Life's journeys: Language, culture, communication

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Small town blues

I used to be a big city girl, dynamic and fulfilled. But then I emigrated and became a shadow.

First, I couldn’t speak a word of German. Yes, to the extent that I would bring home a jar of red cabbage thinking it was red beet. By the time I was einigermaßen able to communicate, I realized I had learned the wrong language. They don’t speak German at all around these parts – that is, when they do speak at all. They rarely open their mouths to strangers, and then only to purse their lips and bring forth some utter Bavarian mumbo-jumbo. No, actually it’s oberpfälzisch. Try pronouncing that sober.

Second, unless you are an automotive engineer or a financial controller, the wonderful world of gratifying youthful careers like salesperson, caregiver for the elderly, or cleaning lady beckons. Or you can let the luminous beacon of motherhood guide you. Because everyone seems to expect full, 24/7 devotion at the shrine of motherhood. For ever. Oh, and by the way, if you do that, by the time your kids start school your brain will have completely dissolved and turned to goo, you won’t remember how to spell your own name correctly, your progeny will treat you as the in-house servant always on duty, and your husband will actually believe he is smarter than you. (People don’t appreciate, people take for granted. The key to true appreciation is scarcity.) In fact, I have come to feel like a walking uterus with hands. Day-care is harder to come by than Chinese rare earths, and twice as expensive.  The skies are almost always gray and oppressive like the inside of a coffin, and a sense of stale futility permeates everything. 

All my attempts, efforts, and endeavors are stultified and made sterile by this all-encompassing small town sense of conformity, convention and futility. With their fleet of perfectly polished cars, their cute little gardens, their spoiled little brats with their unapologetic sense of entitlement (as if they had been born into the local aristocracy), and the snooping neighbors who complain about every sound, there comes a perverse sense of safety and prosperity which deceives people into doing precious nothing with their lives… Old country for old people. With their dangerous veil of  “stability” and picayune interests, which can make the lucky few truly happy, but which most of the time  really only means stagnation, small German towns are the stalwart defenders of all things old. The front line of resistance against all things new. Well, except new cars, of course.

The idea that your entire intellectual universe has to stop dead in its tracks the moment that first child comes tumbling out of your body…  As if there is only one definition of love that is small-town endorsed and small-town valid. And life is all about routine, acceptable patterns and saving face.  Everything clean and perfect, no visible suffering – you know, just the occasional postpartum wreck chopping up her baby and laying him to rest in the freezer, just the occasional homicidal father, strangling his wife and all of their five children before setting the apartment ablaze, just the old people in wheelchairs in homes on the outskirts of town, in their Alzheimer’s daze, everything green and peaceful and quiet…


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