The last two weeks in Freiburg have been much the same as the previous weeks, yet also different. The city has become familiar: I no longer worry about getting lost; I less frequently seek out new places and focus more on getting from one destination to the next. The daily routine of class, homework, and free time has become predictable. In some ways the familiarity makes daily life less stressful, but it also fosters a certain amount of boredom. With fewer distractions, I feel a greater degree of home-sickness. Some aspects of German culture irritate me more than they did at first: the brusqueness of waiters in restaurants and of cashiers in the supermarket; everything being closed on Sunday and on public holidays; the constant vigilance required to avoid getting hit by bicycles; punks obtrusively asking for handouts; the need to pay for almost everything with cash. Learning the language is an agonizingly slow process, and even though I spend the greater part of each day in class or doing homework, I find it discouraging that I can only sometimes understand native German speakers. I feel I would have to stay here at least another four months just to cover all the grammatical bases and to acquire a functional ability to speak German and understand spoken German. Since putting my life on hold for that long is not an option, I remind myself that first, I don’t need to be fluent in German–I live in the US, after all–and second, that I came here specifically to improve my ability to read German.
I find it interesting that, although I am living in Germany, most of the people with whom I interact on a daily basis are not German. For example, none of my classmates are German, nor are any of the students whom I have met at the Goethe Institut. My teacher is also not German, though she has lived in Germany for many years. I am, however, extremely fortunate to be part of such a diverse community. Everyone has their own story: where they are from, what their home country is like, where they currently live, why they are learning German, what they hope to do in the future. They share their views about Germany, about world events and politics, about America. During a conversation over lunch about American’s role in various Middle-Eastern and European conflicts, the US presidential election came up. Several people in the group expressed their opinion that Americans have a particular responsibility to take an active role in politics, specifically voting in the upcoming presidential elections. In their view, America possesses great wealth and power and therefore exercises considerable influence on world events. Americans ought to choose their president with care: they have an obligation not only to themselves, but also to others. I was taken aback by this view, since I have always regarded politics with considerable skepticism and a degree of apathy. I wondered if they could be right, and whether I should re-consider my own involvement in American politics. I especially appreciated this conversation because I have been curious how people from other countries think about the States. When I was preparing for my trip to Germany and informing people that I would be away, the response I received was overwhelmingly positive: “You are going to Europe?!”; “That’s so awesome!”; “You are going to have a great time!” I don’t get impression, however, that the feeling is entirely reciprocal; for example, when we learned about places to which Germans like to travel, the US definitely did not top the list. Germans prefer to vacation in their own country, in Spain, in Italy, in Greece. When the people in my class talked about places they would like to visit, no one mentioned the US. Of course I cannot generalize based on this limited sample size, it did give me pause to consider that not everyone thinks that American is the coolest place ever. It’s kind of like, “America may be a big player in world events, but we think our own countries are pretty awesome, thank you very much.”