Things I always notice when I’m back home in summer: how hot the carparks are, the sun bouncing off the asphalt and burning through the soles of your thongs. How hot the bus stops are, steel and glass, the kids sitting in them and sweating in their school uniforms. The birds – their noise, their ubiquitousness. There isn’t a moment their song or laugh or screech isn’t heard. The light. The cicadas.
I notice our accent, too, every time I come back. The relentless upward inflection, the way we run words together so as to avoid moving our mouths too much. Our vowels. At the beginning of a trip out here, if I’m not concentrating, or if they catch me off guard, I feel like I am standing on the outside and I can see what they’re saying but I can’t hear it. It takes a moment to get back into the rhythm of how we all talk, jump in and get carried along. By the end of a trip, I think my words cling together a little more too. Scarn on. Howsitgarn.
Do you know what else we always do? Overtake using the slow lane, because everyone drives too slowly in the fast lane. If you drive too slowly in the fast lane on the Autobahn, after thirty seconds you’ll have four cars on your tail, like great silent sharks, flashing their lights until you move over.
I love this idea that we view our own culture through a pair of glasses – Kulturbrille – and that these lenses can obscure the finer detail, the smaller things. It’s why, when you go to other places, step into other cultures, they appear in sharper relief, their quirks and characteristics so much easier to spot and hold up to the light for inspection and delighted dissection. We are unable to see our own culture so sharply because of our Kulturbrille.
When I first moved to Germany, my Australian Kulturbrille made everything about the Germans appear in exaggerated detail. It was as if every little quirk they had was a ripe piece of fruit, waiting for the picking. I wonder if, over time, my Brille have adapted, if the Germans haven’t blunted somewhat. If, when I come back here, I wear a pair of glasses that reveals, instead, my own culture in finer detail, its quirks so clear.
I think so. In any case, moving between the two countries means one always seems sharper than the other, one more normal than the other. It always feels for the first week or two that I am simultaneously returning home and a visitor.
I am, I suppose, both.