On How Expatriation Resets You (From “Make Me German”)

Make Me German

Now, some seven years later, I realize what moving abroad actually does — it resets you. If you live in one place for a long time, as I had in England, you are constantly surrounded by people that speak your language and share your culture, so it’s easy to forget how special it is. You see only its flaws and minor inconveniences. Or perhaps even worse, you think that the way you do things there is the right way. That there are normal people, and strange people, and fortunately enough, as chance would have it, you were born into the normal tribe, and all those other people over there, from other places, foreign places, with their strange cultures and languages and customs — those people are the strange ones.

Then, suddenly, you’re somewhere else with a completely different idea of normal.

Currently reading Adam Fletcher’s “Make Me German,” which has a lot of smart things to say about the transition from one country to the other, and feeling pretty understood.

Watching Feuchtgebiete

When Charlotte Roche’s over-hyped novel “Wet Areas” was released a couple of years ago, my German was too awful to bother trying to read it. And when it came out in an English translation around the time diva was born, I bought it only to put it down after a couple of pages. Even after having a kid, first spending nine months of my life puking and then spending the next nine months cleaning up all manner of bodily fluids all the while discussing the myriad ways in which said fluid-producers had entered the world and the truly horrible things that happened to my fellow mummies’ lady parts during said entrance, my gross out factor was too high for this novel.

In the intervening years, my inability to withstand discussions of what some might argue are “normal human bodily functions” has increased exponentially. My stomach of steel has weakened dramatically and I find myself gagging on a near-daily basis, whether it be from the smell of feta cheese or the frequent runners’ forum discussions on the trots or the giggles Diva and her friends share while calling each other cackwurst — shit sausage (I gagged just writing that).  Note to other expat parents: do not raise your kids in Germany if this talk makes you want to puke because, as I’ve said before, there is some sort of Freudian fascination with poop here that has people talking about it. Out loud. Often. Ugh.

So it’s as big a mystery to me as it must be to you as to why I checked Feuchtgebiete on DVD out from the local library. I mean, really, if the book made me want to puke, what are those visuals going to do? As @Zurika said on Twitter recently, this book is one that doesn’t really need a visual interpretation.

But I drank down some Pepto-Bismol and stuck it out. From the very first scene, I had to fight my gag reflex — there is so much rampant disgustingness that I almost found myself desiring a Chuck Norris flick instead and violence of that sort gives me nightmares for months. (I won’t go into detail here except to say that I don’t think I will ever be able to eat pizza again in my life.)

Despite the nastiness, I realized that the person who recommended this movie to me was spot-on in her suggestion; below the nasty surface is an incredible story about children of divorce and the psychological impact that parents have on their children. As the epigraph reads, kids of divorce want nothing more in life than to see their parents back together. It’s true — diva tells me this every single day. But even more so, it’s a story about how much children suffer when raised by selfish parents, depressive or narcissist or whatever they were, and it was both supremely enlightening to watch and terribly heartbreaking.

Though I personally could have done without 7/10s of the movie and will have trouble digesting my lunch for weeks to come, it was one of the starkest portrayals I’ve seen of what psychologist Oliver James discusses in his books (chief among them: They F**k You Up) about the impact of divorce on kids. I’m sorry for Diva’s sake, that she’s had to endure the hell that is a parental separation but after watching this, I’ve become even more committed to making sure that I have my shit together and that she never does such random and bizarre things to get my attention. Because behind all that filth is a desperate cry for help and attention. Which is why the cheery happy ending was so sad to me — neglected teenager finds solace in caring man — but it is what it is.

Not that I’d recommend any of you watch it to confirm. Just trust me on this one. Kids of divorce really truly do get traumatized by their parents’ bad behavior. You don’t need to wade through all the nasty to get to that point.