It is a strange feeling to hear a stranger make comments about you that are so confidently expressed, yet also so completely unrecognizable to you. We all have so many ideas about how the world is, and sometimes we don’t realize who we are talking to. Here, Germans become very interested and look quite excited often when they hear I’m from the US. This is always a surprise given that I myself feel that being from the US is a bit boring and at times an embarrassing association! I grew up speaking only one language and eating Macaroni & Cheese every Thursday, Spaghetti every Saturday, and waffles every Sunday for dinner. Here I’m surrounded by people who speak 3 to 5 languages—I’ve always be envious of these people!
I hear the opposite sentiment too, which feels equally incompatible with my perception and experience. One German woman confidently explained to me, “Americas grow up being told everyday how superior the US is.” I grew up hearing quite the contrary. I had the understanding for most of my adult life that the education system was undervalued and segregated, the US wastes money on the military, etc etc. This woman also commented that people from Minnesota are small-town folk and especially closed-minded. Well, well, well. I have my own ideas and impressions that I much prefer: that mid-westerners are incredibly warm and friendly!
You know how they say that things are often just projections? This woman’s statement clearly means that she must have grown up hearing everyday that the US is superior…or so I’d like to believe! She continued to comment that Germans are very humble “by nature,” especially given their historical record. I asked what Germans might be told growing up that makes them this way “by nature”—because I’m not sure many people are genetically humble.
I got no answer, but she had a good point. Americans in “Generation Me” are taught that they are special as individuals—that their scribbles are beautiful works of art. It is also true that we have learned a biased perspective in the history textbooks. But here in Germany, I have already had the humbling experience of being scolded, as a grown woman, about where I put my feet, for dripping sweat at the gym, for being late (by one minute!), and for where I was walking my bike. (Thank goodness they are so forgiving of my grammar!) Maybe these things have something to do with their humble nature…
This idea of projection is very useful to consider when people also say to me, “You’re from the USA? Then what on earth are you doing here?” These are other expats who tell me about their negative experiences. One told me he has been living here for 25 years and still does not feel German, he still does not feel at home. It’s important to consider that this might only reflect his own perceptions and feelings that create his own reality around him, however might not have anything to do with German nature. As an expat who has recently made the decision to move across the Atlantic, it is important to learn how to take these comments with a grain of salt so we don’t constantly question our own life choices.