I‘m not so sure Dorothy knew what she was getting herself into, really. ”Somewhere over the rainbow” sounds romantic and dreamy when you are planning a life-altering move. There is excitement and the element of surprise as to what things will actually be like somewhere else. New adventures, new languages, new foods, new people, the list goes on and on. I could have even listed new passport stamps, but that is a thing of the past. I have enjoyed living abroad in many cities in Germany, but also never really felt like I abandoned my feeling of home in Maryland. Acclamation to Germany took quite a while; there are still many, many, MANY things I don‘t and probably never will understand about this country. I have accepted the fact that I will live here until I am old and grey, getting more for my money in the insurance game than I ever would have had I lived in the US. Plus, I like it here, I really do.
But, I love returning to the USA on vacation. And by vacation I mean six weeks in the summer, which is actually the first of many reverse shocks that I experience: HEAT! Maryland in August is an absolute oven. 98° - 104° temperatures at 95 % humidity just reduce me to a pulp now. At the end of the day I feel like someone has repeatedly hit me with a big stick. It is hard for me to remember working for the National Park Service in long tropical-weight, wool trousers and a rayon shirt in that weather. The only time you need a sweater in Maryland in the summer is for the movie theaters because the air conditioning is turned low enough to make a polar bear feel at home. There are very few days when an air conditioner is needed in Hamburg, but a sweater in July is a fashion must.
Oh, there are many other things I relish experiencing when I visit the US. I love the „empty“ stores and shopping centers. When I first came to Germany in June 1987 I thought everyday was Christmas shopping! Dancing my way around hoards of very determined German shoppers exhausted me. Now that I have mastered German shopping, I have that „Am I the only person in the store?“ feeling when I am at Target. I like not having to hunt and pay (!!) for a parking space. I am tickled that my grocery bags are packed for me. I delight in the friendly conversation at the cash register as the cashier slips my change into the palm of my hand and not on the counter just in front of my fingertips. I bask in her friendliness as she wishes me to have a nice day and to come again. I rejoice in hearing „Oh, I‘m sorry, we are sold out of the gallon size freezer zip lock bags that were on sale ‚buy one, get one free‘,“ instead of „Nee, haben wir nicht mehr.“ I enjoy shopping in the US and could do it all day, although my sister says I have changed by living in Germany. She calls me a Shopping Nazi. I walk down the aisle with an air of determination as I block others from passing me and ignore their attempts to reach items on shelves that are right in front of me. I look for the shortest cashier lines and tend to just manage squeezing in line in front of the mom with three crying kids and a full cart of candy, chips and sodas.
I guess you can take the American out of Germany, but not all the survival habits needed for a successful shopping excursion at IKEA on a Saturday afternoon. Some things tend to shock me more than others. I can live with the s-l-o-w-e-r speeds on the interstates, but can you really call it “speed” when it is only 55 mph? I mean, really, that is only 88 km/h! I can live with the confusion my last name causes. I have heard „mow-de“ and „moo-de“ and even „mode“. I know the oe (ö) can throw English speakers for a loop and I like to think I don‘t snicker too loudly no matter how silly it is pronounced. However, I can‘t get over the fact that Americans shut up their houses in October and don‘t open anything other than the front door until the end of March. I had a 20 minute lecture on the subject of heat not growing on trees, when I tried to air out the guest room at my parent‘s house when I was home one year for Christmas. I have a friend who just doesn‘t buy into the idea of getting the germs out of her home and fresh air in when she has a cold, either. Say what you will, it just does not translate well. I don‘t even need to mention how I get the heebie-jeebies when putting an empty plastic wrapper in the same trash bin as the coffee grounds and paper products. I won‘t even mention the lack of laundry hanging from lines in backyards or the numberless American coins. I have to reteach my kids every visit that a nickel is five cents and a dime is ten. And who needs a TV commercial for Quiznos subs and sandwiches every seven minutes? Geeez! It may appear as though I am not such a happy camper when I am stateside. That couldn‘t be further from the truth. I am surrounded by family, friends, community swimming pools, 24-hour shopping, wide parking spaces, free public libraries, quality cable TV, free radio, the sound of crickets on a hot summer evening, the crack of a bat at the baseball park, hot dogs and hamburgers on buns that actually stay in one piece, corn on the cob sold street side, comics in the Sunday paper and, oh, so much more.
originally published in Currents Dec 2008/Jan 2009