I figured I’d take a break this week from going on about the extravagancies of Germany, and slow things down a bit. A typical day isn’t actually all that extravagant, but definitely not normal; though, that’s less of a reflection on Germany, and more what comes with living with a host family, or Gästfamilie. Most people want to know more about the intricacies, the small details, of what it’s like to live abroad, and those of you who fit that description this one goes out to you.
If you think it’s difficult getting along with your own family, try getting along with a house full of people who all speak different languages. Lots of pointing, lots of blank stares, lots of impromptu charades. Let me tell you, google translate is your best friend. I found out sign language is, thankfully, universal. And by sign language I mean repeatedly pointing at something and saying the word in English until they understand.
I live in what’s referred to as a full house. I can’t say I ever thought that I would growing up. I pretty much grew up with a house to myself, so it’s a bit odd to have to be quiet at night and share a space with people in general. Most people associate taking your shoes off at the door with Japan, but we do that at my house as well.
There’s six people that live here: yours truly the American, two Italians, a German, an Egyptian, and a French person. There’s so many different languages flying around here you’d think it was a NATO summit. It’s strange, for sure. While I may not exactly be negotiating trade deals, I still always have to remember who I’m speaking with. And here’s how that generally goes:
“Okay.. just remember. Speak German with him, or maybe French? Was it Arabic? No, that was the other one. Whatever. English with her, and Italian with them.”
“Oh wait.. I don’t know Italian.”
“Get it together, me.”
“Just smile and nod. Maybe they’ll think I understand what they’re saying”
“Uh oh, I think they just asked me something. What do I say?”
“Genius. Can’t go wrong with yes.”
“What do you mean it isn’t a yes or no question?”
“What do you mean I just signed up for the French Foreign Resistance?”
The kitchen, as is often the case, is the life of the house. It’s where we mainly see each other in the mornings before we head off to start the day, and in the evenings when we eat dinner. Dinners are definitely interesting. We take turns cooking, cleaning, and sharing what it is that makes us different. And in such a way that brings us together, because I mean everyone likes food! And I’m always down to try something different.
Although, my goodness, the bathroom situation is terrible. There are two in the entire house with showers, one on each floor in which we stay. That’s three per person. And we all wake up at 6:00am usually. The laundry situation is even more complicated. There’s one washing machine in the whole house and I kid you not it’s the smallest washing machine I’ve ever seen. And get this, no drying machine. None! Not even one.
My Schlafzimmer, or bedroom, is my safe haven. It’s quiet enough for me to do my homework, and cozy enough for me to sleep. The Wifi is pretty great, so there’s not much to complain about there. The only thing out of the ordinary about my bedroom, besides the decorations, I’d say are the bedsheets. They’re soft, don’t get me wrong, but they give off the impression of a sleeping bag. I guess because it gets so cold in the winter?
Culture shock is a real thing, and while I had already suspected even while I was back in America that I was a bit of a savage, it becomes unmistakably obvious in the presence of foreigners. I have no moral qualms with eating with my hands, or mixing my food together, or drinking out of a bottle instead of a glass.
But It’s not all bad. At the end of the day we all find at least some common ground. We all enjoy the same things, eat the same food, and watch the same sports. I can hear the Lifetime movie being made out of it as I type this.
The neighbors are super chill. Charlie, who’s house this is, is a special-ed teacher for elementary kids. He likes food and fooßball as much as I do, and during the World Cup for soccer, all the neighbors get together at his house to watch the game and cheer for Germany.
In my house, we’re all hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away from our families, and yet, in a way we are a family. A family away from family. A Gästfamilie.