Aside from the cultural norms that continue to pop up in new ways and places, there’s definitely a “look” that distinguishes a native of Berlin. Lots of darks and neutrals, leather jackets, and fashionable-yet-functional shoes all go into a perfect composition of urban identity. It may just be the kooky Kreuzberg neighbourhod, where we are staying, but tattoos and piercings are all over the place in a way that I’ve never seen in the United States, unless it’s a very localized event. Over the last few days I’ve seen these aesthetic differences through the haze of cigarette smoke that lingers around the U+S Bahn stations and the outdoor patios of restaurants. There’s an attitude that I’ve been picking up as our stay lengthens: there’s no passive-aggressive behaviour correcting in Berlin—if you are doing something wrong, someone will tell you. There are no public apologies for a bump while walking down the street. There’s an unspoken understanding that it’s never a personal attack but some small way of helping you out. It’s my own belief that the blunt attitude makes for more genuine interactions between people.
Speaking of these interactions, I’ve been greatly appreciated the forgiving nature of the waiters, shop owners, and other Berliners when I gaze back at them, wide eyed after hearing a stream of German I don’t understand. From there follows either a pantomimed exchange, or more commonly, they speak to me in English. Recently, I was able to have a conversation with Emma, a tenth grader at the alternative school we visited. We were able to discuss everything from our differing school systems and our plans for the future, to the Kardashians and Vine superstars. Emma’s English proficiency and cultural awareness made me think about how America-centric our schooling really is. This closed of nature of our K-12 education might be contributing factor to the “stranded” feeling that I have experienced as an American(ish) abroad. I think the cross-cultural understandings necessary for international travel should make their way into the curriculum in the United States. Then maybe we can finally shake the “clueless and loud” stereotype. In my case, it’s been more like “absolutely silent and in the way,” but the statement stands true. I’m hoping that over the next few days, I can find my footing and get out there to interact with confidence for my interviews and other interactions.