I like families. I like being around them, talking about them, learning their intricacies. I don’t know, perhaps it is my selfish determination that I have too small of one, or the perhaps equally absurd belief that through its knowledge will I obtain the true understanding of another person. Either way, it is often when I am immersed so deeply within another’s backdrop: a dinner table, a raucous of wine and good feeling, the sodium yellow glimmer lighting up the eyes of one speaking of his/her first love, slow steps through hallways, during which I experience that feeling of immeasurable satisfaction.
And so I am often thankful when people share these details with me, invite me to their dinner table per se. Through the lens of their native environment, friends and family with whom they have spent a lifetime, I can perhaps achieve some sort of firmer understanding, some grasp of how or why a friend thinks one way, speaks one way, does one way.
Uniquely, I think of two family dinners I have had the pleasure of attending over this past year, with the respective German-speaking families of two dear friends of mine. (Might I add that I think I did better language-wise the second time around, a little less overwhelmed I think, a bit more practiced? Still a long way to go though.) Both times, I felt lucky enough to get a broader spectrum of Germany, a bit more dimension than the hustling, international, urban scene of Berlin, which outside of its salient and unparalleled recent history, felt less unique in itself and more of the hipper, darker variety of major metropolitan center. Never did I get a sense of cultural faux pas as much as when I arrived ten minutes late to a scheduled family lunch, hurrying across a wintering strawberry field, or a renewed wave of cultural vertigo as strong as when news of the CCC Congress’s change of venue showed up on the Tagesschau as the first news event of the day, when just hours before, I had been right up against the LED-lit venue, and had gone through three perfectly smooth train transactions to get to my friend’s family home in the middle of Niedersachsen. I bought that ticket from a real live person! And I had to use my German! Seems a silly, minor thing to get so excited about in retrospect, but it sure brought things into perspective at the time.
Before I get on too much of a detour, what I want to say is how much I honor the details, the often wordless gestures between individuals. A hint of pleasant surprise, a nod of appreciation, an out-of-the-way artifact: these are the subtle but often most remembered things.