This previous Saturday, V (my British expat buddy) needed to purchase a new sofa for her apartment. Now, this is a relatively insignificant task but you must remember, we live in a country with a foreign language. To put it in perspective, recall or imagine how customer service representatives respond to non-native language speakers in your country. Some are kind and take more time to be of assistance but there are also some that simply refuse to be bothered. This is what we’re up against everyday and you never really know which type you’re going to get until you’ve already ‘talking’ with them. V asked at the information counter about having the sofa delivered and the lady, kindly, stated she didn’t speak English. I stepped up and was able to explain what we needed, ask questions about delivery time, cajole her into same-day delivery, determine price, get assistance with getting the sofa onto a over-size trolley, but most importantly, understand what she was saying in response. After the conversation, I turned and V was staring at me with huge eyes. I asked, “What’s wrong?” and she gasped, “You sound like one of them!”
“Yeah, right. I’m sure I made a ton of mistakes.”, I blushed.
“I wouldn’t know, couldn’t understand you. All I know is, you two were rattling on and now, I finally have a sofa!”, V laughed excitedly, dancing a little jig as I laughed.
“Come on you, let’s go to the transportation department. We’re not done yet!”, I smiled, dragging her happy self along.
V’s sofa arrived within the appointed time and now I find myself contemplating the measurement of growth. The girl I was 7 months ago wouldn’t have been able to accomplish the simple task of purchasing and organizing delivery of a sofa. That girl hid in her apartment afraid of getting lost. She silently trailed behind while hubby handled details at the government offices, while Oma schmoozed officials into accelerating residence permits, and while Papa outlined where was best to buy various food products. She understood nothing and no one. She was terrified to go out alone, thinking she’d get lost and wouldn’t be able to even ask for help.
It took a strongly-worded conversation with my girlfriend who’d moved to Brazil (I recall the word “coward!” being tossed around) for me to determine I could ‘sink or swim’. The thought “I survived New York, I can definitely survive here” stuck in my head (along with “coward!”) and goaded me on at every moment. I met S through an online expat forum. S and I explored Mariahilferstraße and the Museum Quarter; spending a lot of time in cafes talking about our experiences here and supporting one another. A month later, I met P & E at school and delighted in introducing them to the Austria I knew. Via this blog, I met V, who has an exploratory spirit and despite arriving after me, knows tons more than I do. V takes me to the most awesome places, I teach her German words, and we discover the history and culture of Austria together. Eventually, I learned enough German to be comfortable enough to venture out at night – something I’d avoided at first, always making it home before dusk really fell. My NYC buddies would be so surprised to see with what ease I navigate Vienna via subway as they’d often shook their heads in amazement that after 5 years I was still taking cabs to meet them up.
That, to me, is amazing growth and I’m really very impressed with the girl I’ve become as I’m thankful for all the people that helped her to get to where she is now. I can only look forward excitedly to see how much more she’ll have grown by May as my first visitors arrive and she’s got the important task of organizing accommodations and entertainment! And that’s how I have measured my growth.