Woche Sechsunddreissig: A Rock and a Hard Place

This week's expat chat: being stuck in the middle and also an un-tethered balloon, floating along.

Pierre Bonnard's The White Cat at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. Also, how I feel half the time.

Pierre Bonnard's The White Cat at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. Also, how I feel half the time.

I'm about to get very messy with metaphors. But first, I really feel that cat right now.

While I'm here, I get a very 'untethered balloon feeling.' I can't think about my situation too much or I freak out. I'm kind of homeless (using my parents' address for official legal purposes and voting, States work address for some stuff, German apartment address for others). While I have a job for me back home once this year is over, I don't know what it is. Here in Germany, outside of work and my non-English-speaking neighbor, I don't know anyone here. 'Anyone here' as in this city, this country, this continent. I only kind of have an idea of what I would do if something really terrible happened. An entire ocean is between me and my family and friends. My life is dramatically different than it was a year ago and it will be dramatically different again in a year. There are people I used to talk to every day that I email maybe once a week now. On the other hand, the people I see every day here, I probably won't see them again. Any time I go somewhere, I wonder, is this the last time I'm at this place? I've discovered several places I really believe I'll return on some future European trip (Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, London). Other places? I liked Hamburg and Dresden, but I can't imagine purposefully traveling to these places. It's a bizarre, ethereal feeling.

Untethered balloon, right?

My other feeling is very much 'rock and hard place.' Part of my current role makes me a liaison between the two sites (my original site in the States and my current German site). And while I'm addicted to US politics right now, I do not appreciate office politics. And suddenly it's a big part of my job. I don't belong to the German site but I don't really belong to the States site any more either. People ask me which site I'm at and the answer is, it depends. I'm paid through the States but my email is German. My benefits and my boss are American, but my insurance and residency is Deutsche.

I think if this was a longer assignment, I would be more focused. This is where I'm at the next three years, the next five years. Instead, it's this weird, fractured thing, part of me making the most of my time here, another part counting down the time I have left, the time to when I can start my 'real life.' Wherever I land next year, I'm putting down an anchor, growing roots, building something on rocks. Pick a metaphor.

Political Discourse

Today's moment of gratitude: I'm not back in the States for this ludicrous election cycle. I mean, even the relatively normal Democratic side is historic, with one candidate a Jewish socialist, the other a former First Lady currently under an FBI investigation. But that's nothing compared to the total catastrophe across the aisle. Just look at this summary of the latest Republican debate from Pajiba. All the important topics concerning our nation are there: Donald Trump's penis size, candidate's yoga practices. Though at one point Trump does reach new heights, when he doubles down on his suggestion that war crimes are totally necessary in the Middle East today. The democratic process at its finest!

But luckily I'm in Germany. Everything here is to the left of the United States. My German colleagues are boggled by the current election and are constantly asking me what the hell my fellow Americans are thinking. However, back home isn't as liberal... My workplace back in Indianapolis has a stereotypical political atmosphere. Use this handy pseudo flowchart!

White, male, American? Republican.

Woman? Democrat.

Non-white? Democrat.

Non-American? Democrat.

The only person I know who does not follow this trend is a white American man who votes Democrat because his political point of view is to just to follow his Sanders-loving wife. Everyone else falls firmly along these demographic lines. Unfortunately, I work with a lot of the first on the list. Making election seasons rough.

This week, colleagues from Indianapolis were in town. And they were all white American men. And seriously Republican.

One of the guys was somewhat new and I wasn't sure of his political affiliation. He started to bemoan the state of our country, how we were headed in the wrong direction. I was somewhat optimistic - maybe he's as frustrated with Trump's success as my German colleagues seem to be? But then he takes a turn and I realized I'm talking to a goddamn Tea Partier: He is worried about the values in the country, he doesn't feel he can be himself, this isn't the America he grew up in. Seeing as he was born in the sixties, this is a good thing, right?

I honestly have no idea what he's talking about when he says 'be himself'. He's lost me. So I inquire - what the hell are you talking about?

The PC culture means he can't say or call people whatever he wants. He can't wear his gun on his hip wherever he wants to. He can't force a woman to have his child - why don't people think of the men when they talk about abortion!

Jesus H. Christ.

You're at a business dinner. You are in your forties. Surely, twenty years in an industry would teach you that you do not talk politics at dinner, especially when you don't know half the people at the table. You don't bring up abortion when everyone else is talking about the best beer gardens in Munich.

Also, the hypocrisy of this asshole. I mention that I actually think we're moving in the opposite direction, as people of color and various genders, sexual orientation, etc., have more opportunities than they have before.

His response? Oh, that's fine for you. I don't care about those things. I just want to be able to take my gun wherever I want to.

But what if this makes people feel unsafe or threatened?

That's not my problem.

And then he moved on to abortion. How is that not letting him be who he wants to be? Apparently he is upset that men (specifically, the sperm donor) don't get a say in whether or not a woman can get an abortion. When I mention specific examples of raped women forced to have their attackers' children, he rolls his eyes and says I'm being emotional. Since he doesn't have a uterus, I am not particularly moved by his argument. And even if we're not talking about rape, the guy doesn't have to go through the pregnancy, isn't required to help the woman during the pregnancy or raise the kid. Fuck him, basically.

The German sitting next to us heard our conversation. Knowing firmly which camp I'm in, he asked me how I feel about the recent Super Tuesday results. I tell him that I will be staying in Germany if Trump wins in November. His response: Honestly, if Trump wins, my wife and I agree that our annual trips to the United States are over.

Republican Asshat grunts and turns to his fellow 2nd Amendment Chest Thumper, leaving us liberals to our wine and steak. Five minutes later, he's complaining about how all women are crazy and terrible drivers and can't be trusted.

I might need to stay in Germany regardless of who wins the election.

It's been a few days and I'm honestly still a little ragey about it. The smugness, the hypocrisy, the total ignorance and apathy to anyone else. Also, a quick review of the Wikipedia page and a gossip session with another colleague, I'm pretty sure the guy has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I mean, I did take a whole semester of Psychology in high school.

Honestly though, I'm grateful to be overseas for this election. It's nothing but hate and anger and lack of real discussions or ideas. The most recent GOP debate started off with a discussion about penis size. It's depressing and embarrassing. At least I only have to face the stupidity during business trips instead of sharing a cubicle wall with it every day.

Woche Sieben

I can't believe it's seven weeks in!

Heidelberg castle at sunset

Heidelberg castle at sunset

Thoughts so far...

- I went to Heidelberg last night for dinner. My work BFF, Renuka, is here for work stuff for two weeks. We walked around and met up with her German friend for dinner. It was a lot of fun and nice to catch up. Renuka's someone I can really have any conversation with and it was great to be able to be totally honest and frank about work, which I haven't been able to do since I've been here. It's nothing to do with Germany and more just the usual moving stuff. I'm just not that close with anyone else at the German campus yet. We also probably totally alienated her friend, since we mostly talked about work and gossiped about our trip to Miami last year. Sorry, friend.

- Sleep. I have been sleeping a lot more than I used to. My manager, who was an expat in Switzerland for five years, has a theory: It's because our brains are processing so much during the day, sensory overload, that we need more rest. And everything is more difficult than we're used to, from going to the post office to getting groceries. This might be bullshit - I don't think this is true for me? It's not like I have to try to speak another language or something... But at least it makes me feel less like a bum.

- There's another American in my group, Tatum. She has temporarily taken over Renuka's role as work BFF, at least until her internship is over in May. We've been getting lunch once or twice a week and have plans for a day trip a couple of Saturdays from now. I've really appreciated having another 'outsider' to commiserate with. We can agree on the differences here in Germany - the guys in general are better-looking, the colleagues are way more personal, and grocery-shopping is fucking stressful as hell. She sent me two lists of things other expats in Germany learned. Aside from a couple of discrepancies, the lists are very accurate. Funny bit on jaywalking: I mentioned to two German colleagues that I don't jaywalk as often as I might in the states. They said that Germans don't jaywalk because of children. They're afraid a child might see the jaywalking and try to repeat, resulting in an accident. So my colleagues, and perhaps all Germans, only jaywalk when there are no cops or children around. Good to know what to look for!

- It's nice to have Renuka here to also have her fresh perspective. Seven weeks is just long enough to get complacent. Her thoughts so far: it really is beautiful here (seriously, Heidelberg was gorgeous), we are stupid lucky to have these opportunities, and driving is terrifying. Thanks Renuka, for the reminder. Also for being my mule and bringing things I desperately needed from home - notes from Mom, Hamilton t-shirts, Vanity Fair Hollywood issue, and my wireless keyboard and mouse from my old cube!