One day in Europe and my expat fires have been fueled

So I’m in Düsseldorf. My initial impression, based solely on the airport, was that all things in Germany essentially look like a giant IKEA. Now now, before you get your panties in a twist, be advised that a) I know IKEA is a Swedish company, and b) I am aware that an entire country cannot possibly take on the characteristics of a build-it-yourself furniture warehouse. Therefore, my initial impression was, admittedly, inaccurate, but the Düsseldorf airport, from what I’ve seen, does LEGIT look like one big ole empty IKEA. I mentioned this to a lovely little southern lady with the cutest darn accent, and she not only wholeheartedly agreed, but also laughed uproariously at my obviously genius-astute observation.

My second impression was that Düsseldorf is the QUIETST PLACE ON EARTH. I have since realized that this is not an accurate statement either (cue the endless stream of drunk dudes), and was rather an ill-informed opinion based on the fact that my flight arrived at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning. It was light out. I had traveled for 16 hours. I legitimately had no idea what day or time it was, so I shall forgive the momentary quiet, as it has since been disproven.

My third impression is that Germany has a ridiculously high proportion of gays. Every two seconds, my gaydar goes flashing, and I’m certain that a pair of gents or a lady with short hair or sneakers is a homo – but are they gay or are they just coolly European? I spied one lady who would, in LA, be easily identified as a big ole’ dyke, and upon smiling my biggest Sapphic-sisterhood smile at her, I got nothing. Ever pair of men I see looks too cozy, and too well-put-together to pass for straight in America, but I am having a hard time believing that Germany is made up of 97% gay men, so I am having to rethink this theory.

My fourth thought thus far is that rich Europeans know how to be rich – and they make it look good. I’ve been told that Düsseldorf is a shopping and vacation destination for wealthy Dutch people, and I would amend that statement to include rich Europeans in general, as I’ve heard snippets of BRITISH, Spanish and Italian being spoken in the streets (I’m sure Dutch is being spoken as well, but it’s all German to me). not only do people flock here from all over the continent, but if they’re rich and they’re shopping on the kenigsallee, the street home to all of the major design and couture houses, they are DONE UP.

But this ain’t no fifth avenue or rodeo drive shit; the wealthy Europeans who come here to spend more money than I make in half a year wear head-to-toe furs and leather in a way that’s unlike anything seen on any wealthy person under 75 in the united states. the Hollywood set would never even be caught dead wearing FUR IS MURDER chic, and if someone even tried to walk park ave wearing a dyed-yellow chinchilla, the PETA folks would be splashing red paint all over them before they could even blink. Here, the wealthy are impossibly put-together from head-to-toe in a very classic way; the women are all in heels, sophisticated trenches and understated yet expensive makeup, and the men are all handsome and perfectly coiffed. See the previous point about how gay all the dudes look.

Dusseldorf is, in fact, a beautiful city with a vibrant culture, and I’m thrilled to have a few more days here to explore when I’m not busy schlepping around this ginormous wine and spirits expo (36,000 people are expected! Yikes!). my hotel is in a “little Tokyo” of sorts in the city, so this area is particularly culturally and linguistically diverse. … which brings me to my point of the day: the privilege of being a native English-speaker.

As a result of centuries of imperialism (PS: DADDY I WILL EXPLAIN THIS TERM TO YOU FOR REAL ;)), the united states’ mid-20th century ascent to worldwide business dominance, and centuries of philanthropic efforts to “Christianize” and “civilize” the people of the world, English has become a widely-spoken, taught and learned language all over the world. Of course, in America, we can really only be bothered to lean American, and shoot, JR, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Having had the benefit of lifelong private education and a degree from a highly-regarded major university, I have, of course, “learned” four languages: Hebrew (jew!), latin (dead language or not, that counts), French (ummm I really sucked at that) and Spanish (which I can muster the energy to vaguely read and or speak only upon threat of death or mortal humiliation, and a language at which I dramatically improve at speaking when under the influence of a drinkypoo or two). But truthfully, I speak none of these languages, nor do I really even attempt to.

But why should i? why would I need or want to put myself in an uncomfortable situation, even when in a foreign country, when everyone around me will cater to my needs and respond to my timidly-put requests and questions in their own broken English? Why should I make the effort, when everyone around me will do it for me?

Of course, I speak no german (danke is my current go-to), and am tremendously relieved to find the natives of this fine country bridging the language gap for me, but I can’t help but feel like a major asshole every time I walk into a store, spit out one word (thus far coffee and water have resulted in the desired effects, thank god), and have some genial german responds in perfectly-phrased english. What’s worse is that I’ve found myself expecting, rather than hoping, that people will speak English and therefore understand my feeble attempts at communication, which leaves me feeling like an entitled shithead who epitomizes the ugly American persona: someone unwilling to bend, even whist standing along the banks of the rhine, to the local language or customs.

I will continue to struggle with this sense of language-entitlement, doubtlessly, but that’s not going to change or alter my behavior, if only because I do not, in fact, speak german. However, I hope to endlessly convey a silent apology for being a dickhead in every timid English-language request I make.

Ok, I must get myself to bed. Delirium has set in, so don’t judge me too harshly. Xoxo GOODBYE, as we say in America (fuck yeah).

Ps: oh yeah. I need to move to Europe, STAT. whichever country’s language I manage to master first wins.


reflections of a former sorority girl

every time i see a woman in her mid-late 20s driving a car with her sorority's letters emblazoned on the back with some heinous sticker, i can't help but ask myself, "really? you're still clinging to some sort of collegiate alcohol-and-sex-fueled affiliation? you don't have, like... a real life now?"

proponents of the greek system will be quick to lambast me, arguing that there's more to being in a sorority than doing beer bongs on the roof of a frat house while several "brothers" you've hooked up with rate the quality of your body and or sexual performance. sure, there's "sisterhood" and "community service" and "scholarship" and blah blah blah, but let's get real here about the most popular and frequent raison d'etre of the greek system at the majority of colleges in the u.s.: PARTY-TIME!

as a sorority-dropout, i doubt anything i have to say about life in sororities is actually all that groundbreaking. there's excessive drinking, promiscuity, gossip, infighting, and every other stereotyped scenario you've seen played out in the media in the last 30 years, but i'd like to offer the unique perspective of someone who drank the (low-cal sorority girl) kool-aid... and then dropped all guises of sisterhood like a bad habit. yes, i was once a girl awoken by frat boys at 10am saturdays with shots of pucker that led to day-long drinking sessions. indeed, i have been to a sorority "barn dance" (admittedly, only one), replete with making out on a hay bale, climbing over a fence, tearing my shirt and landing in a puddle of mud, and hitting on the DJ (because i claimed he looked like nick carter. dear lord, am i the most embarrassing human being alive?).

so, i've been there, i've done that, and now, i've got something to say about: THE SORORITY GIRL UNIFORM.

i think women's fashion in general is driven in many ways by the culture in which we live; one which encourages women to compete (with each other) for men - based on the way they look. dress like this and you'll be successful, beautiful, and you'll snag (and keep!) that man, says our cultural influencer, the fashion media... which in turn distributes trends to the masses, and in this case, sorority girls, who are like, clearly SO pumped to be hot, ace their exams, and date the cutest football player (full disclosure: i was IN LOVE with bennie joppru).

consequently, there is definitely a fair amount of pressure to dress and look a certain way when you live in a sorority house with 60 other young women, who will, in fact, judge you. as a matter of fact, the entire sorority rush process is based on judging other women; from five minutes you spend with an awkward 18 year-old, you're expected to essentially score these girls, and cut them accordingly (ok, again with the full disclosure: i ran rush at my sorority one year. i was maybe the biggest and judgiest bitch ever. i'm only slightly repentant).

in the early 2000s, when i was a sorority girl (in michigan at least, ok?), the cutest-ever outfit was some sort of sparkly top accompanied by tight, bootcut black pants. preferably from express. depending on the party and some nights of the week, the sisters would swap jeans for the black pants, but there was sort of always a homogeneous look going on.

when living in the sorority house, every night out is prefaced with the usual ritual of putting on the uniform, including glittery eyemakeup and dangly earrings, then pre-partying with shots, usually accompanied by some sort of game. my friends and i were particularly fond of the classic, "never have i ever," and actually created our own bitchy little clique using this game as "initiation" to our exclusive group, which offered benefits such as eligibility to be awarded the "sketchy crown," an alternately prestigious and shameful title bestowed upon the girl who had been, essentially, the drunkest slut as of late. that is, clearly, a reflection best saved for another time.

anyway, back to the uniform and deflecting attention from aforementioned embarrassing information, one day, my sophomore year, a fellow californian and i had had it; i had likely just taken off my skintight red pants and requisite square-toed boots (actual outfit worn by yours truly. sigh.) when we decided that we had HAD IT with the incredible amount of effort constantly demanded of us. we didn't WANT to wear heels anymore. we didn't WANT to wear those godforsaken black pants with no fucking pockets, therefore demanding that you carry an appropriately tiny little coordinating clutch in which to carry all of your belongings.

we called it "california casual." it meant jeans; it meant (diesel. yup.) sneakers; it was, essentially, a big "up yours" to the sorority status-quo, and holy jesus i loved it. of course, i was by no means taking some sort of stand that forever changed the face of fashion, sorority-driven or otherwise, but it was empowering, even then, to tell my sisters, "no, i'm not going to blow-dry my (dyed black-and-purple) hair," or that, yes, i did think a tennis skirt was appropriate attire for a frat party.

breaking ranks with the sorority girl uniform may have been a small act of resistance, but i think it was pivotal in my youthful understanding that i was not, in fact, what good sorority girls are "supposed" to be, at least at a school like the university of michigan. in that rah-rah, go greek and go blue environment, sorority girls wear sweatpants with their house letters proudly emblazoned across the butt to class, know all of the guys in their favorite frat by first and last name (in a pre-facebook era!), and look forward to greek week every year with a fervor matched only by their appreciation for low-fat frozen treats.

and, of course, they party. so there i found myself, wearing any of my several pairs of straight-up ARMWARMERS, drinking shitty beer with drunken douchebags, when i realized... this isn't really my thing. i mean, i made some good friends, and there were some good times had, but the whole "sorority girl" identity didn't fit with the person i really was. i mean, i was never really that into the whole thing anyway, and i couldn't ever envision some future version of myself attempting to "network" via some feigned sense of sisterhood that essentially bore no more weight than a thimble in my book (this is similar to my feelings on jdate: i would never want to date anyone specifically looking for a jew. i guess that makes me a typical self-hating jew?).

i broke ranks with the sorority fairly easily and quickly, save a handful of people whom i still keep in touch with (two of whom are big homos = shocker to nobody), and really, never looked back. eventually, after tiring of the endless postings of elaborate wedding and engagement photos (WHY with the engagement photos? barf), i defriended most of them on facebook, and there's no more of a trace of the sorority girl in me than some highly-incriminating photos in albums (remember disposable cameras? people actually had prints!). of course, in half of those photos, i'm wearing the uniform. eventually, i'm not. and then, i'm not there at all.