There is nothing quite so humbling as stepping on foreign soil and realizing that your self-assurance, built over decades, has dissolved—a reminder that when you leave the comfort of home, the security of family and friends, and cross into territory where language, culture, and daily activities are even slightly different, an element of insecurity rises to the surface. There’s no turning back; you’re on an adventure, so drink up. Prost!
M and I are here in Berlin for a month. It feels strange to be out of my comfort zone after living here for almost a decade—but that was 30 years ago. It’s odd that I didn’t feel the same on extended stays in Paris and Rome, but I guess I have higher expectations because of my history here. I should be at ease. I was never truly fluent but I had no trouble being understood or getting things done. I know the vocabulary’s in there and wants out, but for now it feels like a painful dental extraction when the clerk or cab driver stares at me and I can’t find the right word to complete the transaction. It reminds me of an experience in Spain with my son, Brent. He was 8, and I wanted him to be part of the adventure, so I gave him money to buy a Coke at a roadside cafe and told him how to ask for it in Spanish. He looked at me, paused for a minute and then said, “But what if they talk to me?” I know how he felt. Today, my German is so rusty I can’t quite get going, and while the rust is beginning to flake off it’s annoying, frustrating, and embarrassing that things don’t come more easily.