Thursday, March 21, 2013

Playing the part

It's been a little while since I last posted, and I'm writing now from an entirely different continent than last time.  Long story short: I have incurable wanderlust, and spent most of the winter plotting a grand escape in between short trips (I got to go to Disneyworld for the first time in my life!  It was ridiculously fun.) and now I'm in Berlin for a couple months!

It's almost strange how comfortable I feel here... and I'm sure a great part of that is the general demographic and street style.  I've never felt less judged when walking down the street.  I don't feel like I need to play a part or dress up or down, and if I'm wearing something not totally "normal"... well, I don't think there really is such as thing as 'totally normal' in Berlin.  And it is such a relief not to have to make small-talk with strangers and people in shops.

There have been great posts by other people about how growing up in an enclosed environment (like fundy homeschooling) and then going out into the world can be a lot like moving to a different country as an adult, and I think there's a whole lot of truth to that.  I'm already used to feeling like a stranger in my own country, and in a way, I don't think I understand the US much more than I understand Germany.  But on the flip side, I think it makes spending time in other cultures and countries a little bit easier.  I already know how to closely observe mannerisms and behaviors to be able to imitate them well, how to pattern my speech after what I hear, and how to consciously adapt myself to the world around me.

I think it's probably due to all the practice I got imitating my peers during college that I've managed to avoid the dreaded 'English-switch' while here.  I had heard story after story about Americans coming to Germany/Berlin and doing their best to use German everywhere only to be constantly responded to in English instead.  Now, my German is far from perfect (taking classes at a B2 level right now and feeling very non-fluent at the mo), yet I've only had one instance of someone switching to English half-way through our transaction, while there have been numerous times where I've been chatting to friends in English and the server/cashier/bartender will use German with me and English with my friends.  I know this can't be because of my language skills, and can only deduce that I don't 'act' American.

I suppose once you've learned to mimic one culture, it's much easier to go about faking it elsewhere...

1 comment:

  1. Wow. That analysis is so on the mark, and I'd never thought about it like that. Because it's true - *everything* I do goes through a "mimic"/is-this-how-I-behave-in-this-setting filter. Almost nothing is intuitive, and now that you mention it, the comfort level I felt when I was in Germany compared to the other people I was with, might not have been simply from having an English mother and spending a month over there once. That process of observing and mimicking in order to blend in, not appear odd, and simply know what to do, is something I do on an almost daily basis.

    I also think your assessment that Germans don't switch to English with you because you don't "act" American, is completely true. Remember I told you that the one deli shop server thought that at the very least I understood everything she was saying and had *waaaaaay* more ability to speak German than I do (as my knowledge is constrained to a literal handful of words)? It has to be the same thing. You are positively a native in regards to the language compared to me, but I still got a similar response, so it really must have to do with how we "act".

    That is really cool though how you don't get the English-switch even if you're speaking English, and everyone else does :D