By Maya Guice.
What Does it Mean to be From Somewhere?
In the States, some people say that you can’t be American because, “no one is actually from America.” And yet, I am American. Legend has it that a certain Christopher Guice made his way from Germany to the American South by boat, where he met the Native Americans, entered slave trade and the rest is history. My family’s been in America so long, my mother was born in Los Angeles—I’m a second-generation Angelino for God’s sake!
I moved to Berlin late April, 2016, much to the disdain of my family of Angelinos. Eighteen months later I find myself quite settled. I have an apartment and have registered with the city, which means I have a bank account, which means I have a cell phone plan, a metro pass and insurance, all of which means I’ve attained a visa, which gives me permission to stay for 2 years.
I recently read that you know you’re a Berliner when you start having “Berlinergasms.” In other words, when you find yourself saying loudly, “I f***ing love living in Berlin! I just love it! It’s just so f***ing great!”, you’re officially a local. So, yes, I’m a Berliner, but the label feels temporary. Where is the history, the nuanced understanding, the familiarity?
Home is Where I Don’t Hesitate
I went back to L.A. for a few weeks in October, courtesy of my previous employer. By laying me off the week before this scheduled work trip, my employer had unintentionally gifted me the benefits of quitting, except with severance and a free trip to L.A. I left Berlin with a smile on my face, a skip in my step, and the realization that, now unemployed, I might be moving back sooner than anticipated.
At home, everything makes sense. I know where I am and what’s happening at all times. I can hand salt to the person at the table next me when I hear them complain that they have none. I’m responsive, I’m polite, I can drive and even call the plumber on a whim. I understand the subtle distinctions between laundry detergents, and how much is too much to pay for a manicure. Other than real estate prices, everything is exactly as it was when I visited nine months ago. Except me.
The biggest change is in my confidence. After 18 months of barely being able to ask the most simple questions, “Is this on sale today?” or make the most simple requests, “Can we sit by the window?”, I realized how easy it is to get what you want when you’re fluent in the local tongue. The English-speaking world is my oyster! I can read a full menu, buy baking soda, and make sure I push when it says “push” on the door.
Not everything was as charming as it once was. Driving on the freeway was absolutely terrifying, beer was way too expensive, and the wait staff at every restaurant were just a bit too excited to see me. But in L.A. there’s family. I had dinner with family and all of our significant others, saw a concert with my sister, and made a song with my Dad.
Did I mention that I am an Angelino?
In L.A., when I tell people I live in Berlin now, the reaction is generally, “Cool!” One person even said, “That’s badass!” I soak it in. Berlin is badass and I’ve grown exponentially here. But the truth is, I’m jealous of people at home. I didn’t miss Berlin at all when I was gone. In fact, I was sad to return. It’s cold in Berlin. My friends in L.A. are surrounded by lifelong friends, zero foreign transaction fees, and the serenity that comes with familiarity. What could they possibly have to worry about?
So, it’s official. I live in Berlin, but Ich bin nicht eine Berlinerin. I’m an Angelino. Second-generation for God’s sake! And the best part is that now that I’m back in Berlin, I can say that I’m an American: a perfectly acceptable answer.
Loved reading this, especially the laugh out loud parts like, “wait staff at every restaurant were just a bit too excited to see me” but also the parts that had me crying on my keyboard – Emi B.
The header “Home is where I don’t hesitate” captures the gap that I’m always working to bridge. Sometimes that feels like too much work. Sometimes I get to savor small victories.