Last week I turned 50. I calculated I have lived 2/5 of my life in Germany, 3/5 in the U.S. and although this isn’t a 50/50 split, I call both of them home. Despite the early years of groaning and frustration because my German language skills weren’t up to snuff, I have come to feel very comfortable here. I know all of the noise, garden and recycling laws, where to buy my Christmas wreaths, when and where to buy the best white asparagus, how to drive in a narrow parking ramp and all the kids songs by Rolf Zuckowski.
Turning 50 doesn’t depress me; I’m not searching for wrinkles or signs of gravity.
Rather, I’m pausing to reflect about what it means to be an expat. Those of us who live overseas for any length of time are the luckiest people in the world. We have the great privilege of experiencing every day life in another country, becoming cultural chameleons, establishing warm friendships and being forced to widen our worldview. What gifts. We are not traveling through; we are arriving and staying and living. We can spot tourists a mile away, and we don’t want to be them. Because we live here. We belong.
Germany is the place where I have lived my adult life. It is here where my daughter was born, no matter that I stopped the childbirth classes because I couldn’t “relax and breathe” when someone was telling me to do so in German. Now, it would be different but there are many stages an expat goes through, many levels of comfort along the way. I graduated from not wanting to pick up the phone (for fear that the person on the other end would speak German) to understanding and communicating easily with most people unless they have some wierd regional dialect. I will never take for granted the fact that I can tell the hairdresser how to cut my hair and feel very confident it will come out as I explained, and the fact that I can pretty much describe what ails me when I have to visit a doctor. Hairstyles and body parts are a separate and challenging language.
It is the people that make the place, and in my many years here, I have been fortunate to make meaningful and lasting friendships with people I treasure. Not only am I lucky for my wonderful German friends but we expats always manage to get in touch with all the other expats and some of them also become our dearest friends. Some stay, some move on, and some leave their footprint on your heart. They all open up your mind to new possibilities. And some even turn 50 when you do, bless their hearts. Although I have no complaints about the first 3/5 of my life, I can honestly look back at the last 2/5 and say it has been the most exciting, adventurous, challenging and rewarding time. Life off the autobahn is good, even and especially at 50.