The bus trudged up the winding road through the vineyards. It was dark out, the light pollution I was familiar with nonexistent; you could see the stars light up the sky. The lights from nearby villages twinkled. My friends and I sat at the back of the bus wondering why everyone else had gotten off. We assumed the bus driver was taking a quick break before he turned the bus around and continued back to the main street.
A staccato shout of the word ‘aus,’ meaning out, indicated that we had assumed wrong. I went to try to explain to the bus driver where we hoped to get, but at the time my German was not up to par, and all I understood that we had to find another way back. Small town Germany with its narrow cobble stone streets and river flowing through is picturesque; however, the bus schedule in small a town coupled with unfamiliarity of a new transportation system results in something far from perfect.
At the time, I had only been in Germany for maybe a week or so. We had just gotten back to Oestrich-Winkel, the small town of about 12 000 that we lived in. We were in a nearby city picking up some essentials as we settled down. Uber doesn’t exist in the town, so with the help of Google Maps, we trekked an hour or so back to my place, down the winding roads among the vineyards. This experience was only one of many little mishaps that are now laughable.
It’s been nearly a year and a half away from the true north strong and free, away from Timmies, and poutine, family and friends, and what I call home. The initial feeling of pure excitement and discovery gave way to normality, acceptance, and understanding of a new culture.
When I first arrived in Germany I kept a list of things that were different than at home in Canada. Little things, like the fact that the doors sit outside the doorframe, or that the windows don’t have nets, things I’ve forgotten about now and gotten used to. Then there were some bigger cultural experiences, which I’m becoming accustom to, things such as strangers not smiling at each other on the streets, or the lighting fast speed that cashiers check out your groceries. I now know to place my groceries onto the conveyor belt in a certain order and mentally prepare to toss my groceries into my backpack. As I tried to explain to my European friends, having things open 24/7 and on Sundays is wunderbar and was taken for granted.
Though the milk and eggs may be cheaper here and probably fresher, I miss chemically processed goodness. Being the foodie that I am, I compared Canadian Oreos to German ones and unfortunately, the German Oreos do not have the same perfect twist-ability as I had grown up with.
Reflecting back, I’ve grown; both mentally and emotionally. May have even refined some practical skills. I was a decent cook coming to Germany, but my culinary skills have only improved. Without a doubt, I would still choose my mom’s home cooked meals, especially Sri Lankan food, over anything, any day. There’s nothing pliers, super glue, YouTube, and a little patience can’t fix. Regular, everyday activities are much more fun when you only partially understand what’s going on. When I first got here, my German was quite iffy, but I laughed at everything I couldn’t understand. Humour as a coping mechanism I guess?? I know I’ve passed the survivability test because I’ve talked to the electricity company over the phone, my landlord, and the bank, all only in German. Being here, I’ve made friends on short flights to other countries and know I have friendships that will last a lifetime, in part because of our shared experiences in a new country.
Moving abroad helped me come to the realization that I took Canada’s multicultural identity for granted. We celebrate cultures and appreciate the beauty of diversity. Being able to sip on bubble tea and grab authentic Portuguese tarts are things I never truly appreciated. I have a new appreciation for the struggles that I can imagine a newcomer faces coming to Canada. At home, seeing someone of a different ethnic background, I never second-guessed that they were Canadian. I had never myself been question about my roots.
The infamous question of where are you from was asked often and never failed to take me by surprise. I’d answer: Canada, knowing full well what direction this was headed in. One look at my dark, tan skin and it’s evident my roots aren’t European; I’m not Caucasian. The follow up question is always some form of: but where are you really from? Depending on my mood, I’d say I’m Canadian and stare at them blankly. Usually it goes something like this: with a heavy, internal sigh because I’m too polite to say otherwise, I’d say I was born in Toronto, but my background is Sri Lankan, my parents were born in Sri Lanka. That being said, being away from Canada has made me appreciate the beauty of my own culture immensely.
The land of free water at restaurants, and free access to public washrooms will always have a special place in my heart and has left me wanting to explore more of our beautiful country. With about two months left of this incredible journey, I’m not yet ready to leave the excitement of being in a foreign place. I’ve been reflecting on the peace and easy pace of life here in Europe, and have truly grown to appreciate it. I’ll miss small town Germany and all its quirks. Given the opportunity to live somewhere unknown, I would take it in a heartbeat.