enough, we did. Cue in #1 and #3 things you need to know about me. Start off with #3—skepticism. He offered, he just offered. He finds out I like cheese and offers to take me cheese tasting…the next morning! Why?! By NOOOO means am I complaining, but I couldn’t shake myself from this feeling that IT WAS JUST TOO DAMN GOOD TO BE TRUE! #1—the little things--he was paying attention to our conversation and felt like doing something nice. That is the purest of any considerations. It’s not asking “what would you like”—it’s having enough consciousness to read a situation and being decisive in either making an offer or doing something. Before I left he also gifted me a bottle of Limoncino (which is apparently different from Limoncello…I still don’t know how). Turns out he was also paying attention to what I was drinking. Or that I may have an undiscovered drinking problem…JK—I don’t…or do I? BUT THAT IS WHAT I MEAN…this person is being extremely generous in their gift of time, but also their gift of attention, having only just met me. We had to get past the “Why aren’t you dating my nephew” (that would by my friend) conversation, but after it was explained that we’re like brother and sister…he treated me like family—and that was incredibly humbling.

So remember that lady from the hotel…the one I kept saying “No German” to as she said…I’m not quite sure. Well it turns out she was speaking a specific dialect of the region. All 8.5 of us would gather at this hotel for breakfast (only 4 of us were actually staying there…but we cut a deal). Every morning she’d set up breakfast…which consist of bread, meat, cheese, and marmalade. She’d offer to cook eggs in the morning…to which I always had some scrambled. I had perfected my breakfast consisting of an open face sandwich with this spread, lox, whatever cheese they had that I’ve never had before, and eggs. On the side I would have a couple of slices of whatever sausage looked good (there was a blood sausage with tongue…it was absolutely delicious). Anyways, I heard “the dad” one morning comment on how hard it is to understand the lady. I asked him why, and he began to explain to me the dialectical customs and how some people are “of the area” and basic German doesn’t always translate. I was dumbstruck. I began thinking of all the many ways in which this mirrors things in the States and how it has been dealt with in the States (not great, but it’s my only ‘well’ informed frame of reference). I started to see Germany as one. Started to think of all these other places I’ve been to and how they are all very different, but there is so much paralleling experiences happening all throughout the world. I recognized that the only difference between all of us is how we handle situations. My mind began racing a million miles per hours…meters per hour. I began having a nerd overload and there wasn’t anyone there to share this with…to debrief all this with. There wasn’t someone that was conscious of this, not to mention being remotely as excited as I was to talk about it all. It was in this moment that I thought of my friend John. John was always my go-to person when these thoughts came to me. He, however, got a one-way ticket to Barcelona in September and planned to travel throughout Europe Eat, Pray, Loving his way through each country that allowed him to enter without a visa…with an eventual plan to return…but no guarantee. I hate and love him for it. But I digress—I really just want to make the point that—it’s hard to find someone that gets you…it doesn’t matter what part of you, just that they get you as you exist in your most authentic way. So whenever that happens—keep that person around, cultivate that thing you both share…if it’s talking about culture, food, family…whatever. Make sure that whenever you find something in another person that makes you feel at peace and excites you at the same time…treat it like the special thing that it is.

Throughout my time there I met friends and family members that all had so many stories to share. I don’t know why I was so surprised, but many people gathered to visit—From all parts of the country. Everything from the schoolhouse days…to family dynamics and history. We walked around the town…I unknowingly upset some people with my ignorant American ways. On many occasions my Americaness was used as a comedic punching bag…which actually created some special bonds with a few people.
On our last night there we decided to go to a restaurant and have a traditional German Christmas dinner. We had about 30 people across four generations around the T shaped table. There was a moment when I thought to myself—this is amazing. Here are these 30 people gathered around a table enjoying a meal and talking. No agenda, nothing to rush to the next day, no multi-tasking. They were the most present collective individuals I’ve ever met. It was a positive environment that radiated from one person to the other. Cheesy to say, but I really teared up a bit. This was so special and it truly spoke to me in a way that resonated with my values. Enter #1 and #2. The little things—I cannot stress how much I appreciate the little things. I feel that the best gifts I have gotten consist of a bit of attention, care, and an ounce of creativity. The little words, the little stories, the hopes and dreams shared…the passion in a person’s voice. The look in a person’s eyes…a smirk…a breath. All these little things make me happy and it makes me happy to see them in others. Which leads to #2—the promise I made myself after this trip was that I was going to be better about letting people know how their little things are special. I notice so much and never say anything about it…but what this trip taught me is that those little things are not appreciated enough and that could be discouraging. I don’t want to see little things disappear.

So I just realized that I mentioned something about feeling small.  Forget the fact that the US is a tiny little fetus in the spectrum of age that flirts with the line of...uuhhhh---I'll stop.  Yes, it's true there is an incredibly rich history in Europe and as someone having been there for the first time and seeing a headstone with the birth year 975...I was a bit star struck.  But I also mean small in the sense that I began to reflect on my own culture and upbringing and the things that were instilled in me...and I began to realize for the 100th time, the vast amount of thoughts that exist in the everyone.  And truth be told, we don't talk about half of them...WHY?!?!?! Why are we not staring into each other's souls every chance we get?!  Why don't we ask hard questions and dig deep into things that are intrinsic and real for each and every one of us.  I got a little glimpse of that during the trip.  Maybe it was the family, maybe it was the cultural custom, but I got a glimpse at how life can be like if you are unafraid...and someone is unafraid with you. I want them to live on to make the exponential impact that I know they can make.

I want to thank the Hermann family and friends on both sides of the country for bringing their authentic selves to the forefront and allowing me to experience not only the German culture and customs…but values that I don’t see living out as often as they’re stated to hold importance.

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