Bill Bryson wrote in one of his books*: “In a funny way nothing makes you feel more like a native of your own country than to live where nearly everyone is not.”
This can be so true, especially in situations when you assume that things would be the same as back home. I mean, I didn’t move to another continent or planet. This is still Europe, most people travel further for their holidays. But then you get into these embarrassing situations when your assumption was wrong and people look at you slightly bewildered. It has happened to me, still does and probably always will.
I particularly remember one occasion. It was towards the end of my first year in Wales and winter was fast approaching. I had bought a new car earlier that year (basically because someone else wanted to test-drive a left hand drive and afterwards see how well it burned) and, as a responsible German car owner, went to my local garage to acquire some winter tyres. See, here’s the thing about driving a car in Germany. Come autumn/winter you have to get winter tyres. By law, during periods of ice, snow, sleet and low temperatures, only vehicles are allowed to be driven that are equipped with them. If you don’t have them you can get fined and in the case of an accident lose your insurance.
So there I was in the reception of the garage explaining myself to the woman in charge. “I’d like some winter tyres.” “We don’t do winter tyres. What do you want them for?” I don’t know, maybe feel safer during winter whilst driving down that steep hill in my village being surrounded by a ton of steel; makes it much more fun if you are in control of your car, don’t you think? Obviously I didn’t say that out loud but explained where this notion came from and that it was common practice in Germany. Meanwhile a small crowd had gathered around us, wanting to know why that crazy foreign woman was stopping everybody else from being served. “Oh, you don’t need winter tyres here. We hardly ever get any snow. And if we do, it doesn’t stay long.” I wanted to laugh out loud because that previous spring, actually the night my old car went on its unforeseen trip, it had snowed quite a bit and stayed for a couple of days as well. But who am I to argue. So I bid my goodbye and went outside. As I was standing next to my car, I had the feeling that everybody was looking at me with a smile in their eyes and a small head shake and I realised that I was a stranger in this country no matter what. And I felt even more German.
*Bill Bryson “Notes from a big country”; Coming home