20 days and counting, I’m 20 days in and have had a nerve-wracking time settling in. There are days where things look up, but mostly the others are incredibly tough.
What I’ve learnt about Berlin is that nothing ever gets done right the first time. Things will take multiple tries and efficiency is never as on par as back home. To say that i’m experiencing culture shock would be an understatement. Is it really culture shock if it’s just the way things work that surprises me? How backwards things really are, from paperwork processes to even something as simple as missing unit numbers in apartment. Heck they even have voice recognition bots on the line instead of pushing buttons to get you through the operator service menu. I’m well aware of the language barrier, and while I’m struggling to make an effort to speak German, the service staff aren’t making the effort to speak even minimal English. Instead I get a click and then radio silence dial tone. Hung up on, again. This almost happens on a daily basis, and I don’t know what else to do when there is nowhere else, or no one else who can help.
After 20 days, the general feeling I experience on a daily basis is still helplessness. But it is not the kind of helplessness you feel when you’re stuck on a sudoku puzzle at the back of the daily newspaper. It kind of feels more like you got robbed on the streets and have nothing left, not even a phone or a penny, you don’t know what to do next because there’s absolutely no one around.
I tell myself this will eventually pass, that things will get better, that I just need to give it time. Sure it will, but how long is it going to take? Am i just being impatient? Am I trying to settle in too quickly? Is it just a norm here to have things NOT work out every time you try? Is repeated failure mandatory here in order to progress just one tiny step?
Today I went on an easter egg hunt of my own while trying to track down the parcel containing my vacuum cleaner. What appears to be lost mail isn’t so simple when the tracking number leads you to three different delivery locations, none of which are actually where my parcel should be. Every hotline you call, it takes time. And by time i mean days, or weeks, before they actually get anything fucking done. Meanwhile the guy at the packet store is yelling at me sarcastically with an apology he clearly does not mean, just to get me to hang the fuck up because he cannot do anything to help. That’s most of what I hear on the phone most days. An unapologetic apology and how there’s nothing they can do. Every little glimmer of hope you have in an operator service, or an email, or a contact point; it all lands you in a dead end, progressing as far as you’ve begun in your dilemma, if not, two steps back.
This evening, I attempted to drill some holes in the wall to mount a clothes rack. I failed terribly – again. Yet another failure. Guess those clothes will continue being in the luggage, hanging on the back of chairs, coat racks, and remain crumpled in the drawers. I also gave up and used map pins just to get makeshift curtains up against the wall since I clearly suck at drilling into walls. It’s days like these, that I feel completely useless. I experience signs of failure on a daily basis — Paper cuts, getting burnt by the oven just taking out a tray, getting my palm sliced by a knife while making dinner, not being able to understand things at work because stuff happens in Deutsche, not being able to get home because the trains are down and I don’t know why, and nobody can tell me why. Not knowing where to find simple things like a hole puncher, or simple table salt that doesn’t come in a fancy bottle and costs 3 euros. All of these daily setbacks just adds on top of the helplessness that’s already present. There’s also a massive sense of uselessness. I’m defeated, deflated. I don’t know what else I can do to keep myself positive anymore. I knew moving here wasn’t going to be easy, but this is another level. Nothing ever seems to be going well no matter how hard I try to stay positive.
“Things are good”, i tell most people that lie when they ask how’s life here, because I see no reason to talk about petty things that don’t matter to them. Also, chances are that no one really cares, it’s all just small talk at the end of the day. Another “hey, how’s it going.”, another “how are you?”. Nothing to see here, just move along now. The world still revolves, nothing changes whether I feel defeated by this new city every single day.
I give up on that clothes rack; that awful hole in the wall. I give up on those damn curtains, I give up on finding my lost parcel, I give up on trying to get O2 on the customer service, I give up on figuring out the transport system, I give up on my internet application, I give up on trying to get the caretaker to fix my broken mailbox. I give up on trying to figure out the dishwasher, I give up on figuring out how much tax I have to pay, I give up trying to find wifi. I give up on hoping things would turn for the better, I give up giving people the benefit of the doubt. I give up on trying to hold myself together.
I just want to lie down and sleep for a long time, and wake up and be in my old bed in Portsdown, hearing the birds in the trees, having a thick cup of Teh Halia in Bussorah Street and enjoying some kaya toast in a kopitiam.