scratch the surface

People in Germany move much less frequently than people in North America. Our landlady, who lives downstairs in this three-apartment house, was born in the 1930s in the room my husband and I now use as a bedroom. And a German colleague told me that when he collects contact information, he focuses on email addresses for people in North America and street addresses for people in Germany.

A curious aspect of such infrequent moving is that kitchens are considered personal, like beds. In Germany, people tend to take their kitchens with them when they move, even as renters. They take the entire kitchen – cabinets, sink, appliances, light fixtures. As renters, we have to be aware of this, or we’ll show up at our new place with a moving van and walk into a kitchen consisting of bare walls, pipe ends, and an electrical cord dangling from the ceiling.

Lots of things are different here. Want to buy a new kitchen at Ikea? Better be aware that they don’t accept credit cards. Live in a rented apartment with only a shower stall? Consider having a bathtub installed.

Sometimes it takes moving to another culture to discover the things we take for granted (like bathroom doors without windows in them!). Duh, of course a rented apartment will include a kitchen. Or … maybe not. The degree of revelation possible – regarding kitchens and so much more – appears to be endless.

How much about my life am I willing to question?

My time here in Germany makes me ask myself what else I take for granted. I grow increasingly interested in what’s below the thin surface of my assumptions about the world I inhabit. I’ve been trying to exercise my letting-go muscles, using shoulds and assumptions as my signals – they’re like construction signs saying Slow Down and Dig Here. What I consistently find is that my assumptions aren’t nearly as important as the things I can create by letting them go.

When you find a part of yourself that doesn’t open, start pulling cabinets away from the walls. Call the movers. Uninstall the fixtures.

Find the pipes. Follow them out into a wider world.

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Related reading: ode to the saint of eyeballs, risking exposure

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