Something that people have a hard time understanding is that, even though I look young and care-free, I am not on vacation. It’s ok, it’s an easy mistake to make. There are hordes of tourists crammed into every orifice in Berlin, and I don’t exactly blend in with the Germans who live here. But even though I’m very much a privileged American, I sacrificed a lot to come here, and I plan to be here for a while. I have a bank account here. I have a job here. I pay taxes here. I have health insurance here (and don’t get me started on the bureaucratic nightmare that is the German healthcare system). This is where I live now.
And since I started living here, I’ve realized something:
Germans are very intimidated by my suitcase.
I don’t blame them; it’s quite impressive. I’m sure I could fit a few four-year-olds in there, even more if I cut ’em up first. =P
It feels like every German person that’s seen me lugging that thing around has felt the need to comment on it. “Your suitcase is much too big,” they said. “You have too much stuff,” they said. “What did you put in there?” and “Why do you need all that?” They asked.
One person even made a joke about it. “How many years do you plan to stay here?” He said with a smirk.
To which I answered, “At least two.”
All this attention made me feel extremely self-conscious. Why are people being so critical? I wondered. Are all Berliners secretly minimalists? Is it a European thing to only wear two shirts for an entire year? It felt like they were judging me. “Oh look, here’s another spoiled tourist who wants to go shopping.”
Don’t get me wrong; the people who made these comments weren’t being hostile. German culture is rife with blunt statements, criticism, and unsolicited advice. To the sensitive American, this can come across as rude and off-putting, but that’s not how it’s intended. Most of the time, they’re just trying to start a conversation. It takes some getting used to, but they’re not doing it to be mean.
So why did I need such a big suitcase in the first place?
To put it simply, U-Haul trucks don’t go across the ocean.
Another thing: Germans are nuts about traveling. They typically get about four weeks of vacation-time per year from their employers, and the weather here is so awful that most of them can’t wait to leave. As such, when they see a suitcase, they automatically think “vacation.” And why would anyone go on vacation with such a huge suitcase? You don’t need all that stuff. It’s not like you’re moving there!
Once I realized this, I started to take a closer look at how German people keep their homes. For the most part, they looked normal, not the bare minimalist scheme I had been picturing. The person who told me I have too much stuff actually had twice as many clothes as I did. Right before I moved out of the first flat I lived in, the building got a new tennant. While they were moving in, the entrance to the building was filled with cardboard boxes stacked almost up to the ceiling.
Then I realized: most people don’t use a suitcase when they move; they use cardboard boxes. And they hire a moving van. They don’t usually drag everything they own through the S-bahn like I did.