Being Alien

… Is so awkward! It’s unnerving and mind-boggling and frankly, gives me anxiety. It’s also interesting, never boring and sort of freeing.

When I came to the US, I had just started High School, and I was the shiny, new, strange toy. Everyone was extremely nice, but also tested their boundaries with me. I guess it’s what 14-year-olds do. I mispronounced my age, and a girl across the long fake-wooden lunch table looked at me with bug-eyes and asked “Really? Fourty?” Yea, no, not really. I, on the other hand, was surprised at American teenagers drinking their lunch milk straight out of the carton. I used a straw and received more bug-eyes. I just opted for water the next time around.

You dip into a new culture, new language, and the next thing you know, you’re on a plane back… not “home”… because THIS was your home. Just a plane back to where you came from – even if it’s just to visit. I’ve always felt that the second I step into an airport and pass the security check, I’m merely a shell. Airplane personality.

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I usually listen to music, read a book, play some games on my Ipad, Iphone, whatever. I watch people come and go, wonder where they are headed. Everyone has their story. The only place where really everyone is an alien, is at the airport. On the plane, it’s always the same routine. I had a phase where I only sat on the aisle so that I wouldn’t have to disturb anyone during long flights when I wanted to get up or use the restroom. Now I always take the window- I like to see where I’m going.

Leaving your country and moving to another one is difficult. Once you made a decision, you’re already halfway there. I don’t have the language barrier anymore, thank goodness. That’s a tough one. The cultural differences are there, and I more often embrace rather than despise them. Los Angeles is a great example for integration – because there really is none. You can be yourself or pretend to be someone else – whatever makes you feel good on your way to happiness. The point is, that’s exactly what everyone else is doing – nobody knows the game, we’re all just winging it.

I met up with some of my German friends in LA and met some new ones as well. All of them are younger than I am, and most of them are just starting out – they are where I used to be twenty years ago. I first set foot in the US twenty years ago! Unbelievable. They brought a part of my home-country here. The way of thinking, the language, the humor (yes), the behavior. Some of it is refreshing, some of it repulsing. It made me want to leave and reminded me why I’ve always preferred the US over Germany. The US has always felt more like home. Physically and mentally. However, it’s like when someone makes fun or your siblings: It’s perfectly alright for you to harass them because they are YOUR brother/sister. If someone else does it, you’re ready to pounce! I’m repulsed by some German ways of thinking/acting, but  my hearts skips a beat when I walk down the German aisle at the World Market.

Walking down Rodeo Drive, picking up a salad, I overheard a lady chat on her Iphone, large bag in hand, bug-sunglasses on, heals clacking on the pavement. The high-pitched voice “oh my gaaawwwddd, can you beliiiieve him?” resulted in my toe nails curling upward and my eyes rolling into the back of my head. It’s a natural reaction, I can’t help it. I originally went into a store to pick up a watch that I had had repaired. The lady in the store was nice… until she wasn’t. Same high-pitched voice, same glasses (just not sunglasses – that would be awkward), woman’s suit, lots of make-up. I had the strap of the watch repaired and asked “oh, have they changed the design? It used to be backwards.” The strap did use to close the other way around. Her response: “Umm… you know, actually, it hasn’t changed. I think that, well, correct me if I’m wrong, this is what I’m thinking. You might have changed it in the past, and they may have put a different strap on it in the past. But this is the original one that’s supposed to be on there”.

“But, ma’am, it was bought at the original store in Spain, and it was never replaced”. – “Yes, well, sometimes, the Europeans replace it with something different”.

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The Europeans.

There it was.

Alien.

Stranger.

They do it differently.

It’s the same f’ing brand that manufactured this watch – it’s no different in Europe than in the US. But, what is she supposed to say? Perhaps she has instructions never to use the words “I don’t know, let me ask”. Who knows?!

I wanted to open the door for the lady who just exited the Starbucks with a large bag and a large coffee; she shoved the door open and just let it shut in my face with a teethy “soorrryyy”. No worries.

I drove out of the parking structure and made a right turn. The car that passed me was stopped at a red light. The lady who cut me off after that was yelling something on her speaker phone in her shiny Audi limousine. She almost ran over two pedestrians as she made another right turn. They flipped her off – I liked them.

Ignorance is very difficult for me to accept. The only thing I can do is never ever to fall into it. Seems difficult to believe that these people I encountered today were human at some point. I don’t know what nationality they were, and it doesn’t matter. Feeling alien is not about nationality, really. To me, it’s feeling misunderstood or not cared for.

I appreciate the general interest and almost naive curiosity in this country. It’s refreshing. The American Dream is still alive to me. And it’s nice to still be able to believe in something.

I’m afraid that there is absolutely nobody out there like me. At the same time, it’s reassuring. Because it makes me, you, unique. Sometimes it’s just about feeling understood or having someone close who has been through the same. To this day, I haven’t met anyone like that. And maybe that’s a good thing. As tough and isolated as it is sometimes, I like being alien.

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