*To stay relatively sane, living and working as a non-native in Germany requires a tactical approach. The next series of posts will confront and conquer various challenges that the expat faces in this Land of Deutsch.*
To say that I experience culture shock in Germany would be a lie. Nevertheless, it’s been an interesting 6 weeks being back in a developed country after 5 weeks experiencing 3rd world/developing countries. The reverse culture shock has been considerably more fun to experience compared to the slightly stomach-churning reverse culture shock I feel whenever I go back to the US. It has me feeling a little like a sphinx with a mysterious smile on my face as I float through daily life in Frankfurt…
Let’s get this straight: I’m not Buddhist. I’m not enlightened (whatever that means, anyway). I’ve simply been using what I’ve learned in life/in my Buddhism-saturated travels to make my quality of life at “home” better. Perhaps my perspective is one you’ve heard before, if not, read on and employ it if you find it useful.
Float-Above-It Situation #1: Complaining
Here’s a sweeping, widely-known cultural observation for you: Germans like to gripe. Just Google “Germans complaining” and you’ll hit on plenty. From the weather to the not-always-exactly-punctual trains, to legitimate concerns about the Eurozone financial crisis, I got hit with a dark, low-hanging cloud of complaints upon reentry. The sunny Cambodian lifestyle was gone, replaced by lots of mental and actual fog. Bam — everything was serious, everyone had a problem needing to be fixed.
The real fix? Keeping the bird’s-eye view afforded by a few weeks in places that have immediate, life-threatening problems. Cliché, but functional. Why complain about how cold it’s getting in Frankfurt when the flooding in Bangkok just wiped out thousands of peoples’ livelihoods? We’re not just talking pension plans, here. Compare and contrast situations, my dear Germans, and you’ll see — life really isn’t all that bad!
Keeping an optimistic frame of mind does take effort in a country where so many are stuck in how “serious” life is. It’s been a fun little exercise of self-analysis, catching myself every time I get caught in an everyday conversation that has taken a turn to the pessimistic side. Quick solution? Give it perspective. Ask, “Will this matter in two weeks / two months / two years?” and bam! The complaint seems trivial at most. (Why is today a comic strip sound effect day? Don’t ask me). It’s amusing how quickly you can stop a snowballing pity-party by asking a polite variant of “Well, does it really matter?”; if we’re going by positive stereotypes, the highly logical German will realize if a complaint is actually irrelevant and let the issue rest.
Perhaps a disclaimer is in order, now that I’ve written these scathingly offensive claims. Let it be known that I do love being in this country, surrounded by these productive, hard-working, intelligent people. I’ll just reserve the right to analyze them as they do me, that friendly American girl with big hair and a damn good German accent 😉