Monday, October 11, 2010

WEBMU WE-BUM Whatever...

Well, I could spend this whole blog post talking about the Whiny Expat Blogger Meet Up in Hamburg which happened... oh what... 4 weeks ago? But you know what? Others have covered it quite succinctly and may I just say that I assume they remember it better than I do anyway. What I DO remember is the great time I had. I would like to thank our wonderful hosts, Ian from Letters Home, Mandy from No Apathy Allowed, Emily at Transkitten and PapaScott

People ask me why I always have a camera in my hand... it's because dammit, I want to have SOME recollection of what happened!

Seriously, even Claire of Cheeseburgers and Sauerkraut has hammered out some time to talk about it and the poodle had been AWOL for a long time, you know?

So here is what kept occurring to me while exploring the city of Hamburg with a lovely, noisy, interesting, smart and funny group like this one. If I had met these people in other circumstances, would we have become such fast friends?

I will admit that there are blogs I read regularly, and others that get my time if I have the time. Some of them are classified as "my peeps", others are people I read because I know that my peeps read them. Does that make sense?

If we were not all sharing this same experience, would we want to get to know each other like we do? Would we really be grasping out for others "like us"?

I've come to the realization that my Sweet (German) No is not going to understand the odd American reference. She simply doesn't get it when I throw something out like, "Please don't squeeze the Charmin", or "Give it to Mikey, he won't eat it, he hates everything", or how my bologna has a first and second name, or "If they take my stapler, then I'll set the building on fire". American pop culture references are lost on her as her German cultural references are lost on me. Yes, I know about "Der Struwwelpeter", (only because I read it in my search for that spark to get me into the German language/culture) no I never heard of the book outside of this country. After 5 years in Germany I know all about "Dinner for one". But my German friends still don't seem to understand that just because it is in English does not mean that every English speaker in the world knows it like the Germans do. Why the oft repeated phrase "Same procedure as every year" should be funny was lost on me until December 31, 2005.

Music is another experience which she and I simply don't share. Since coming here I've been exposed to much more of the pop music she grew up with, so yes, I know how to exclaim "Who the fuck is Alice?" at the appropriate moments, or when to jump up and down while dancing to that silly schlager song.

I don't work with Americans, and although I have a few American friends here in Berlin, I really don't see them often. So being with this group in Hamburg was an experience for me, as always. Not only am I assailed by so much English around me, but the cultural references grab me and put a smile on my face.

One of my WEBUM roommates (u know who u r) would whistle half a bar of a tune and my ears would pick up on it immediately. This is not to say that I don't get to hear music, or that the Germans aren't exposed to lots of American music... just that whistling the tune to 867-5309 in my vicinity kinda makes me jump a bit. I'm not used to someone actually sharing my culture, in fact I find that I really like it in a nostalgic way.

OK, so let's get back to the topic. Is simply being an expat enough of a basis for a friendship? Is the fact that we have moved to this country from the same country a good reason for us to get buddy buddy? Trust me, I've met some expats here in Berlin that I would NEVER hang out with, and certainly wouldn't have given them the time of day "back home", but we run in the same circles... thus we bump into each other from time to time. ugh.

At the same time I've found that I really enjoy spending time with Yelli, even though in our former lives we probably would have never met up. For one she is a teacher, of science no less. Next division is that she is a mommy of two really cute boys. (gotta mention the scientist hubby is really a great guy and I really enjoy spending time around them both). Although I really don't feel that it divides us, it should be mentioned that she is straight and of course I'm a lesbo, ya know?

The point is that even if we had lived in the same town in America, it is highly unlikely that we would have become buddies, as we really don't have so much in common. I'm just not hanging around in many playgrounds or science labs and I seriously doubt that she's put in a lot of time in gay places or wherever else I would spend my free time. Yet we meet up once in a while and I really enjoy chatting with her. Since she continues to call me for meet-ups, I assume that she's enjoying our time together as well.

So please, what do you think? Do we American expats become such fast friends because we have the expat thing in common? Are we searching for someone with our own culture as a way of staving off Heimweh (homesickness in German), or is the German stereotype correct when they say is it just the American way... making fast friends and abandoning them when maintaining the relationship is no longer convenient?

Been reading:

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C N Heidelberg said...

Hi! Did this come up at the WEBUM apartment? 'Cause the Regensbloggers just brought up this same topic when I saw them yesterday! That over time we have come to hang out with people we may have never met or even written off in the past. So I already had some time to think about it before your post. :)
I think there is some part of this that has to do with being an expat exposed to a much more limited number of people from your own culture.
I also think a big part of it has to do with getting older. Making friends now isn't as easy as in the past because as adults we aren't as often put into situations that are super-conducive to friendship like high school homerooms or college dorms or summer internships. So the pool is smaller in that way. Also, eventually experience teaches us that writing people off just because they're not in whatever circle of taste/hobbies/fashion/knowledge/whatever you're in can really limit not only your social life but your perspective on the world and your understanding of others. So we branch out more, and learn not to judge too quickly and give everyone a chance.
I think most people are worth getting to know. I would never have said that in high school and would still have been pretty iffy about it in my early-to-mid-20s. Too bad I can't go back knowing better.
I look forward to seeing what other people think!

Stuttgartgirl said...

Very interesting post and you raise lots of good questions. I definitely think we become friends with people that we never would become friends with at home since we have the expat thing in common, but I also think when we're living abroad we're more open to new people and to new experiences than we are when we are at home. I was an expat in Thailand 10 years ago and still keep in touch with quite a few people and we try and meet up all over the world every few years and we just pick up where we left off. I love that other expats share my love of travel and adventure which sometimes my Canadian friends don't, even though our backgrounds are more similar.

Jul said...

I want to think about your question but for now I'm still laughing at "in gay places or wherever else I would spend my free time." It sounds like a crazy old aunt is describing you. "Snooker? I don't know where she is. Probably out at one of those gay places doing gay stuff!"

Snooker said...

@ Heidelbergerin - I really like what you've said. You're probably very right about making friends only within our "circle" can be limiting and reduce our perspective.

@ Stuttgartgrl - You're right, people living abroad are more open to new people and new experiences. I've learned a lot by simply hanging out with people who have different views than my own.

@ Jul - That's me... hanging out in those Gay Places!! Oh, and I've decided that the U-Haul rental place as a "back room" at the lesbian bars simply won't work here in Germany. They just don't move quite as quickly. But if I ever go back to America, I am going to implement one of these things immediately!

Anonymous said...

As a long-term expat, I've always found that it's so fun to hang around with other expats not because of a feeling of homesickness but because as an international person, I find it easier to hang around with other international people.

I've found that I have more in common with other international people than I do with the true Brits and Swedes you'd expect I'd feel most comfortable with, considering my roots.

Maybe that's why I felt so comfortable with such a diverse crowd of people at WEBUM, even though I shared relatively little cultural background as a non North American...

Goofball said...

I think that you sometimes need to meet with people that share the same cultural background as an expat regardless the other limited shared interests. Living in another country will always bring up some cultural frustrations or confusion and you need to be able to share that sometimes without the risk of insulting someone or not getting understood.

Additionally expats are by definition forced to learn to interact with people that are quite different to them.

but I also love Heidelberg's comment about growing older and learning not to be picky about new friends. I love that we all gain the insight not to write off people so easily when we grow older.

Anonymous said...

I can so relate to that cultural “loneliness” when you are partnered with someone from another culture.

I think that having the expat thing in common is a big reason that brings expats together at first, but it seems to me that beyond that, to really have a good friendship, there needs to be common interests/connection/what have you, as with any friendship *regardless* of culture.

Admittedly, I’ve met some expats where at first I felt obligated to be friends just because they were also Americans and they happened to be in my vicinity, but then I realized how tenuous the connection was for a friendship that was not organically there. It’s like the American guy who showed up in my latest class and practically grabbed my leg while he said, “Oh thank GOD! It’s SO good to see another Amuhrican!” I think it’s OK to be choosy about friendships, like Germans are.

To me it’s also important to balance friendships by having friends from your host culture as well as from your own culture, but being extreme on either side probably isn’t good (such as only hanging out with other expats or vice versa). Friends from your host culture can give you new ideas about life, you can learn from them, and they can also help you to integrate. Friends from your own culture give you that familiar touchstone and can help you navigate expat life – you definitely have shared experiences with them.

Maria said...

I agree with all the comments here so don't need to add much...just...I think there is a lot of comfort in a shared past environment.

AstroYoga said...

"Move over Bacon; now there's something meatier" took a while to explain to my German :-) Now, he uses it too. He learns a lot of cultural references through the Simpsons and Seinfeld. He is still missing the critical component of old TV commercials though.