Although it’s technically not autumn yet, it’s starting to feel like it. The mornings are cool and hazy, and it takes a good couple of hours before the sun makes an appearance (Of course we’re lucky to actually be able to still count on the sun coming out every day). It gets darker earlier, and also a little bit cooler in the evenings. It hasn’t rained here since May, and some leaves are turning yellow and brown, which is probably why I have autumnal thoughts on my mind. The kids go back to school next week, and we’re slowly starting to ease our minds back into that whole scenario. Yes, the summer as we know – and have grown to love – it is over. And as expected, I feel a little blue…. What a wonderful, eventful and thoroughly happy summer it has been though! Back in June, there was our week in Mexico, which was great because it was all four of us together, kicking back. And then off we went to England… and the rain. For the two weeks we were there, it rained pretty much every day, not continuously but you could count on it at some point. I had totally forgotten how depressed it can make you, and I felt very sorry for all those who were trying to make us fall back in love with England. In my case that certainly didn’t happen. It quite surprised me how differently I felt this time compared to last year. E and F had a great time, and even got to spend some, if not much, of it with old friends. I also saw a few people, but felt noticeably less at home, and more like a visitor. I suppose it’s inevitable that people drift apart, and we’ll probably see fewer and fewer people each year. While that still hurts a little, I always really appreciate it when people do make an effort, and the older I get, the more special those moments become, and the more effort I want to put in myself into creating them. The focus seems to shift more to family, and to spending quality time together, especially when we all live so far apart. S managed to spend some time with us too, and I even sneaked away for a couple of days in London with him, ambling about, enjoying the city’s palpable excitement about the upcoming Olympics, catching up with some friends, and even getting my culture fix at the Tate Modern AND the Royal Academy of Art. Oh yes, all by myself, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
After 2 weeks, we packed our bags again and headed off to Germany. And the unexpected happened. After living abroad for almost 14 years and always feeling oddly distanced and quite non-German, I totally reconnected with my country of birth. I’m still knocked sideways by the feeling, and am shaking my head at myself (with a big smile on my face) as I write this. I’m not really sure what was different this time – we’ve been spending two or three weeks in Germany at my parents’ house every summer for the last six or more years, and my sister, brother-in-law and for the last 4 years my niece join us there. So far, so unchanged. But somehow this summer felt different. I would say that we usually get along really well and have a good time, including the odd argument or tension here and there. This time though, we spent the whole three weeks in perfect harmony. Maybe it’s because we’ve all got older, wiser and more appreciative of each other, and maybe it’s because the children are older and less demanding, but it certainly was a great experience. We went swimming, walking and sailing, cooked, shopped and enjoyed being together. We celebrated my granddad’s 101st birthday, had fun at a medieval festival, went to an eventing competition, and spent hours glued to the TV watching the Olympics. We were utterly relaxed in each others’ company; it almost felt like when we were teenagers living at home (without the teenage angst and tantrums). Like a proper family. I felt totally blissed out, and whatever happens, and however good or bad or average it will be next time – we will always have this summer to remember.
I also had a great experience with friends, old friends, none of whom I have a lot of contact with except for our summers and the occasional email. It was one of those evenings that takes you by surprise because you get so much more than expected. What was going to be a couple of fun-filled hours catching up with people I hadn’t seen for a year turned into an amazing night, one of those that leaves you with a big grin on your face and a heart full of happiness. We didn’t even talk about ourselves much, none of the “so what have you been doing?”, “how is your life these days?” kind of conversations. No, we talked about politics, religion, sex…. all those delicate topics you usually have to tread very carefully with. We went for it, bounced off each other and had an amazing time. The feeling of being in a room with old friends, having honest, open and stimulating conversations and tons of fun is unparalleled. I so enjoyed the “German-ness” of it all, which was such a surprise. It’s made me realise that, however much I love the friendly, polite, inoffensive talk in the US, the small talk and absolute lack of anything controversial sometimes does my head in! I do miss the more questioning tone of conversation, the willingness to say what you mean. And that is a very German thing, which, to foreign ears, can come across as very rude, blunt and insensitive. I have struggled with this quite often, especially during the time I lived in the UK, or when a round contained non-Germans. Always feeling the need to explain why Germans express things the way they do, or defend, or tone down, to be embarrassed – that night there was none of that, and I was able to relax, and come out of my shell a bit. It was fun! That’s not to say that I don’t cringe when I see Germans abroad being “very German”, and the clear puzzlement of the natives. I guess moving and living abroad, being the foreigner and looking at Germans from an outsider’s point of view, have made me a lot more sensitive to people’s statements and behaviour. Having lived abroad for so long, through observation and experience, I have a much better idea of what it means, of what people perceive as typically German. Maybe I am more aware of this than Germans who have always lived in Germany, and never had that outsider’s perspective. I often feel my responsibility to Germany, of “being a German abroad”, representing the country, of having people look at me and then think “ah, that’s what Germans are like”. Very often, people have said to me “you don’t come across as very German”. I used to take that as a compliment. But why? What does that mean? What do they think when they say that? I detest generalizations, things like “the British are so polite”, “the Germans are so serious”, all that kind of stuff. Yes, there is a lot of truth in cliches, but all I can see is ignorance, arrogance, and lack of tolerance. Yes, there are tons of things that get on my nerves in Germany, but also in Britain, and in the US. So what am I then? What does national identity mean? As I said before, I used to feel quite distanced from my home country, but after this summer, I can’t really say that anymore. I still feel distant in the sense that I have seen a lot of changes in the country over the last few years, from a distance, and they don’t affect me that much. Living here has definitely changed things a bit. While I felt more of a need to abandon my nationality when I lived in the UK, it’s been different here. Maybe it’s just California, but I definitely feel people here are much more accepting and less condemning. But I could go on about this topic for hours and hours, and maybe I should just put a full stop right here and take this up another time.
(on my way to the Olympics to watch some rowing at Eton Dorney. Felt the need to wear the flag!!!)