November 9, 2011

On putting down roots

By the time you read this column, I will have gone on an essential, nonsensical adventure. You see, I cannot function normally without Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, which the otherwise wonderful city of Berlin conspicuously lacks. However, rumor has it that a department store across the city carries Kraft Mac & Cheese for an exorbitant sum. It is thus logical to make the 40-minute trek in order to buy something I could make myself in 20 minutes with ingredients from the supermarket down the street. But at this point, opportunity cost is no object when it comes to the comforts of home.

Yes, it’s finally happened: I’m starting to really miss aspects of American life. I miss not having to boil water on the stove if I want hot tea. I miss having a microwave and access to a stove that lights itself. (Both of these things exist in Germany, but they are uncommon.) Although I like cooking for myself, I sometimes wish I could just go to the caf, swipe my ID and have access to as much already-cooked food as I want. I miss not having to pay for water at restaurants and I really miss not having to pay for refills.

I miss nearness. If I forget a notebook at Knox, I can run back to my room, grab one and still be on time for class. That’s simply not possible with a 25-minute commute. I miss being able to walk three minutes to the library when I get my second wind late at night, and I miss the library being open after 10 p.m. I have not eaten a breakfast bagel while reading a political science text in the Gizmo since May, and there is something fundamentally wrong with that.

Most of all, I think I miss the familiar — the things that had been a part of my life for 20 years and then were suddenly gone. I’ve already made a to-do list for my five-hour layover in Chicago. First, I’m going to find a real American cheeseburger and devour it. Then I’ll visit Jamba Juice for a smoothie that consists of more than shaved ice and artificial flavors. I’ll probably attempt to order both in German and reach for my coin purse before remembering that the U.S. Mint doesn’t circulate $2 coins. I’ll stake out a spot at the gate and finish the German novel I started on the flight back to the States, after which I’ll find a Hudson News shop and buy an Economist in English for the first time in months.

But for all of the day-to-day annoyances that make up life in Germany, there are parts of it I will sorely miss as well.

I’ll miss late-night walks home from the burrito shop in Schöneberg. I’ll miss playing in piles of leaves in Treptower Park. Of course, the basic activities themselves — eating burritos and being five years old — aren’t particularly special. It’s the fact that I ordered the burrito in German and that the leaf piles were in the shadow of a Soviet war memorial. It’s the fact that I can do such ordinary things in such an extraordinary environment, that I can uproot myself from everything I know and still find that life is ultimately not that different here. I may be speaking another language, but I’m expressing the same ideas. I may be living a German lifestyle, but I’m still human, and though we speak different languages and read different newspapers and don’t all use microwaves, we are more similar than we realize.

When I get my box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, I’ll cook it the same way I always do (read: with more butter than recommended). As always, I’ll try to make it last for two meals but fail miserably and eat the entire pot in one sitting. But the pot will rest on a stove I have to light myself and I’ll eat my macaroni while reading my German security policies textbook. I want it to remind me of home, but I feel at home here too. And perhaps that’s the fundamental challenge of living in a foreign country: not having to adjust to a different way of life, but adjusting to the point that you don’t know where your home is anymore, that you no longer know where to plant your roots.

Anna Meier is Co-News Editor for The Knox Student. She tweets @anna_strophe and blogs at

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