Untitled – Elizabeth Skadden

Living as an American in Berlin and studying Polish was a test of my brain’s German language powers. I knew the Polish word for Thank You, Dziekuje, and I knew that Danke meant Thank you in English, but when the professor asked me what the Polish word for Danke was, I was stumped. Languages are strange to learn, because they are so hard to learn until it is easy. You are just going with it, not knowing anything, and then you know it all. This is how it is with artwork: You have no idea what you are doing until you know exactly what it is you are doing.

This summer will be my three-year anniversary in Berlin, and I don’t know if I want to stay. Germany is a great country to teach you how to apply for grants.  At every step you are applying for things. With letters of recommendation and a budget to back it up, you are more likely to get that work visa, health card, room in a shared house, etc. When I consider coming back to America, I think of what paperwork I can show potential employers. I could print out all the mentions of my work on the Internet, I could have people I worked for in Europe write me letters of excellence. Yet this would be beside the point as the main reason I want to come back to America is that I don’t need any of these things there. I have a network that requires very little written proof of my excellence.

In Berlin, I am always an outsider. That is its charm. I get to speak my second language everyday. Heading into a store, I practice in my head what I will say when I get there. “I need ibeprofen please.” “I want to deposit this money in my account.” “I would like an appointment to renew my visa.” I use German primarily for a functional purpose mostly using the polite form, it is the easiest form as you don’t have to conjugate the verb. Talking to some people my own age, they commented on it, saying “you know when you use polite form with people your own age, it makes it seem like you are holding yourself apart from them.” Oops.

I mean I am holding myself apart from them. Speaking a language does mean that you understand the interests of that country even if you can speak about them in its native language. What am I am interested in seeing? Who do I perceive as important? The European version of these things varies from what I am used to in the states, and I have been participating in it, but ultimately find it such a narrow wedge of things that I am not interested in. That doesn’t mean that it is not valid. It means that it is not valid to me.

So what happens now? One should only feel uprooted from their surroundings for a certain amount of time. Perhaps I have reached my limit.