Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Feeling Stupid

As an expat, feeling stupid is just something I’ve learned to live with. Every day it happens to some extent. Here’s some of the ways I’ve felt stupid:

I’ve said “Grüezi” to the women at the check-out as I’m about to leave when what I meant was, “Danke.”

A little kid will say something to me and I’ll just have to smile and nod. That’s the worst. When you fail to understand a 2-year-old you know you’ve really hit rock bottom.

I can’t read much of my mail, since every German word seems to be about 20 letters long, and so every piece of paper that comes from any form of Swiss government makes me think I’m being deported. Or fined.

It took me six months to figure out how to record a voice message on my answering machine at work, no matter how many combinations of buttons I tried.

I pondered what the “E” button meant in the elevator for weeks.

I’ve put soap in the wrong compartment of the washing machine and gotten a lecture from my neighbor in French, of which I only understand words like “quelque chose.”

I’ve written down a script for a German phone conversation before I’ve had it, and when the person doesn’t follow the script, I’ve been lost and just kept repeating my part, hoping that they finally would follow theirs. They never do.

I’ve asked the bank if I can open a checking account. They’ve laughed and said that’s an American thing.

I’ve pondered the many types of ATM machines. Especially the one with the entire alphabet keyboard.

I’ve stared at the ticket machines at tram stops for hours wondering why the stop I need to get to isn’t printed on it while others are.

I still don’t understand all the deductions on my paycheck. After 10 months, I finally understand that the long word that starts with a “Q” is the tax they are deducting since I have a B permit.

I’ve forgotten that it’s paper recycling day until 11pm the night before and have had no string to tie my little stacks of paper and cardboard with, so I’ve resorted to thread.

I’ve told my Swiss neighbor that I speak a little French before understanding that the Swiss definition of “little” is very different from mine.

I’ve taken two buses and a train to get to MediaMarkt only to check-out and be 40 CHF short and be told they don’t take credit cards. I’ve gone home empty handed only to find out on my next trip that there’s an ATM inside the store.

I’ve realized that becoming stupid every day actually makes me really smart. Otherwise, why would I put myself through such humiliation?

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