First off, I’m sorry for my long silence. At the beginning of the year, I traveled back to The States and was greeted with so much love and laughter and comfort that it made me question what I’m doing over here. Going home was the first time in over a year that I felt really known, that I didn’t have to introduce myself or recap my past or wonder how things would be taken. When I got back to Berlin, I had a love hangover, and I was depressed.
I was depressed to not be with my friends and family. I was depressed that it’s so hard to meet people in Berlin. I was depressed that, in spite of a new water tank, I still couldn’t take more than a five-minute shower without running out of water. I was depressed that two clients decided they didn’t need to pay their bills. I felt that I might melt into my apartment, be swallowed whole, and no one would even notice I was gone until the rent didn’t get paid.
It is hard to start over. We romanticize it, but it’s hard, and I had forgotten just how hard. I had forgotten how much I disliked Austin in the beginning and felt that everything was so much easier in Arkansas. I had forgotten how long it took me to find a church in Austin—three years. I had forgotten the loneliness and the crappy roommates and the calls to subpar landlords. And, I had struggled through all of that in English.
I’m know it’s good for my ego and my empathy to attempt (and it is all a big attempt) to build a life in a country where I don’t speak the first language. Berlin’s second language is English, so I could have it much much worse, but it’s still hard. I can’t communicate with my landlord directly, because they only speak German. I’m never sure when I walk into a business if I’ll be able to communicate what I need to the person behind the counter. This can mean a minor inconvenience when ordering food or a major source of anxiety when sick and visiting a pharmacy.
There’s a subtle pulse of anxiety that underlies all my interactions here. I think about what it must be like for immigrants in the US, and I feel so much compassion. I completely understand why they gravitate towards speakers of their native language. I completely understand how intimidating and scary it can be to conduct every day tasks. I totally know how hard it is to even understand how much money a cashier is asking for and how embarrassing it feels to hand over the wrong amount.
As an English-speaker, I am also incredibly privileged. Every time I travel, I become more and more aware of that. As an English-speaker, I am able to communicate on a basic level almost everywhere. If I didn’t speak English, my ability to communicate while traveling the world would drastically decrease.
Being American adds another layer of privilege to the mix. Some people love you, some people hate you, but everyone knows you. Everyone knows your movies. Everyone knows your politics. Everyone knows your inventions. Everyone knows your money. Everyone knows your accent. This gives Americans in other countries a certain standing, a platform, a base from which to launch.
But privilege does not equate to integration. Because I don’t speak German, only a percentage of the culture is accessible to me–namely, the parts that can be translated into English. I’ve had a couple different conversations about this, one with an American who speaks German and one with a German who speaks English. Both confirmed my suspicion that only a portion of Berlin is unlocked to a non-German speaker, and once you do speak German, it’s a completely different city (in a good way).
Of course, some cultures and some people are naturally better at inviting the outsider in. In Buenos Aires and Lima, I met amazing locals who invited me into their homes and lives and cultures. They wanted to share with me. They wanted me to understand. They wanted me brought in. I haven’t experienced that in Berlin yet. Then again, Germany has a really complicated relationship with their own history. Perhaps, they struggle with knowing how to invite someone into it.
So, what’s next? I’m not sure yet. My apartment contract is good through July. My visa is good until January. In order to apply for a visa renewal, I’ll have to pick up Berlin clients. So far, that has proven elusive. But, I’m not even sure I will want to renew it. We shall see what the year holds.
What I do know is that Little Spoon isn’t done yet. I paused Patreon donations for February so that I could figure out a plan. I sent out a whole bunch of postcards in December, and none of them have reached their destinations yet. I’m a little wary of doing that again. Plus, I was spending more on postcards and postage than I was making through donations. So, I’m going to be reworking the rewards in the coming days.
I’m excited about my upcoming trips for Little Spoon. April 12-16, I’ll be in Kiev, Ukraine for the Kiev Coffee Festival. May 10-13, I’ll spend the weekend in a yurt in the Prague countryside, cooking Indian food (yes, you read that right). July 16-23ish, I’ve been invited to eat all the food in Croatia! Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for sticking with me. Thank you for supporting me in all the ways you do. Thank you for reading my updates.
The next time you see someone struggling to communicate, see if there’s a way you can help. And, if I can leave you with anything from this post, think about what it means for you to invite the outsider in.