Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Stage Two Conquered

At last, I can write about my victory over "Stage Two"

Stage two? You don't know about stage two? Ok, let me take a few steps back and explain.

Stage Two
A co-worker, who re-located from South Africa shared me her relocation document, which seemed more thorough than the one I had gotten. Among many of the nuggets of very useful information, it described the four stages of ex-pats in relocating to a foreign country. Stage one can be summed up as "Oh this is great! Look at this cow-bell! It's so cute and Swiss!" The novelty of the banal excites you. The activity of relocating keeps you busy. The charm of novelty keeps you entertained.

Stage two happens after that novelty wears off. It can simply be described as the homesick phase. The psychology is a little more complex than just "homesickness." What once would inspire fascination for what the locals would find to be banal no longer appear fascinating or unique. The dialog of "Look at the bus fare machine! It has German and French on it! That's so cool! I love Switzerland" -- that dialog has gone.

You start to miss home. You realize the closest Taco Bell is in Iceland. You didn't particularly like Taco Bell in the US, and only had it maybe twice a year. You made fun of it every opportunity you had. But now you miss it. And there is no hope of satiating your desire until you go back to the US.

My Personal "stage two"...
Well it might be incredibly clear to you! It was right around that time that I didn't write any blogs. Right after the Geneva trip, and it abated about a week or so before the Japan trip, not finally being passed until I was in Japan. The nadir of my "stage-two-ness" was on October 6th, some bad news about the financing of my house back in Virginia came up. I missed Taco Bell terribly; finding that there were no Taco Bells anywhere in Europe. (How is this for depressing? Type Taco Bell Bern into Google and this blog comes up in the first page of hits).

To top off my disenfranchisement with Switzerland: I was very frustrated with the SGBern flying club. Not the lack of equipment, or inability to fly, but the fact that I felt absolutely isolated and alone with the club. This is not the fault of anybody in the club. I like them all. I think it's a great club. But it's not the club I left in Virginia. I had deep personal relationships with so many people in Skyline Soaring. I left them all behind. I was nearly regarded as the celebrity that I deserve in SGBern. Back home, I could fly up and down the valley with comfort and ease. I could join in on any conversation, and my opinion was valued. I left all that behind by coming to Switzerland. This was when the gravity of all these insights set in.

October 6th was the SGBern "Bautag" The fall clean-up that is done to prepare all the gliders for the winter season. Flying season pretty much ends in October, and the weather in Bern doesn't really allow for any flying. I felt rather isolated on that day, when I rediscover the realization that I don't understand a freaking word that these people are saying.

We were at the lunch table after doing the day's worth of work. I sat with the younger crowd. To my right, sat Ronnie, who lives in Schmitten. To my left, Christoph, who lives in Bern, and works as an architect. I occasionally talked to Ronnie, or to Christoph. In Hoch Deutsch with Ronnie, or English with Christoph. In one of those pauses with my chatting to Ronnie or Christoph, the tide quickly turned. The conversation suddenly and immediately turned political. In a moment, the conversation immediately occupied the entire table into a heated political debate -- in BärnDütsch.

Dammit! My comprehension of what was going on immediately went from 95% to 3%. They didn't mean to do it. They did not mean to exclude me. They did not want me to feel unwelcome. But it happened, they did and I was. That stupid language barrier has cast me out AGAIN. As I sat there at the table, a heated argument about SVP and Blocher, to me, it felt like I was in the corner, alone. The heated debate lasted 30 minutes, but it felt like hours. As I sat alone in my thoughts, I reviewed my decision to come here. I can't believe I left all my great friends in Virginia for this.

I can't believe I put myself in a place where people don't find me amusing, funny, smart, or knowledgeable. What the hell was I thinking? Why did I move from a nice big single family house in Virginia, to an over-crowded apartment around neighbors who don't like me and can't communicate with me? Why did I leave my beautiful glider, wonderful friends, easy food for this? Dammit! I am suffering the punishment of solitary confinement while in a crowd.

This was it. This was my moment of "Ex-Pat stage two nadir."

I am literally fighting back the tears as I write this. This period here in Switzerland really, really sucked. I didn't express my depression to anybody. (It's a typical guy thing). As I sat isolated at the table in a sea of unfamiliar phonemes, I planned my correction strategy. Just how exactly can I fix this?
  1. Learn the Swiss German dialect of Bern (BärnDütsch).
  2. Find some other distractions to occupy myself during the winter months. (R/C helicopter) (I'll get into the "Ghetto Copter" later).
  3. Do more touristy-things.
  4. Try not to work too much, as that will certainly depress me even more.
Nah. None of these things worked. The forces of work conspired to make me work many long days at the office. During this period, I couldn't spend much time with the family. time -- pretty much all of October -- I just sulked around. I don't even particularly remember that month very well. "I effin' hate this place." "WTH was I thinking?"

The opportunity to have a business trip to Japan came along. I took it. I love Tokyo. This will help, I'm sure. The rest of the family was deep in stage two, as well. (Joey excluded). I need this trip to Japan for ME.

American Humor in Tokyo
As I mentioned in the previous issue, the time in Japan was painfully busy. We worked 11 or 12 hour days every day. It was thankless, hard, tiring work. We often retired to our hotel rooms to immediately sleep.

To break the monotony of the working with computers, we had a few songs and subjects of humor which kept re-surfacing.

An oft-repeated subject was the constant re-playing of the theme song from movie "Team America: World Police" The song is poking fun at American patriotism. Sorry if the dialog from the song is not safe for work: "America! Fuck Yeah!" At the end of the song, they shout out things that you, as an American, should be proud of. The main singer shouts out the word of the patriotic subject, the responding singer responds with "Fuck Yeah!" Here are the subjects you should be proud of as an American, (as the song goes) (Original Lyrics)
  • McDonalds
  • Wal-Mart
  • The Gap
  • Baseball
  • NFL
  • Rock and roll
  • The Internet,
  • Slavery (What the hell?)
They take a breath, and go on to the next list, the range of subjects getting ever more questionable: But it's part of the humor.
  • Starbucks
  • Disney world
  • Porno
  • Valium
  • Reeboks
  • Fake Tits
  • Sushi
  • Taco Bell
  • Rodeos
  • Bed bath and beyond (in this case, the responder is rather confused and gives the response in a whisper)
Part three, ever more confusing as to why an American would be proud of these things. But they are American, especially the last two:
  • Liberty
  • White Slips
  • The Alamo
  • Band-aids
  • Las Vegas
  • Christmas
  • Immigrants
  • Popeye
  • Democrats
  • Republicans (confused response, they have a hard time mustering the response lyric)
  • Sportsmanship
  • Books
You may now be wondering why I transformed my PG-rated Blog into a tarpit of "Not Safe For Work" (NSFW) dialog. It is a rather strange, circuitous path toward delivering me from the jaws of "stage-two-ness." I think the song really did a great job of shouting the things I miss about the US in the first stanza, and then poked fun at some American things that we shouldn't be proud of (slavery, fake tits, etc), to the things I really don't miss from the US (Republicans, Bed Bath and Beyond).

Laughing seems to be a great way to get out of a funk. Laughing at yourself seems an equally valid path. I am pretty sure that nobody else will find this same path of deliverance from stage two to stage three. But this one was mine. Thank you, Trey Parker.

I think this song was more a catalyst than the actual concept which moved me on. The good laugh just gave me the kick I needed. In no time, after about ten days in Japan, I started to get homesick for Switzerland and not homesick for America.

Instead of missing Taco Bell, I started to miss the cute college girls on the train ride every morning (there seem to be a lot of those), the excellent lunch at the cafeteria next to the office, the excellent trains, the liberty of the "GA", seeing sheep, cows, reindeer on the train ride to work, and maybe the cute way the Swiss girls say "genau," oftentimes the only word I can understand when I eavesdrop.

Jake's Stage Two
"I hate it here in Switzerland." That is Jake's sluggish muttering expression, sighed with depressed resignation. This is mumbled precisely at the same time every morning and every evening. He chants as if it were a prayer, or a daily affirmation, or a mantra. "You asked me if I wanted to come here, I said 'no', and you still brought me here anyway."

Maybe there's something we can do?

I had a meeting with his home-room teacher at school, who had some suggestions on how to get him more acclimated. Get him involved. Get him some friends. Schedule other kids to come over. We live on the wrong side of Bern; it seems to us that all of the ex-pats live in the eastern side of town, closer to Muri, and closer to school in Gümligen. We got Jake involved in the basketball activity after school, and he is certainly starting to enjoy it, and best of all: He's becoming a better player!

There are a few girls at school he's got an interest in, and there are reportedly a few girls interested in him, too! When my visiting mother was waiting for Jake to get out of class one day, she patiently waited in the hallway with young Joey. Two girls came by and said, "Oh look at that kid, he's so CUTE!"

"Yeah", the other remarked. "That's Joey. He's Jake's little brother. He IS cute. Just like his older brother!" No word on who actually said this.

None of this matters. Jake seems to continually express his misery with the aforementioned mantra. He could have had a really wonderful time doing something incredibly cool and neat. To wrap up the day, he reverts to the "I hate Switzerland" mantra. We've been here 5 months now. He should be over this. I was done with stage two right a week or so before the Japan trip.

We recently bought all the kids a pair of skates, (and dusted off my old hokey skates from the closet) and took them to Ka-We-De in Bern. Jake really enjoyed skating, and may have even smiled once or twice. Cecilia has taken to skating like a natural. Joshie manages to stay upright long enough, but doesn't actually skate as much as walk on ice with skates on. Joey cries each time he gets on the ice. It is a good thing we didn't actually buy skates for him. The first night back on the ice, and I realized the next morning that it had been more than 10 years since on skates. I ached in places that I forgot I had muscles. Or maybe I didn't have muscles there, which is why it ached there. (Mostly in the hip abductor muscles)

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