Deutschbag/douchbag — I don’t know what I am.

25 Feb

November 7, 2011: I paced back and forth in London’s Heathrow airport pushing an over-sized stroller loaded down with a carseat, a diaper bag, a large flowered tote bag, and two red rolly suitcases (one balanced roughly in the stroller’s seat, the other attached to the stroller’s handle by a big carabiner). I bounced dramatically with each step, trying to calm my screaming 3 month old who was strapped to my chest. I had already been awake and traveling 20+ hours. Storms in the southeast caused major delays for our first two flights causing us to miss our flight from London to Zürich. I had no phone and could not figure out how to connect to the Internet, so I had no way of telling my poor panicked husband that we would be more than 8 hours late to arrive. I was worried that he wouldn’t be there when we arrived, and later I found out that he was worried we had been killed or sold into slavery and thought he’d never see us again. I had been made to leave the secure part of the Dallas airport to figure out how to get to London, since the flight I took from Montgomery had been rerouted for 2 hours to avoid bad weather. Leaving security means going back through security…with all of the aforementioned stuff (stroller, bags, carseat, baby, shoes, etc.) I had to leave the secure part of the London airport as well… with all the aforementioned stuff (stroller, bags, carseat, baby, shoes, eyes full of tears, etc.). I was exhausted. I paced around the gate in London waiting to board our finally-final flight to Zürich for hours. Back and forth…back and forth… waiting for the boarding call, trying to calm my poor baby who, though he had done well on the first two flights, had finally reached his breaking point. Hours, minutes, and seconds passed: I counted each one. After spending nearly 500 minutes of my life in that airport, the time to board the plane drew near and my fellow passengers finally started gathering around me. If only I had been so drunk that I was cursing loudly I would have been the epitome of the person you DON’T want sitting next to you on a 5-hour flight: My hair was tangled and dirty. My clothes were wrinkled and smelly. I assume my eyes looked like two little dried-up raisins underneath a couch cushion. I patted my screaming baby. I coughed loudly and let a few tears fall down my cheek. Everyone stared at me and I didn’t care. I stood, zombiesque, staring at the digital sign behind the desk, rejoicing that it was finally displaying MY flight information. It had already been several hours since I last heard or saw anything that didn’t blur before reaching my brain when suddenly  I noticed a group of middle-aged men standing right next to me. They were all wearing matching blue shirts and carrying sport coats, which sounds kind of cheesy but they were all nicely-groomed, expensive looking men. I noticed them not because of their identical outfits, but rather because they were all conversing quickly in deep, throaty voices, saying things I didn’t understand. I watched their heads move back and forth and their hands wave around in the air. They took turns making sounds. I saw there eyes stare intently at the other eyes in their group as their eyebrows went up and down together. Their facial expressions demonstrated understanding and shared emotion. I blinked. They all laughed at the same time. I knew they knew each other. They were all dressed alike, after all. But I had no idea what they were saying. My heart, my brain, my body all started to panic.

That was it. That was the moment it hit me that I was moving to a country that I would not understand. I have lived here in Switzerland for nearly 16 months now (Ich bin in der Schweiz seit sechszehn Monaten), and I still think about that moment regularly. That was the moment that I realized I had no choice but to learn a second language if I would survive the next few years, and that was the moment that I honestly started trying to learn German. Once I realized that they were speaking another language, I began desperately searching their conversation for meaning… and I haven’t stopped since. I am surrounded by a language that very often means nothing to me and it is, to say the least, frustrating. It’s uncomfortable to look someone in the eye as they speak to you and have no idea what they’re trying to say — especially when you know they are scolding you (yes, these jerks do that). It’s isolating to overhear children talking to each other on the sidewalk and not have any idea what they’ve just said. It’s frightening to see warning messages flash across the train schedule as the trains slows to a stop at an unfamiliar station and everyone stands up to get off. It’s embarrassing to have an annoyed stranger reach over you to push an elevator button after you have obviously misunderstood them and pushed the wrong one (and then riding to the wrong floors together as you try not to cry).

It’s hard. Not bad, but hard. Freaking hard. Though I cry a lot out of frustration, there is some sort of emotionally-masochistic part of me that loves every moment of this oddly invigorating transition. Life is nothing if not moving forward, and I feel like my life has been on one of those moving sidewalks (on super fast!) for over a year now.

I AM learning the language. I understand more every day. Some days the new things I learn make me feel strong and powerful like I can do anything. Other days the realizations I have make me feel like a outrageously ignorant moron because I’ll suddenly understand that I’ve done things very, very wrong and made a fool of myself. I am exhausted at the end of most days, but often have a hard time sleeping because my brain wants to replay everything from the previous day and how to deal with the following one.

I’m a foreigner.

2 Responses to “Deutschbag/douchbag — I don’t know what I am.”

  1. Susan Lasater February 26, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    This one makes me cry because I have felt your frustration and some of your isolation in what you have expressed in the past. But I also know that you are a strong woman, and that you will do all of what needs to be done with grace and dignity….well, at least most of the time…hahaha. Besides, crying relieves frustration and anxiety! Love you, Susan (PS: the vids of yall and the baby keep us going!)

  2. Maggie February 26, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    🙂 I know what you mean. Being a foreigner is both fun and frustrating. Here’s to more fun days than frustrating ones. 🙂 I love you – Enjoy

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