Before I went to Berlin, my friend who I was flying out to visit said to me, "Oh man, you're going to blow their minds out here."
"What? Why? I'm not all kooky or anything."
"Oh, you will. Trust me."
I suppose I kind of did, but not because I'm a terribly outlandish individual or anything. I'm just different from most Germans. And my father's family is German too, so I've got a little of it in me, but I'm a California girl through and through with a heavy Latina influence and a smattering of glamour just by virtue of living in L.A. (A tiny smattering.)
Here's an example of why someone like me can stick out like a sore thumb there:
All you mutterers with knitted brows, listen: It's time to get happy. We're talking $35 million worth of feel-good, throw-your-shoulders-back giddiness. The future is yours, don't despair, things might be in the dumps, but this is the land of Beethoven, Einstein and all those giggling little garden gnomes.
Such is the message trilling through Germany's largest-ever public service campaign. The aim is to lift the country out of its funk with a blitz of inspirational TV messages from famous soccer players, actors, figure skaters and various wild-haired geniuses... This nation seems less in need of platitudes than a collective Prozac. Unemployment is high, consumer confidence is low, the government came together only after weeks of public bickering. Germans have a high quality of life and their country is the world's leading exporter, but they have been unable to shake off a deepening national gloom.
Sooooo... why did I feel like a bit of a circus sideshow at times? Because I DID get attention. Occasionally, little old ladies would walk right up to me and stare at me, puzzled, and walk away. I look kind of exotic, with a healthy SoCal tan, and clothes that were ordinary but not reflective of a bad thrift store circa 1985.
Mostly, it was just me. I talked a bit loudly, but not in a obnoxious way. I'm just a bit animated. And too illustrate that point, I hand gesture like crazy. I hardly saw anyone else there do that at all. Anytime my hand fluttered about, somebody on the train took notice.
But lastly, and most obviously, I laugh. Loud, and often. I have been complimented on my laugh, and I have friends who sometimes call me up just to make me laugh because they like to hear it so much. I know it's not a bad thing. I started, however, to feel self-conscious about it while I was in Berlin, though, because when I would laugh it would startle someone. Not in a bad way, more in a "how curious" way. I tried to tone it down. When I explained to a friend that I was doing that, that I felt I was starting to hold myself back, she said, "Oh no, don't do that.They love it. It's just different for them but it's also fascinating in a way. Don't stop being yourself."
And I couldn't. I kept laughing and gesticulating and yapping like I always do, trying to not feel as aware of the staring. I got used to it by the time I left.
After I had been back in the States a while, I got an interesting email from my friend. He said that recently, he had read a newpapers report based on a random poll which discovered that most Berliners feel there aren't enough interesting people in town to interact with. I met plenty of interesting people while I was in Berlin, so I don't know what they are talking about, but this is a land with a diminishing population, so perhaps they think the fun people have left.
Nah - they're there. Listen for the laughing.