During the month of June, we were busy vacationing back in the States. Usually one thinks of a vacation as a time of relaxtion, but I wouldn’t exactly call our visit to the US relaxing. It was a lot of fun, though, and we feel like we pretty much saw everyone. We traveled through Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and upstate New York. We went to my younger sister’s wedding and visited family and friends in various places. We also attended my ten-year college reunion. All told, we drove about 4,500 miles. Rosebud, I am happy to report, did beautifully. We stopped as needed so she could get out and stretch or practice walking while holding our hands.
It’s very strange, though, to be living between two lands. As soon as I returned to Indianapolis, I was so happy to be in a familiar environment. I was happier still to be with our good friends and enjoy their company. And yet, I felt a bit of culture shock, being back in the Midwest. Going throughout my mind was the thought “it’s so different from Bavaria”. For example, I felt slightly self-conscious and dismayed when I forgot my canvas shopping bag one day. I’d never forget to pack my shopping bag here in Bavaria! American sandwich bread is not the same as a hearty loaf of German country bread. Gas was a lot less expensive, and I felt like I was driving slowly on the highway. But after a day or two, I easily fell back into the slightly faster-paced lifestyle I am used to in the US.
And then, here I am back again in Bavaria. The moment I stepped foot in the Munich airport, I realized I was yet again, at home. I quickly slipped back into the German language and habits. We went grocery shopping soon after arriving, and suddenly it was back to buying Schinken, Quark and other unique German products. Even the country air smells different here than it does in the States.
Going back and forth between cultures can be jarring, but I think with time, it becomes easier to move between worlds. One of the side effects is that to some degree, you sometimes feel like you don’t quite fit in with either place. Or perhaps, you are looking for something that doesn’t exist in the other culture. In Germany, I sometimes want an inexpensive, bottomless cup of (weak) American coffee. But wouldn’t you just know it, that while I was in the States, I craved the super-strong black German breakfast coffee.
While I was in Indiana, I visited with my friends Mary Ann and Paul. Mary Ann is a German teacher like me, so she knows what it is like to have your feet in two places. One Monday afternoon, Mary Ann and I took Rosebud for a walk, and we spoke German the whole time. We usually speak German with each other, so that wasn’t unusual. I did, however, have this odd sensation that there should have been the mountains, or a pasture with cows around me as we were walking. Even though I speak quite a bit of German when I can in the US, I still have a strong and powerful association with the language and the lands where it is spoken.
I guess that’s one of the most amazing and wonderful things about speaking another language – wherever you end up speaking it, somehow it brings that whole set of memory associations along with it. This can make you feel wistful, because you do crave this or that food or place that goes along with the language. But ultimately, the language serves as a bridge between places and gives you a deeper understanding of cultures and people as a whole. Having been back in the United States, I came to appreciate and understand my own culture better, as well as my adopted culture in Bavaria.