I'm not quite sure how I'm going to do this. It's not that I have nothing to tell, it's more like I could write about a lot of things. And these days there's been a lot going on in my life: trouble at work and the prospect of massive layoffs this year, not winning the giant jackpot in the German lottery, or some great movies I've seen these last few day (Benjamin Button, Cashback) and the books I'm currently reading (I'm always reading several at a time).
But what has been going on in my mind lately is: New York! After having visited the city (and the States!) for the first time in 16 years I have grown kind of homesick to living there.
And this weekend I came across an article in the New York Times on John Updike and New York called:
Thoughts on the City by a New Yorker Writer Who Avoided New York
Reading this got me all started over again about living in New York. “I loved the idea of being in New York, and having an office that looked out on skyscrapers, and living in the West Village, and riding the subway every day and always going in the right direction,” he said. “All this meant a lot to me.”
And to me, too! I've been spending my here in Bavaria since 1971, and after a long phase of homesickness for the States in my teens I though I had overcome that feeling. Several trips to the USA, 2 of them long journeys through the whole country, didn't really revive that feeling either.
But last October Ursula and I spent 7 days in New York, our hotel was the Chelsea, and 3 days in Philly, and this time it was like a true homecoming. It was not only by the fact that we were meeting close friends. Right from the beginning stepping out of the taxi and into the Chelsea's lobby it and getting a overwhelming greetings it was like the city had been waiting for us.
I don't think this is an irrational notion either. All through my life here in Bavaria I never did feel like I was fully accepted as a 'citizen'. It may have to do with me and my status as an immigrant, but also with the general German mentality of keeping a certain distance to your neighbors. Of course, I have lots of friends and they are great and I could never complain about that. It's more than you are in a way a foreigner in your own land and being governed by a state whose representatives you never were able to vote for. All you have to do is to return to here from a trip outside the country and the customs officer will be sure to ask you what you're intentions are to being in Germany...Most often I've been living in this country longer than the officer himself!
Although the Big Apple will always be described as the archetype of the big anonymous city, the metropolis, it really isn't that way at all. Of course, it is busy and people are rushing on their ways as in any other larger city (and no different than in Regensburg), but anywhere you go you can sense the possibility of communication, it can always happen that you will be confronted with some kind of friendly conversation, with some unexpected courtesy or just the complicit feeling that you are one among all the other 'real' New Yorkers.
Of course, that's an American characteristic. Believe me, though, here where I am it is quite uncommon to be cordial with strangers. In fact, you very much need to prove yourself to others in order to be considered 'acceptable'. This probably results from the fact that in Europe, and very especially in Bavaria, life is very much steeped into an ancient cultural heritage into which you must have grown to be really a full part of. If not, you are considered as alien and treated so, too. On the other hand, those locals who act more upfront will be smiled upon as 'eccentric'. I'm not really complaining, it's just a different way of life. For example, visiting a remote Sicilian village, you can't expect to be treated as 'one of them', but yes you can expect some helpfulness.
Once, still a shy young teenager, I was at the big local bookstore browsing around. 2 American tourists appeared at the cash register and enquired in English about purchasing a map of the town. They encountered gruff rejection and were more or less thrown out of the place by the female supervisor. Afterwards an employee asked her if that hadn't been a bit too snippy, the supervisor replied. "No, not at all, if they want something from us they'll need to learn German first". You might call that a singular incident involving one mean old lady (which she was) and you might possibly experience that anywhere else in the world, but to me that always exemplified the way it is in this part of the world. Local or alien, the German procedure is to check you from top to bottom when they encounter you, and you're always being evaluated. Step into a pub or a restaurant and everybody already present will register your entry. You can nearly feel such an inspection physically.
(to be continued)