In the course of running errands today I ran into a piece of the past.
Courtney is a Texas-bred housewife who has followed her husband to Europe. We met in German language class at the cheapest (but friendliest) school in town.
She was one of two other Americans in that course, the other being a young naïve Mormon girl accompanying her husband (also young and naïve) for his internship at BMW. They were both: conservative, religious, homemakers, and newly wed. Within five minutes of meeting each other they had compared wedding rings and reception stories.
Then there was me, the big whore who was living in sin and had no real plans to repent and become respectable. I was also fresh out of San Francisco, still wearing the remnants of my ‘radical-feminist-sexuality-teacher hat’ and conservative women who’d already reached their goal in life before 25 just irked me.
Neither of them would swear, each BROUGHT THEIR LUNCHES TO CLASS EVERY DAY in order to economize and watch their figures and would hurry home to do laundry and make dinner for their men. They were both living my nightmare and seemed to relish in their domestic situation.
Which of course I couldn’t understand at all.
I found myself swearing like a sailor whenever I was around them; I couldn’t help it, Turret’s syndrome just kicked in at the sight of them.
We tried to socialize. I think we felt we should because we were Americans, as if that was enough to have in common. I would suggest going to bars and cafes after class and often we’d get a group together. These child-brides would always sit together and order water or Diet Coke and talk about ‘home’. Deep down I think I wanted to corrupt them – as if it was my calling to set them free from their self-induced chains – and was annoyed that it wasn’t working.
The kicker came when we tried to meet at a beer garden to introduce the men to each other. Right off it was a bad decision because we let the Mormon pick the beer garden.
Would you let a vegetarian pick the beef?
Both frugal housewives showed up with complete packed lunches and tablecloths. That was ok; it just proved I wasn’t homey because Olli and I showed up empty-handed and bought food there. The next amazing moment came when both women SERVED their husbands their food, putting their food on their plates and handing them their eating utensils.
The Texas couple was actually the more extreme of the two. Courtney’s husband didn’t lift a finger to help, even letting her put his napkin in his lap and CUT THE FOOD on his plate. Upon arrival he launched into this frat boy-style of macho talk about queers and Mexicans and indicated to his wife which food he wanted on his plate by nodding his head without pausing in his speech.
After witnessing the kind of relationship these two had I wasn’t shocked when she announced a few weeks later that she was leaving language class and staying home for a few months because, “people would be coming to visit in the fall.” Apparently being a good hostess for people visiting – for a few weeks at the most – meant staying home for months. She said she may come back to class later but I knew she didn’t mean it.
Soon after the Mormon dropped out to become a full-time babysitter for another Mormon family to help make ends meet. I think her husband was actually concerned about corrupting influences. Just before she finally quit she’d started rushing home to make him lunch and had decided to swear off candy because she thought she was becoming ‘addicted’. Her German was coming along quite well by then so she was right in thinking class wasn’t essential anymore.
Not surprising really. If Mormons are good at anything other than self-denial and breeding it’s learning languages, it’s part of their mission in life isn’t it?
So I’ve seen Courtney on occasion in town, she usually tries to ignore me. I always give her a cheery ‘hello’, mostly to make her feel guilty. After three years in Germany her language skills are non-existent except for perhaps ‘hello, please and goodbye’. Today I saw her across from me at the grocery store struggling to tell the check-out woman that she wanted two plastic bags.
When I first met her I think part of me disliked her because she represented everything I felt people thought I should do and in that same specific order. Namely: Get married and then and only then follow your man around the world like a puppy.
A lot has happened for me in three years: moving to this country and tackling the immigration laws, learning the language, becoming more independent again and finding employment.
Courtney is still where I left her, staying at home, her social interaction restricted to the wives of her husband’s co-workers, communicating in English or pointing and grunting. Living in Munich, she does her best to re-create her life as it was in the USA. She is still everything I was afraid I would become one day and running into her reminds me that I am not.
My own little personal milestone marker I can measure against. It is petty perhaps, but satisfying and affirming nevertheless.