Sunday, March 9, 2014

This May Never Change

Yesterday, Nate stayed home with Ellie while I spent a couple hours sitting at a coffee shop by myself. Having the chance to get some things done at my own pace was a refreshing change to most days, spent caring for Ellie and Mozzy (yes, Mozzy makes my life difficult, too!). Ironically, I was seated at a table in the coffee shop next to a screaming baby...but at least I didn't have to do anything about it! But I digress...

At the end of my few hours, I asked the waiter to pay. (You always need to ask here. It's their way of respecting your opportunity to stay as long as you want.) The waiter told me the total for my latte would be $4.10. Typically here, very little tip is given in a restaurant and costs are usually rounded up, so the waiter was expecting me to give him $4.50 or $5 for the drink. However, I was in a good mood and he gave good service, so I handed him 6 euros and told him he could keep the extra. This decision I made was completely intentional - I understood how much the drink cost, but wanted to give more.

He looked at me oddly and said again, more slowly "$4.10". I said, "Yes, I know." He said, "No, $4.10" and handed me back the extra euro I had given him, assuming I had not understood him correctly. It was awkward. I said to him, "Well, I wanted to give you more, but ok." and the conversation ended.

This may not sound like anything significant, but the situation frustrated me. The reality is that no matter how fluent I become in the language or how well I understand the culture, these situations will continue to happen. Someone will hear my accent and make assumptions about my lack of understanding. They will try to clarify, attempting to be helpful, but only reminding me that I am an outsider. They will hear my accent and switch to speaking English, thinking they are making my life easier, when they are actually making me self-conscious about my German.

This may never change. In fact, our colleagues here in Vienna who have been here for 30 years have said this still happens to them sometimes. The real challenge is just letting these situations roll off your back and giving someone the benefit of the doubt...praying for patience once more and for God to give you the strength to accept that, yes, you are an outsider and yes, this is where you are meant to be...allowing these situations to remind you that, in reality, we are all outsiders in this world, bound for a much better place.