On Sadness, from a (Sometimes) Angry Feminist

In case you haven’t been reading my blog the last couple months, I’m really sick of this election. I want it to be over, I want Hillary Clinton to be the next president of the United States, I want everyone to admit that Donald Trump is sexist, xenophobic, racist, etc etc etc, and I want the country to start to heal.

So, on Friday night, I wanted to get away from it all. I wanted to stop thinking about the election. I wanted, as I so often do, to stop thinking about gender.  I didn’t want to be ‘the American’. I wanted to be a person among people, to meet new people, and to just be. So I went to a party, open to all, but mostly for refugees and asylum seekers. I had a great time. I played foosball (and actually I’m not as bad as I thought I was and/or used to be, so remember that if you ever want to challenge me), I ate, I danced, I talked to new people. I even spoke some Danish and it occurred to me that talking with other non-Danes who don’t speak the language might be a pretty good way to practice. Danish with an Arabic accent, here I come.

And I was really trying hard not to be a girl, not to overanalyze the gender relations of absolutely everything. That’s an exhausting task and honestly I sometimes think I overdo it a little (Do I feel guilty about wanted to move to where my boyfriend is because I don’t want to be the tag-along girlfriend or is it more complicated than that? I’m pretty sure it’s more complicated…)

I was playing foosball with 3 dudes, so try as I might not to, I noticed that I was focusing a little harder because I didn’t want to be the girl who doesn’t know what she’s doing (I don’t know why I think foosball is a boy’s game…am I wrong about that?). I thought that by being good at foosball I could prove myself as one of the guys, and then proceed to be treated like one of the guys for the rest of the evening.

And since I was trying so hard to ignore all the gender stuff that was going on, I’m not totally sure where the tipping point was.


But the night ended in a way that too many nights do. I’d had to tell two of my fellow foosballers about the existence of my boyfriend, just to make it clear where I stand. Both were “totally fine with it”, and told me that it was “no problem”.

And yet, as I was just about to make my way home, one  kissed me on one cheek, and then on the other. “Okay”, I thought. “This is maybe not exactly what I’d planned for, but the cheek kissy thing happens in a lot of places, whatever, not a big deal.” Then he wanted to kiss my forehead. “This is weird, I don’t feel comfortable with this, since I don’t feel comfortable, I’ll say no.” “But why not?? It’s like I’m your brother, I’m not kissing your mouth, just your forehead, it’s really okay!!!”

I have no idea. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. I can’t remember if I ended up letting him kiss my forehead to avoid further discussion. But what I do know is that the last thing that happened before I got on my bike was another kiss on the cheek followed by a bite subtle enough that I knew better than to say anything about it, but hard enough that I could still feel it by the time I got home.

I was confused about how to feel. I wasn’t afraid, because this sort of thing has happened so many times before. I wasn’t surprised, because this sort of thing has happened so many times before. And while part of me was angry (because this sort of thing has happened so many times before), it wasn’t true anger. I was actually sort of angry at myself for letting it happen (more on that in a minute). But more than anything, I came to realize that I was sad it had happened.

I was (and am) sad because for me, that night had been about trying to forget about gender. That night was about trying to learn about people who have come from the unimaginable to live in Denmark, about trying to socialize with people who, like me, are trying to build a life for themselves in a new country, with a new language, with new people. About building bridges and finding common ground rather than about noticing the problems and divisions we still face and acknowledging how far we still have to go.

And while I did have a good time, I also learned that it is not possible for me to “forget about my gender for a night”, especially if it is a night with alcohol and with people I’ve never met. And that makes me sad because sometimes I think we’re making progress. Sometimes I think that all the conversations I have with people are working, and that the conversations people have been having since Trump’s pussy-grabbing comments are making people think.

But as the woman, it remains my job to manage my behavior so that men a) don’t think it’s a good idea to bite my cheek and b) believe me when I tell them that it’s not a good idea. As the woman, I do not have the luxury of spending an evening simply talking to and learning from anyone who comes my way; it is always safer and easier to have a female friend nearby. As the woman, I can not allow myself to forget, even for a few hours, that being nice is often misread as being interested.

And while it makes me angry on a large scale, like I should do something or, to quote the dictionary, “be unpleasant”,  on a small scale, I just feel sad, “affected with grief”. The distinction is small, but important. My anger is at the system, which forces me to maneuver these situations. It’s at the men who insist that I am not doing any maneuvering. It is at the people who have the opportunity to learn about these things and refuse to do so.

But my sadness, my grief is different.What is sadder than really truly trying to leave your differences at the door only to be reminded that that is not an option? I am sad that I am not repeating myself. I am sad that I feel I could have prevented this encounter. I am sad that I tried so hard to make connections and that it may have led to nothing but another awkward encounter with a man who had one beer too many. I am sad because for just one night, I really wanted to believe that I could forget.


A Revival

It’s been almost exactly five years since I started this blog. It’s been four since I wrote the last post. I’ve realized that even though I don’t live in Germany by myself anymore, I still have a lot of thoughts and ideas and opinions that I’d like to get out there.

My intention is no longer for this to be a travel blog, although in some sense that’s what it’s destined to be for the next year or so as I embark on a new adventure which is graduate school in Copenhagen, Denmark. Instead, I want to make this a blog about people and their ideas (and my ideas about their ideas) anywhere and everywhere. As much as we’d all like to believe that the only interesting things to think about are the exotic things that are far away from home, I’m becoming convinced that some of the most interesting things to think about and talk about and question are the things that we (who is ‘we’ anyway?) do every day and take for granted.

So this is not longer a travel blog about my life, it’s a life blog about my travels.

Twenty One Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Germany

1) The Germans watch television in German. Obviously. The amusing part is that they watch American shows (the favorites are “Two and a Half Men” and “How I Met Your Mother”) that are dubbed. And for some reason, they always hire the same two or three people (OK, a few more than that…) to do the dubbing. So rather than hearing Charlie Sheen, it’s the same voice as Brad Pitt in some other movie.

2) When participating in gym class, it is important to know more about the sport than how to play. This became clear to me in October or so when I had to take a written test on soccer. The rules. The size of the field, goals, diameter of the middle circle, names of all the different lines (in German). When the German Soccer League was founded. Who the president of the League is, and how long he has been president. You get the point. Essentially, things that I don’t know the answer to. Let’s just say it’s a good thing my grades during my time at school didn’t count. I got 24 of 51 points. With cheating.

3) German trains do not live up to their super-duper on time reputation. I would say approximately half the time my train comes late. Given, it’s only by about five minutes most of the time, but still.

4) If you’re going to play the song “Hangover” incessantly on the radio, it would be good to know what it means. Please.

5) According to a certain percentage of Germans, the United States is warm. “Have you seen snow before?” “Yes, I live in Colorado, we have mountains.” “Oh, but I thought it was warm in the US!” “That’s Florida.” I don’t blame them for not knowing we don’t have snow in Colorado. But the WHOLE United States? Come on, guys.

6) I think the tradition of a 4pm cake and coffee is a good one.

7) Living in the US, I was aware of the fact that my knowledge about American pop culture (movies, music, actors, who’s married to who) was less than adequate. Is it normal that the Germans also know more than me?

8) In my defense (to number 7), the Germans watch different shows and know different American music from Americans. I think, at least. I don’t get the feeling that “Two and Half Men” is a big thing in my homeland.

9) Your eighteenth birthday in Germany is a big deal. In the US, turning eighteen means “cigarettes, voting, and porn” (otherwise known as sex, drugs, and rock and roll). In Germany, it means that as well. But it also means, for the most part, that you are completely independent from your parents. You’re an adult now. Do what you want. None of this “as long as you live under my roof you’ll live by my rules” nonsense. I don’t know if I like that or not.

10) I was watching the Super Bowl a couple days (nights) ago. I laughed when the commentators explained what the electronic yellow line on the field means. It made me feel educated despite my lack of knowledge of American culture.

11) Speaking of the Super Bowl…I think commercial spots here cost less than 4 million per thirty seconds. I saw the same ones over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

12) Germans drink out of bottles. Drinking water out of the sink just doesn’t happen. I don’t know why. I have to remind myself to drink water, because when it’s bottled, for me that means it might as well be soda. Also, water with bubbles is lovely. I don’t know why Americans don’t like it.

13) I’ve gained weight since I’ve been in Germany. About twenty pounds, to be exact. When I tell Germans this, they laugh and say that doesn’t make sense because Germans are less fat than Americans. However, I read somewhere that the percentage of fat Americans is something like 65.7%. Percentage of fat Germans? 65.5%. Better watch out, Germany.

14) In Germany’s fatness defense, they have REALLY good bread. Even the French think it’s better than french bread.

15) One of the songs I play(ed) in my oompapa German band has lyrics. They go more or less like this: Franz went to the beer tent/ Because he likes to drink so much/ The beer was nice and cold/ a few more lines that I don’t remember exactly what they say…/ When he arrived in the morning, Franz was doing well/ But in the evening he lay under the table. Yup, that’s German beer culture for you.

16) In movie theaters, you get reserved seats (they all cost the same though). And the popcorn is usually sweet.

17) In tenth grade, my math teacher, Mr. Saracino, taught me SED (Saracino’s Enlargement of Dot Theory). It goes something like “If you are drawing a graph and the line doesnt go through the dot like it’s supposed to, make the dot bigger”. I used this theory on a math test earlier this year. It didn’t work. I guess that’s an American theory.

18) Why would the school’s English teacher think it’s a good idea to read the original version of Macbeth with the twelfth graders? Even I don’t understand Shakespeare without thinking about it. And I thought the point of learning English was to be able to use it. As far as I can tell, no one talks like Shakespeare’s characters any more. Probably never did, it’s too poetic. All I can say is that my classmates are lucky the internet and things like SparkNotes’ “No Fear Shakespeare” exist.

19) Whoever made up German and English was incredibly mean with the verbs “to become” and ‘bekommen’. Bekommen means “to get”. And in German, ‘to become’ is ‘werden’. One of the girls I tutor in English can attest to the incredible meanness of this fact.

20) Germans are good at making windows. Why Americans haven’t caught on to the ‘closed’, ’tilted open’ or ‘all the way open’ style of windows, I will never know.

21) So far, I’m the only one I know here who likes Dr. Pepper. And lemonade doesn’t exist here. And root beer is NOT alcoholic.

That’s it for the moment.

Oh, and since when are Tupperware parties a thing? I thought that was like…1950s America. There’s more Tupperware here than I’ve ever seen.

The East

Technically, the wall fell more than twenty years ago. But it is still very clear to me that I am living in East Germany. Yes, everyone identifies with the “German” culture (although it has been made VERY clear to me that the bavarian stereotype of Lederhosen and Dirndls and beer is NOT the only thing that Germany has to offer), but there’s a sort of pride associated with being from the east, as well. Or an awareness of it, at least.
Pretty much everyone (in my generation at least) agrees that communism didn’t work particularly well. People are aware of the fact that “damals” (back then) people did not have as much money, and a lot of what I, coming from the capitalist giant of America, have taken for granted, was not available. And yet, everyone had work. There was no one on the street. And that was good.
My host parents grew up in the West, so the stories they tell me are second-hand, but that doesn’t make them any less valid. There was a lot of hostility towards people who moved from the west to the east after unification, because westerners were (and still are, to a certain extent) considered to be rich capitalists who take advantage of whatever they can in order to improve their own status. Not working as a mother was looked down upon because it seemed arrogant to the easterners who always worked, no matter what. But trying to find a job as a westerner wasn’t particularly easy, either. “You’re from the West, you already have money”. That was twenty years ago.
And yet, still today I know who among the people I’ve met is from the west and who is from the east. And the ones from the east have more trouble understanding American (or Cherry Creek) culture. What’s the point of the Macy’s Day Parade? Sponsored by a company? Why do people spend so much money on Prom? Couldn’t they just have a good time WITHOUT a limo and super duper expensive dinner? Do the girls REALLY need a new dress for every dance? And then there are the misunderstandings that come simply from a different way of looking at life. How do you not know what you want to do for a living? You need to decide because thats’ the way it works. It’s a different sort of pressure from the pressure I felt at Cherry Creek. Not the “YOU MUST GO TO COLLEGE AND GET A DEGREE OR ELSE YOU WILL PROBABLY END UP JOBLESS, HOMELESS, AND EVENTUALLY DEAD” pressure, but the pressure to KNOW already. By the time you are eighteen, you should have a fairly good idea of what you are going to be doing for the rest of your life. I don’t know if that’s an east/west difference or a USA/Germany difference, but it’s definitely noticeable. I think it comes partly from the fact that the education system in Germany is so separated. Depending on your intelligence (and how intelligent your parents judge you to be and clearly your social status), starting in sixth or seventh grade you either go to a school that is tracked for people who want to go to college, or to a school that is tracked NOT to go to college. As if anyone knows if they want to study when they are eleven. And now that I’m eighteen, I’m well past the point of making that decision, and should know what I want to do. I don’t.
And then there’s the skepticism. Do you REALLY believe what the media is telling you? Are we REALLY running out of oil? The government tells us what it wants us to think, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. I’m not at all used to that/ I’ve heard the whole “don’t trust Fox News and MSNBC vecause they are incredibly biased” thing, but this is more dramatic. This is “don’t trust anything you’re told because it is very likely to be false”.
So what’s the moral of this post? It’s a bit rambly, I suppose. But it’s also on a topic I don’t totally understand myself. Twenty years later, I would have thought the names “Ossies” and “Wessies” to differentiate between those from the east and those from the west would have disappeared. But I am living in East Germany. It’s sort of like an entire population of first-and second-generation immigrants that didn’t move when they immigrated. They just suddenly became a part of a different country. And the culture is integrating. But I wouldn’t say it’s integrated yet. That’s going to take another twenty or thirty years.