She tossed my file on the desk, and glaring at me through heavily-framed glasses, she asked me a simple question:
Why do you want to live in Germany?
I didn’t know I was being interviewed by immigration at the time (I thought she was some kind of social worker, benevolently helping me with paperwork). If I had known, I would’ve learned phrases like “mass shootings” and “frenetic pace of life” to help explain.
I had been warned by the experts that when I had my immigration “interview” (which for me conjures business suits rather than blue jeans), I should ALWAYS answer this question in any variation of the following ways:
- I want to work.
- I want to learn better German.
- I want to work.
And unless you are an M.D. or Ph.D., answers involving the words “healthcare” or “education” are verboten.
I have two character flaws that make me both charming and dangerous:
- I always believe the best in people
- I try to look on the bright side of things
I’m not ignorant of the world. I mean, I did walk by a man bleeding to death from a stab wound on my way home one evening, but my first (and correct) assumption was: Nothing to fear. It was just a bar fight.
Even though I do try to remember distinguishing features of people’s faces as I walk down the street, in case I need to identify them later, I’m not fearful about it–just aware.
While dealing with German bureaucracy has been a fairly consistent stress headache for the past eight months, I have learned that some things just can’t be translated.
I know by all the memes on facebook rife with logical fallacies, that political words are being grossly mistreated by people who don’t know how to handle them. These abusive wranglers hold the words ‘social democracy’ by the throat out of ignorance.
With all of these issues burning on the minds of people back home, I’ve been asked that simple question repeatedly, not by empire builders in their little cubicles, but by people who loved me before I was born.
Why do you want to live in Germany?
I know that many people want me to dissect the inner workings of the ‘ideal’ society, but the answer isn’t as simple as cutting the beast open and looking at its organs.
Germany and America are altogether different creatures; they have evolved differently, with different temperaments and motivations. And for those who think Germany is some sort of valhalla where schnitzel falls from trees and rivers run with Riesling, think again. Not all Germans are happy with their political system (my god, they have more political parties than beer varieties).
Yes, I like the Education and Healthcare here.
I admit it: I like that my kids can burn themselves with welding tools at school, rather than participate in mass shooter drills. I love that they are becoming fluent in another language, which will give them better opportunities. I love that they learn about the reformation by visiting historical sights in Nürnberg. I love that Catholics, Protestants and Atheists have their own religion classes in school. I love that if you get cancer here, you won’t have to sell your house to pay medical bills.
Now, some wise-ass is going to ask: Do you love the taxes?
My answer: Who the hell loves taxes?
You pay them according to your tax bracket; and unless I’m mistaken, everyone hates taxes equally. And incredibly enough, some people here still have money for Michael Kors bags and Hugo Boss jeans. Germany is not a prison block, where we all wear the same jumpsuits and dig ditches under the prying eyes of the tax man.
Frankly, I hate talk of politics: taxes, healthcare, education, war. These are important, but they create a vicious vortex of negativity, and, as your Emancipated Pollyanna, I don’t want to dive headlong into those things.
So, why do I choose this expat life?
I walk my dog in the park at five A.M, and give him a toy, so he doesn’t growl at the newspaper lady. The old man with his funny Franconian hat, smoking cigarettes in front of the nursing home says good morning to me, even though it’s still too dark to see his eyes. I walk the kids to school, not out of fear from attack, but because it’s our time to talk.
The sun shines through the windows of my apartment in the morning, making it brighter and warmer with its white walls and wood floors gleaming. I have a closet in the hallway that reminds me of my grandma’s.
I can’t walk to the cobbled corner of Neustadt and Rosenbad without greeting someone I know.
The kids come home from school, and when I haven’t spent the entire morning at the Ausländeramt, I have lunch ready, and we sit at the table on our fold-out chairs and talk about TV and music and good teachers and bad teachers and true love and sex and what the hell is the dog eating over there?
In the evenings, I meet the people who help me to be a better version of myself; and we lift heavy weights and sling kettle bells and run and jump and sweat and complain and laugh and complain again.
Sometimes, I Skype my son in New York, and his energy encourages me to keep working to live my dreams.
I sit on a quiet sofa in my meditative place, eating raspberries, while I churn out pages upon pages of my novel.
I know it's not a satisfactory answer, but the reason I live in Germany is because it's my home.
I don’t have a magic pill to single-handedly ‘save’ America. I don’t hate America, in fact, I love my American-ness. It makes me who I am. But Germany is also a part of my identity now–and that German-ness can’t be pried away.
This is where I skinned my knees on bureaucracy. This is where I got my first job to require a masters degree. This is where I learned to drive the autobahn. My key fits in the door here. I grew up here. This is home.