Six months, part two

Yesterday, I wrote about having been here for six months, and the homesickness I’m feeling.  It’s hard to be away from everyone, to be sure.

But, at the same time, it’s a major accomplishment.  Six months ago today, we arrived in Vienna.  We had rented a place for 10 days, but had no way to pay for it.  We had no Euros, spoke no German and had no phones that would work here.  I don’t think I will ever forget the moment we wheeled ourselves, and our stuff, out of the airport and stood on the curb, waiting for Dan’s friend to come and pick us up.  It was cold, it was gray.  We had ourselves, one stroller, 5 suitcases, 3 backpacks, two kids and a dog.


And here we are.  We now have a beautiful place, in a wonderful part of the city.  We go grocery shopping, we ride the train, we go to the bank.  Benjamin goes to school.  We all understand a little German, and we’re learning to speak some, too.  We’re learning a lot about the culture and customs of Vienna.  We’re finding our way, and our place, here in Vienna.  We have a really pleasant life here.  We’re doing great.

We will probably be here for two years.  That means one quarter of our time here has passed.  That really motivates me to get out more, to do more, to get us in gear and travel more.  No matter how strongly we still often feel like we’ve just arrived (and in many ways, that’s true) marking this milestone reminds me that before I know it, we’ll be packing up and planning to move home.  We still have so much to do and see here, and I don’t want to leave Vienna with any regrets.

Living abroad gives you new perspective on the way things can be done, and it gives you true appreciation for great things that you’ve always taken for granted.  Whatever the future holds, however long (or short) we stay here, we have been here long enough to be changed by this experience.  We are all citizens of the world in a way that we weren’t very recently.


The changes I’m experiencing here happen slowly.  In a given moment, I usually feel like I’m still pretty much the clueless, overwhelmed fish-out-of-water I was when I got here in April.  But really, things have changed.

I went out this evening, just to take a break, after Dan got home from work.  I walked to the bakery on the next block and picked out a doughnut that I wanted, ordered in German, actually got what I had asked for, paid in Euros (and even understood the price when the guy behind the counter said it) and waved goodbye when I was leaving, because I go in there a lot, and this was the guy who is the most helpful to me when my German fails me.

I walked down the street to the Starbucks and got a coffee.  I didn’t bother to order in German there, because no one seems to mind, and “Grande Decaf Caramel Macchiato” is Italienglish anyway.  I picked a spot outside, read my book and walked home.  I didn’t need to consult a map or check any street signs.  I’m able to move through the crowds like someone who knows where she’s going . . . because I do.

I’m learning a little German, and I’m learning my way around.  It gets a little better all the time.

In fact, if you could have shown the me of 4 months ago a preview of my little adventure today, I think I would be impressed and pleased that things were going so well.  So, I think that’s exactly what I’ll be:  impressed and pleased.  Go me.


I am not cool.  I am not smooth, slick, suave or together.  I wish that I was:  not like the “cool kids” in high school . . . more like James Bond-ette with a diaper bag.  I want to smile at the right times, catch people’s meaning without them having to come right out and say it, always have what I need in my bag, be dressed for the occasion and do it all with a smile and without breaking a sweat.  Instead, I’m more likely to accidentally offend someone by laughing at the wrong moment, misinterpret directions and walk through an alarmed fire door and be pooped on by a bird (possibly all in the same afternoon).  I don’t know why this is, but it is.

Living abroad has really put me in touch with this part of myself.  Only the coolest of the cool could pull this off and look slick at the same time.  For me, it just throws my awkwardness into greater focus.  The language barrier, the cultural differences, the little idiosyncrasies of the expectations of day to day life — I’m ill equipped to be able to keep up.  We all pick up on words and cues and expectations based on experience to help us understand when we’re welcome, liked, understood . . . or not.  Everything is different here — I don’t pick up on anything, and even when I understand the words, I’m missing a lot of the meaning.

I took B to the doctor today (a new doctor) to check on a scratch that I thought was getting infected (it wasn’t).  The appointment went well, but I sat in the wrong place, tried to leave before she was done, tried to leave without paying and was literally chased out the door by the receptionist who was bidding me farewell (I made eye contact but didn’t say anything on the way out, and I get the impression that was NOT the right thing to do).  This is not uncharacteristic of my afternoons in Vienna.  And, all of the people I was dealing with today actually spoke English (it’s worse when they don’t).

Being cool is just not in the cards for me.  For some people, perhaps it’s easy, but for me to achieve such heights of slickness, I’d either have to devote most of my life to it or be so tightly wound that I’d end up institutionalized in the very near future.  There’s no way for me to get there without letting go of things that are more important.

I’m really getting to be ok with it.  (It’s a process.)  I have a lot going for me, but coolness isn’t on the list.  There truly are more important things, and I refuse to sacrifice any of them for the sake of being slick.  It’s not cool, but it’s who I am.

Too much noise

One of Benjamin’s many books is one that was also a favorite of mine as a little kid, “Too Much Noise”.  It’s a folk story about a man named Peter who is unhappy that his house it too noisy, so he is advised to fill it with all manner of loud barnyard animals.  After the animals have been removed, he finds that the noises he used to find so bothersome are now pleasant and peaceful.

I love that book — I loved it as a kid.  I’ve enjoyed it, now that I’m the mommy, because it really provides some wisdom that can be applied to anything from holidays to house guests to bringing a new baby home:  nothing will make you appreciate how easy your life is like having it be hard for a while.

That’s what this is like:  living in Vienna is my “Too Much Noise”.  This is so much harder than anything I’ve tried to do before — when I go back to the US, where I speak the language, where I have the support of my friends and family, where I understand the culture and the etiquette and how everything works, I will be able to do anything.  Short of an incident that would require a call to some sort of emergency services, I really think I’ll be able to handle just about any eventuality.  (And hopefully, I’ll also learn some things here about enjoying what’s around you, taking the kids out and about, and being a little less hard on myself.)

If I can do this, what can’t I do?