August 22, 2005
Royale With Cheese

About a year from now, on August 1, 2006, I will have lived in Europe for exactly twenty years. And about a year and a half after that, on April 29, 2008, my time over here will have taken up the entire second half of my life. One more day, and I will have lived longer in Europe than I did in the US. I've been thinking that I ought to throw a big party on either or both of those occasions.

"How long have you been here?" is invariably one of the first things I'm asked when people are getting to know me, and when I lay those facts on them, I get some astonished reactions -- wide eyes and a bit of a gasp. The next question is usually something along the lines of why. Some people have suggested, in a rather hopeful tone of voice, that I must like the "life" here, apparently flattered by the idea that an American prefers Germany so much as to stay here so long. But on the other hand, Germans being as unpatriotic as they tend to be, I also get the opposite reaction -- why in the world would I have wanted to live here of all places? Americans ask me what it's like living over here -- what's my favorite thing about it, what's the biggest difference between Germany and the US, and what's the same?

These are reasonable questions, but I have a hard time answering them. There's so much that you could say, it seems that any answer I would give would hardly be enough. I can relate a few thoughts, a generalization here and an anecdote there, but it's hard to really get the feeling across.

I'll never forget the first time I saw Vincent and Jules banter in the car on their way to the execution during the first few minutes of Pulp Fiction, especially since a part of their dialogue expressed what it's like for an American over here about as well as anybody ever could in just a few sentences. I knew right away that this movie is for me. Like Vincent says, the funny thing about living in Europe is the little differences -- "they got the same shit over here as over there, but it's just a little different". What Vincent didn't mention is that you notice the little differences you when you're back in your "home country", and they're just as weird. They're always there, everywhere around you, everywhere you go and in almost everything you see as you go about the business of day-to-day living, year in and year out.

There are all different kinds of little differences. Peculiar little oddities that seem harmless but inexplicable, unless you're lucky enough to figure out the reason why (like ordering a Royale With Cheese at McDonald's in Paris, because "they got the metric system, they wouldn't know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is"). Those little weirdnesses are by far the most common, and they're easy to register and ignore, since they don't really matter much; but they're always there, constantly reminding you that you're living in a different world. And occasionally there's something to gross you out (like putting mayonnaise on french fries in Amsterdam). And then again, there are still more differences that I never noticed even after twenty years, even though they seem obvious and essential to other people, who are amazed when they ask about them and I draw a blank (Jules wanted to know what they call a Whopper in Paris, but Vincent didn't go to Burger King).

Incidentally, I also think that Vincent was right about the foot massages, but that's another subject. And I happen to like mayo on french fries. In Hamburg you can order your fries "red-white", with both ketchup and mayo. Stir it all up into a big pinkish glob, mmm, that's good.

1 comment:

You got me thinking about my life. If you discount college and graduate school, where one could argue I didn't really live in one place long enough to count , I have lived in NJ seven years longer that I lived in MD. That revelation was quite a shock to me. I still consider myself a Marylander, and probably always will. Prehaps because my folks still live there. I will never be a Jersey Girl. I will prorably never really "belong" in my 3 square mile town because I didn't go to high school here like so many of the residents. Even though I feel somewhat like an outsider, the people here do speak English (at least for the most part) and no one I knows puts mayo on their fries (although my daughter does dip cheese in ketchup). As for those little differences, I am always greatful to go "home" to MD where things are normal.
cameron - September 09, 2005-15:44
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