This weekend I finally got around to reading Grimmmige Europäer – Freundliche Amerikaner by Peter Haffner. It’s in German and not really worth a Google Translate. But in the article the author describes how he and his family moved back to Europe after living in California, USA for 10 years. He describes how he misses the friendly small talk, the smiles and the general friendliness and lightness of American day to day life. Reading it made me cry.
Yes, I am a very sappy person these days and many things make me cry. This however took me by surprise. I only lived in California for 7 years and it was more than 20 years ago. But to this day I miss so many things about my life there, and especially the American friendliness that was described in the article. The banter, the easy laughter, exchanging a few words while waiting for the bus, commenting on peoples dress code without coming off as a creep, all these small social interactions just make life so much easier.
Here in Switzerland we live in such a grumpy, passive-aggressive country, and it just grinds me down. Of course it is up to me. I have to take the first step to start and bring friendliness and humor to this place. These last few years I had just given up, I somehow couldn’t find the energy. But after reading this article, and some of the responses to it, I again vowed to myself to try and smile more, to start conversations with strangers, to compliment them and to always have a joke ready.
So then today it was raining. I went to our garden anyway. When I rode my bike back I was dripping wet. I arrived too early at the grocery store and I had no clock on me. So I put on my biggest smile and greeted the next person walking towards me: “Hi there, sorry to bother you, could you please tell me what time it is?”. The guy barely looked at me, he didn’t even greet me, nor did he answer my question. He just walked past me giving me the feeling that he was disgusted to see me.
And that’s our daily reality here.
“Asshole”, I said. Inside, I shut myself down again. The beauty and lightness of living in California remains but a fleeting memory.