It seemed when our first family guests arrived on that Tuesday, marking the begin of a three-week adventure, we were prepared and ready for anything. The house was immaculate, the cleanest it’s probably been since we moved-in eight years ago; the attic renovations completed (minus a few finishing touches, like doors and furniture, but really, who needs them?) only hours before the final countdown ended and that with only one thrown back; weather forecast looked promising, although we were, of course, hesitant with our joy about that one. Patrick even cleaned out the office and cellar. When I suddenly realized the entire floor in the office is blue and not just the tiny visible pathway I’m used to seeing and even discovered the computer on a desk, I thought maybe we should have my family come to Germany more often.
But alas most of my family can’t come very often, so this time needed to be memorable. It was after all our biennial reunion, the first time ever held in Europe. As the hosts of this European party, we hoped to plan activities that would capture the German spirit and yet provide time to just enjoy each other as cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Luckily it happened to be Kerwe, the town festival – which by the way every German town has, but for which almost every town has a different name – which offered plenty of opportunities to discover German band music and many varieties of grilled meats and alcoholic beverages. I do think one sister-in-law was most impressed when the mayor handed her a cup of beer during the town parade. She passed it on, wine would have been better, but not before saying, “You’ve got my vote!” Obviously she caught on quickly to how things really function here in Germany.
One of my very favorite moments was this: Concerned that the snow peas in my garden would be lost if I didn’t pick them soon, I grabbed an free opportunity where nothing seemed to be happening – hard to believe with 21 people hanging about, but true – and started picking. “Hey, we can help do that,” cried one of my sisters. Before I could reply, I found my three sisters (sisters and sisters-in-law: do we have to differentiate?) and mom had joined me. In that moment we were in kairos, one of two Greek words for time. Madeline L’Engle in her book A Circle of Quiet describes it as immeasurable, a moment that is. We were five women, talking and laughing together, helping without over-thinking, being family.
Later when the cousins, young and no-longer-so-young, disappeared, I think they were having their own kairos moment during their self-determined Lego-building contest. In the end I never actually heard who won, but that wasn’t really the point anyway.
Of course doing anything with a group of 21 persons is difficult, not to mention while in another country and culture. Patrick and I considered what we could do to make the cultural transition easier, but I couldn’t seem to come up with many suggestions. It’ll be fine, I kept reassuring myself. And for the most part it was, but when I heard one of my nephews call several objects “weird”, I bristled.
“Maybe different would be a better word for things here. They’re not weird, just different from what you’re familiar with,” I attempted to remind him.
“Well, I didn’t say they’re bad, I just said it’s weird,” he replied.
Still bristling but trying not to show it, I went to get my dictionary.
“Let’s see,” I announced, already flipping through the pages. “Weird by definition means uncanny, incomprehensible. A couple synonyms are strange, odd, peculiar, curious.”
He looked at me with highbrows raised. My porcupine quills relaxed again, and I grinned. “Okay, you’re right,” I admitted. “Everything here is weird.”
I’m confident most of my family members felt this way; they just didn’t trust themselves to name it for what it was, like my nephew managed to do. After the party was over and I had time to process it all, I found it had surprised me when my family really just wanted some cold tap water after a hot day and their excitement about eating bread for breakfast and bread for supper seemed limited. I had felt slightly annoyed when someone would ask, “Are we walking or driving there?” Not because these thoughts and questions were not legitimate. As an American in Germany, these are the oddities about daily life that stick out. This was the weird stuff: having warm meals only once a day; drinking lukewarm water or even worse, fuzzy water; walking almost everywhere; not understanding what other people are saying. What astounds me most is my inability to remember what an American in Germany feels like.
The things that surprise me on a daily basis are different from what my family who experienced Germany at more of a beginner’s level was surprised by. It’s taken me thirteen years for me to get to a place where I can wonder about crazy German names like Giselher or language riddles, while my family is still dealing with sprudel. Both are valid. I just wished I had recognized the difference before my family came.
In the end I can only say I am so very proud of my family for taking on this adventure. Two years ago when Patrick and I suggested a European reunion, I dared not raise my hopes in fear of being terribly disappointed. But the tenacity with which my family undertook it excited me and continues to impress me. Thank you to my family for blessing me and stretching me – may our European Reunion of 2013 continue to amaze us for many years to come.
An Aside about the Weather: When my brother and his family finally arrived in our little town, one of the first things he said to me after getting out of the car was, “Hey, I thought you said German weather is bad. I mean, this is gorgeous!” Indeed the weather was perfect, and I’m talking shorts and tank-tops in the morning and a cup of coffee first thing outside on our deck perfect. Of course, I was thrilled. And determined to soak up every second of it because I didn’t trust it. Going against everything I have claimed about German weather before, the perfect ness of it seemed almost Beständig. (See my blog post You Never Know https://doralynelle.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/you-never-know/ for more about this word.) This time I was luckily positively surprised as we had three weeks of gorgeous, almost too warm weather. I was proved wrong and that’s okay. I can handle all the jibes.