Diary of an Expat, Part 55
What it means to be an alien anymore
Some interesting point comes where you're no longer really able to comment as a foreigner anymore.

I don't know what this point is, exactly. I've written more than fifty of these things now, and while I'm not entirely certain that I've plumbed the depths of German existence — in fact I would fairly well guarantee that I have not — I'm not always sure what to write about.

So if you have topics, please, feel free to suggest them.

One thing that more than a year in Berlin has done is to lead me into some re-examination of my self-identity. When I first started this project, I intended for it to have some kind of "American in Berlin" feel. But as time has gone on, I've felt less and less out of place here, to the point that the alienation narrative doesn't quite work anymore.

To be certain I'm a long way from German citizenship (at least four years, for one thing); today I had a German conversation spin disastrously out of control when it became clear that literally nothing I was attempting to communicate ("please call the person in this hotel room") was coming through. Still and all, all this introspection has if nothing else convinced me that I've become, more or less, a person without a state.

Or perhaps what it is is that nationalities have ceased to matter. I enjoy coming home to Germany because it feels like home, but there is probably nothing Germanish per se about that. It's just where I happen to be. America feels less and less like a security blanket; there are parts of America I like, geographically at least, and plenty of Americans whose company I enjoy. But it doesn't go much beyond that.

This is something that, I think, Germans deeply feel and reject in equal and somewhat curious measure. They definitely like Germany to do well in sporting events, for example, and to do well on the world stage also. But I don't get the sense that there is the fervent nationalism that exists in the United States — no devotion to the Vaterland as a thing in and of itself.

I do think that if you asked the average German, they would confess to thinking that, by and large, Germans were better than anyone else on Earth (I'm not sure who would rate higher to them. The Swiss? The Swedes?) but, again, it's not really a nationalistic statement. I suspect many Germans think that people of an essentially Germanic "character," whatever that is, are living life as it is meant to be lived — but not that this is either defined by, guaranteed from, or ended at the German borders.

This sensibility — that it is possible to act in a German fashion without being German — also makes it easier to think of one's self as being without nationality, and I confess I'm a bit surprised by how little this has bothered me as time has gone on. I am not convinced my life would be any better if I invested myself in American versus German politics, for example, or American versus German law.

Or maybe it's just living in Berlin that does it. Berlin has a somewhat devil-may-care attitude that probably keeps it from being representative of Germany overall; I have to imagine Berliners are more aggressive in abjuring any devotion to political entities. Perhaps in Dortmund they are completely gung-ho German and that is that.

Anyhow, to circle back, it's odd to think of this as "an American in Berlin" when I no longer really think of myself as an American. It's just "Alex in Berlin," without that explicit sense of contrast and exploration that the "stranger in a strange land" initial perspective suggested.

But I guess I should try to be useful to you in providing anecdotes of the German experience.


German post is one of the best things to exist pretty much anywhere. I ordered a couple of things from random websites earlier in the week, and had them both in my hot little hands by Thursday; in one case, I ordered some replacement keycaps for my Macbook (to convert it from a German to a UK keyboard) around 3 o'clock in the afternoon; by 11 the next morning UPS had updated their website to reflect that it had been left next door.

Part of this is the small size of the country (though the keycaps came from the UK) but a lot of it has to be the efficiency of the system. It also helps that rather than flailing about like idiots when figuring out how to deliver things, they ask next-door businesses to serve as drop points, and I'm pretty sure they pay them some nominal fee to do so. This means the businesspeople are okay with acting as package receptacles every once in awhile, and it means that if you aren't home to collect something it doesn't completely disappear.

Like many other things it is a system that is uniquely effective and maybe also uniquely German. I have zero expectation that I could drop a package off in San Francisco and have it reach Sacramento the next day via USPS. Maybe I should? But I think I would wind up being unhappy more often.

As it stands I'm taking the opportunity to be the opposite; a cold spell has broken in a brief flurry of warmth, and presuming the Indian summer holds I'm going to try to spend it out of doors tomorrow. Which means sleep now, which means ending this anticlimactically, I'm afraid.

But seriously, ask questions ;-;
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