Growing up in a city of 200,000 people and moving to Berlin, a city of four million has been a crazy adventure! I didn’t know it was possible to have 4 Ikeas in one city?! AMAZING. I had also never drove on a highway with four lanes before. Fun and terrifying all wrapped up in one driving adventure. The lessons I am learning while here are countless. From simple things like new driving rules to more complicated culture changes… everyday is an adventure. I am sure any expat would share the joys and difficulties of the transition period. I definitely underestimated culture schock. As a person who loves traveling and experiencing new things, I figured this move was a piece of cake. But its been a huuuge eye opener for me.
Take for instance the topic of poverty. Not only have I been confronted by the materially poor, but also the poor in spirit. I have witnessed so many sad, angry and lonely people while being here. Living in a big city can be a blessing, but many people seem to be forgotten. Isolated. No hi’s, thank you’s or eye contact has an effect on us after a while. The other day I also caught myself in the typical ‘grumpy berliner attitude’ when some students took a seat beside me and forced me to move all my books, homework and backpack from the seat where I was studying. When they saw my reaction, they felt terrible and wanted to move seats. I could hardly believe myself. Wait, what? You are actually getting angry that these people are sitting beside you… on PUBLIC transportation?! I tried to cover up my first reaction by being more friendly and thankfully convinced them to stay. But this moment has stayed with me since then.
In Canada, rarely did I have such a negative reaction to strangers. There was a different sort of stranger policy. Everyone was polite to everyone. That’s just how it was. After the episode on the train, I realized that I was letting the berliner attitude rub off on me too much. Unfortunately, over the past few months I have rarely seen friendly encounters on public transportation. Most times, everyone is busy with their own lives, stuck on their iphone and they don’t want to deal with another person who is in their personal bubble. And actually, I can understand that perspective. I have dealt with some strange, stinky and upsetting people on the train. But even still, we must not let that attitude keep us from loving. From being kind. I think these small gestures like smiling as you let someone take that empty spot beside you, or moving your bag so someone has more space, or letting the old granny take your seat, is a remedy against the poverty of spirit. Its definitely not the easy way, but I think its the way that brings light and joy and peace into our day and the day of those around us. Even if just for a train ride.