The first took place in a ladies’ fitting room. I came out to look in a larger mirror and found - not unexpectedly - strangers commenting on each other’s outfits in a way unimaginable in Germany. Friendly and helpful and possibly not altogether honest comments. I asked the fitting room attendant if she thought I had the right size, but it didn’t matter whether I needed advice - it was just refreshing not to feel you must stay closed up inside yourself, to make contact with people, even in a banal retail setting. In Germany in contrast, privacy starts with avoiding strangers.
In the second case, my mother and I had just seen a movie we had differing opinions on (Whiplash). We stopped at the ladies’ room, where there was the usual backlog of ladies. But everyone in line was talking to the others about the film, whether they liked it, how intense it was, what a fantastic jerk one of the characters was. Except for my mother and me, the ladies were strangers to each other as far as I could tell. You’d never strike up a conversation with a stranger standing on line in Germany, much less engage in a large, inclusive conversation, superficial as it may be.
I can’t lie and say I don’t miss that. I miss it all the time. It makes life more pleasant; you feel less isolated, less invisible. You are invited to participate in an exchange. This can also go too far sometimes, as with the well-off American man in front of me on the plane, who needed to interact with the duty-free team for over a half an hour about which watch looked best on him, then which one to buy for his wife as well. Blabbity-bla.
And of course I returned to Germany this morning to news of a road-rage murder in Nevada, a 16 year-old executing his family then being killed in a shoot-out with police in Kentucky, and another deadly shooting at a Walmart in Mississippi. You can’t have it all.