The Foreigner

IMG_0839This is not a post about diabetes today. It’s a post about me. Thought you might want a break from the diabetes talk. I needed to get this out of my head, and for once, it’s not about diabetes. If you’re interested in diabetes stuff, feel free to check out some of my wittier, less morose, scribblings. 

I speak a few languages, mostly poorly, (including English). I’ve always been fascinated with how languages reflect a culture and shape the people who natively speak it. (I also love writers who can delicately craft a sentence that will stop me from reading further along in a paragraph. I revere those who wield word sledgehammers. George Orwell, Christopher Moore, William Gibson, and yes… Stephen King.)

German is one of those languages I mangle. I love the authoritativeness and granularity of it. It’s a precise language with rigid rules and irregular verbs that made my stomach churn. (No one ever swoons dreamily over German poetry or whispers sweet nothings to woo a potential romantic partner.) I struggled through classes and study sessions and late nights with dictionaries, but still managed to do well. That being said, after my last final German exam at university, I turned to a classmate and professed: “I’ll never have to use that language again! Phew!”

Eight years later, I was living in Germany.

In English, we throw around the term “friend” without giving it too much thought. “He’s a Facebook friend.” “She’s a friend of a friend.” “Best friend.” “Frenemy.” It’s not that way in German.

I had no German friends. I had die Bekannte – acquaintances in the small town that I may have run into daily at the butcher or a local party. I had die Nachbarn – neighbors with whom I had coffee and sat comfortably through long dinners, laughing. But I had kein (no) Freunde. It wasn’t because the townspeople and the neighbors didn’t like us; they did and told us so frequently. A neighbor was blunt: “You’re wonderful, but you’re not one of us.” You don’t get to be called a friend by a German until you learn a person by heart and are accepted. To them, I was simply die Ausländerin – the foreigner.

I understood and accepted that – it’s part of their culture to create these definitive silos. I had American “friends” in Germany, so it didn’t sting quite so much, but I kept that linguistic lesson in my head…and I’m learning it all over again.

We moved to a new state in July. I have die Bekannte and die Nachbarn here.


Kein Freunde.

I have done everything possible to make friends here: joined groups – free and paid, trolled playgrounds like a mommy stalker to talk with other moms, tried to revive an existing community playgroup, gotten involved with some diabetes events here, and truth be told?

I feel like I’m back in Germany, but with better weather.

My “friends” are not here, they are there – that other place that exists both physically and virtually far away. Even people with whom I share a history and proximity are emotionally distant due to where we are in life (having kids early versus having kids late, of differing ages and stages in life, or no children at all). I attend events, telling myself that I just need to “get out there” and… I’m out there, smiling and chatting, but sobbing silently in the car behind sunglasses on the way home because I’m no closer to my goal: just one friend.

I tell John that I’m not giving up, but it’s becoming harder and harder to “get out there”. I’m beginning to cancel attending events because I just can’t make small talk anymore. I’m fearful of saying something wrong. (And oh, lest you think I don’t say anything wrong, it happened twice in the past week. Awkward silences are my speciality.)

Perhaps it’s the holidays. Perhaps it’s the move and all the changes we’ve decided to make this year. Perhaps it’s the worries of past health choices I let fly away like carrier pigeons finally coming home to roost. Perhaps it’s the desperation I’m feeling over wanting so badly to have friends for my daughter that I’m feeling more and more like a failure because I can give her all the love I have in my heart but what she wants is to sit on the carpet and play with someone who isn’t.her.mother…

There is no translation these days for what I am, except this:

Eine Ausländerin.