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July 2001

Neither Here nor There

No place like home

Irecently received, third hand, a copy of a rather enlightening email exchange between a well-respected American expat Munich business owner and his eloquent family and friends. He has given me permission to discuss his personal “cybersation”—and quote all parties, who shall remain nameless—here. The entrepreneur, we will call him Rick, wrote a rather provocative mass email to “the folks back home.” In this, he speculates on what might happen during the “W” presidency—his outlook is not encouraging—and, in the face of recent politics, how he might feel about the prospect of moving back home. As if he had not already alienated his Republican family members, he goes a step further—one friend called him a “Euro-snob”—by pointing out all the things Germany has to offer that, he feels, make living here superior to life in America. Socialized medicine, relatively low living and entertainment cost, interracial friendships, tuition-free universities, food free of chemical additives, bike lanes and affordable extra virgin olive oil—these are but a few of the things that make Rick glad to be an expat in Munich.
As I read the responses—and there were many intelligent, poignant ones—I quickly determined that, home is certainly where the heart is or, as I often say, “home is where your stuff is.” Those Americans who are content to live in Europe are often seen as braggadocios. Stateside friends and family become defensive—“well, lah-dee-dah, aren’t we Euroooopean.” Most of Rick’s responding buddies prove that push-pull phenomenon. He did not attack the U.S., he merely asked his friends and family to give him good reasons for his possible return and threw in the aspects of German living he found to be exceptional. The passionate answers he received underscore the fact that no amount of bravado, from either side, can change the truth—we will always consider the place we live to be “the best” because, if we have any say in the matter, we choose it. Below are but a few excerpts from the many eye-opening emails.
· “Don’t move back! I would give my right arm, and a few other body parts, to be back in Europe! Signed, Bored in the U.S.A.”
· “Each country has its pros and cons. You just have to keep an open mind and look for the best in people—not always expect the worst. I think most people, no matter what nationality, want the same things out of life. Life for us here is good.”
· (From a Bavarian expat in the U.S.): “You pay $30 a month for public transport? And you find that reasonable? I have been living in Atlanta for nine months now and I haven’t spent one cent on public transportation!” “Appropos Biergärten: Haven’t been to one here, except my own, which is about the size of the Flaucher beer garden. We have geraniums on the deck (the “deck” is our 60-square-meter Balkon.”)
· “Rick, of course you don’t see any food preservatives listed. In Germany, they simply don’t TELL you about them. In the U.S. it is required to list all ingredients.”
· “There isn’t a day that goes by we don’t look at our beautiful daughter and realize how lucky we are to live in the U.S.A. As you know, she was born with Down Syndrome. Because we live here, she is allowed to go to school and do anything a “normal” child would do. It looks like she will grow up to be a productive member of society (not treated like some freak, or excluded from opportunities, as she would be in many countries.)”
· (Sarcasm in “hick speak”): “Good things, bike paths. We have ’em here in New England. Some people use ’em. Lotsa folks rollerblade or walk on ’em. Not errybod use ’em. Most ’em people nowerdays in the ‘yoga’ groups. Not much needin’ bike paths. But we gottem. Getting’ mo’em too. It’s gittin’ soon you’ll be able to go clear ’cross New England on bike paths with all the folks likin’ the paths.”
· “Yes, although I do choose to live in Alabama, I understand your poking. I am, however, not sure if I want to rise to the occasion—or rather, do you deserve me rising to the occasion? I, honestly, had never thought of you as a Euro-snob, but, obviously I was wrong. I guess, at this point, it is just about being happy.”
· “Four years from now, I am confident “W” will be out of here. Until then, I will tolerate him and his idiotic policies and do everything in my power to counteract his ill effects, by donating my time and money to those causes I support.”
· “Loved your essay … so true. If I didn’t love my teaching job, I would be living in Italy or Spain, with all the cultural differences.” “Southern hospitality is very much alive. I make a living at it. And that is probably why I was so pissed on my last visit to Munich airport. When I was unable to understand the ticket machine and asked for help, all the bystanders thought it was hilarious and no one would help me.”
In apologizing to those who felt “slapped in the face” by the controversial email, Rick sent this explanation—though the wise-cracking expat obviously couldn’t keep himself from getting in one last “zing.” “If I had written to you all and said ‘tell me something positive about the U.S.A., I wouldn’t have received the thoughtful responses I did get. So, I picked some silly topics and some controversial ones and threw them out there to be provocative. Well, let me tell you, some people got mighty provoked! Sorry I made you unhappy. Cheer up. I’m still the same ol’ me. I still love you all (even if you drive an SUV to McDonald’s and eat beef-flavored french fries.)” <<<

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