Four Foreigners and a Barbecue.

Last Saturday, V’s coworker, A, invited us to a barbecue at her home. Her husband, S, lives in The Netherlands and they take turns every two weekends visiting one another. He would be around and the weather was lovely, so the plan was made.

The gathering was just the four of us, four non-Germans (A and S are originally from the Ukraine) in a German backyard for a barbecue of typical German fare. S set up a tiny, charcoal unit. As he put it together, it resembled a child’s Playskool toy. I imagined one swift flick of his wrist sending the grill soaring to the other side of the yard. “Where we are from, we always used wood to cook the meat,” he told us in his thick Russian accent, adding, “At least they have really good meat here.” V later admitted his initial intimidation by our burly host, but I found the accent charming and familiar, having been privy to Slavic culture often enough. A’s accent is not as strong, but her look is classically Eastern European. In character, she is slightly eccentric and very refreshing, saying off the cuff remarks and employing wildly animated gestures. V captured a great photo of the couple: A impulsively jumped on S’s back, one arm around him, the other towards the sky, while S swigs from a bottle of beer. The picture could easily be a figure skating pair performing the gold medal-winning move in the stereotype Olympics. A has a rambling manner of forming her silly musings, and she frequently checks with S in quick Russian for English words she cannot recall. “She actually used to be good at English, but now she’s forgotten it since she’s learned German,” S says. V and I can only hope our German will be as good as her English.

We feasted on various types of meat, a few slices of buttered bread, and some potatoes. S enjoyed shaking a bottle of German beer and using his thumb to direct the alcoholic explosion over the food and flames. I prepared a salad of mixed greens with feta, onion, strawberries, almonds, and a balsamic reduction. Our hosts said they never had strawberries in a salad before, but I think they liked it. I anticipate hosting many dinner gatherings in the coming months, and I am curious for the reactions towards our typical meals.

We inquired about the couple’s experiences in Germany, excited to get a real immigrant perspective on the land we have only known for a month. They shared a story of going back to a pet store after a rabbit they had purchased from it a few days earlier died. S imitated the pet shop employee: “Vhere is zee body?” After they informed him that they buried the animal and were not looking for a refund, the cashier added, “You haaf to weturn an item dat ez bad, you bring et beck! Vee vant to know vhat is vrong vit zee wabbit!” They recounted a drunken experience near Berlin that included running across the Autobahn in the middle of the night. “There was blood on your legs too,” A laughed, never indicating from where the blood came. There were more stories, but I’ll just leave you with the fact that I advised V to never going hiking or drinking with S if he wanted to remain alive and intact.

As it grew darker, the stories decreased until we were quiet on the grass. Those moments when you can just be with people without worrying about the silence are great ones that often indicate emerging friendships. We remembered that a meteor shower happened recently and we wondered if we could see any residual shooting stars. While the sky was not very dark, I realized that I had yet to really look at it here in Aalen. Our hotel is in the center of the town where the brightness really prohibits gazing. In this yard, we could detect some constellations and stars, and indeed a few made their way across the sky as we watched. It will never stop being neat that we live on a planet, all the northern land of which shares this same “sky” (view of outer space, is really what it is.) As we walked home, V remembered our night drive through the Colorado mountains when the stars were in front of us. He never would have thought he would live in Colorado, and now he lives in Germany. I have experienced that feeling a number of times, that feeling that happens when I reflect on my circumstances and realize that I never imagined I’d wind up quite exactly where I am. How cool is that? And what does it mean for where we will wind up in the future?

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