Foreign to Familiar

Something has happened.
It’s not terrible so please don’t worry. I’ve been waiting for it. This shift in weight. This light-switch flipped. The hand on my arm in a familiar gesture, a goodbye with a smile and a nod. Absentmindedness without risk. A mutter at the usual, and a grimace at the cold. As quietly as the snow flies in to embrace Berlin, what was foreign has now become familiar and I have wrapped my arms around it warmly.

I had no expectations when I arrived here. Well, that’s not entirely true, but I was only certain that it would be different, and I could only really think to expect that there would be moments, maybe even whole days, where I would ache for the comforts of home. That known quantity of a routine that does not ask you to understand it in German. But I have surprised myself. In a matter of a month and a half, I find myself walking without thinking, towards a bus stop, a cafe, the grocery store, a friend’s flat, the outdoor market, with my hat pulled down and my scarf wrapped tight, and my gaze directed past other faces, subconsciously knowing that I am not lost, and when I find myself on the next street corner, I will know as easily as breathing, which way I am to go.

I think back a few weeks when I first noticed this was happening. I was coming down the stairs of the subway station near my apartment and I took a long hard look down to the platform. Unlike all the times before, I did not glance up anxiously to double-check which side to stand on. I did not trace back across the map in my pocket how many stops to Alexanderplatz, to get to the S2, to change at Friedrichstrasse, to get the U6, to get to the U2 to get to Oranienberger Tor. I did not have to pick through the coins in my hand, flip them all over to see which was which, count them out one by one. I felt in my pocket for their weight quickly so my fingers wouldn’t have time to feel the cold, fed them into the machine, and chose my ticket without translating. I closed my eyes as the train flew through the tunnels and felt the stops and knew exactly when to open them again, to stand, to tap the little circle on the door to activate it.  Achten Sie auf den Spalt! Yes, I even minded the gap.

There are so many moments like this now, where I catch myself in a trance of familiarity. When I look down a corridor and know exactly what’s at the other end. When I hear a street name and know the neighborhood. When I say Tschüss with all the German accent I can muster. I took this photo so I would remember how it felt at the exact moment this world wasn’t new to me anymore. As it goes, I will forget it as easily as I discovered it, and I’ll want to be standing in this moment forever soon.

From foreign to familiar and back again…

1 thought on “Foreign to Familiar

  1. ellie

    Glad you are home….but I understand that you have some really exciting things cooking….good for you. Come have a glass of wine with me….so I can hear, first hand, how you are and what you are up to. xxx E


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.