You Say Potato, I Say…Zulassungsbescheinigung

We get a lot of comments from people about how lucky we are to live where we do, how exotic our lives must be, and one question we get asked all.the.time:

What’s it like living in a foreign country?? 

 Let me tell you a story…

Today, I needed to run some errands. I needed a winter coat – like, a real winter coat, not the cute little cotton thing I had last winter – and I needed to get some things checked out on the car. In case you didn’t know, it snows in Austria. I mean, the Alps? Hullooo! So, it would stand to reason that on occasion, one needs to drive on said snow (and ice) during the winter months. (It’s also totally the law that every car be fitted with winter tires from October to April).

I’d like to share with you the conversation I had with the man at the tire shop about getting an estimate on winter tires. This entire conversation happened in German, so I have provided the translated version here for your enjoyment.

Me: Hello, I would like to get an estimate on winter tires and wheels, please.

Tire Man (TM): Of course! Do you have a Zulassungsbescheinigung for me?

Me: … I’m sorry, what was that?

TM: No problem. Do you have a Zulassungsbescheinigung for me?

Me: I’m very sorry, I don’t know what that is.

TM: *chuckle* Oh, right. It’s a Zulassungsbescheinigung.

Me: But…what is that?

TM: It’s a Zulassungsbescheinigung.

Me: I’m sorry, I am new to Austria and I don’t know what a zu… zus…what a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is.

TM: Oh, haha, of course. It is a Zulassungsbescheinigung.

Me: *blank stare*

TM: *blank stare*

Me: …

TM: …

You Say Potato...

Eventually I did find the Zulassungsbescheinigung…at home, in a file.

Me: Could you maybe write it down for me?

TM: *reaches into a drawer and pulls out what looks like a European driver’s license*

Me: Oh!! *pulls out my European driver’s license* This??

TM: Exactly!! Oh…no. This is a driver’s license. You need a Zulassungsbescheinigung.

Me: *headdesk*

The End.

You may think I embellished this story for humor’s sake, I assure you I did not. (okay, I didn’t actually say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but whatever word protruded from my lips was just as nonsensical, I assure you.)

If fairness to Mr. Tireman, he probably felt that he was in fact giving me an accurate description of the item, because that’s how German works. All those big, long words German is so famous for? They are a bunch of smaller words jammed together so that it very accurately and in great detail describes the item, location or office/department to which it refers. Zulassungsbescheinigung probably means “little card containing all the pertinent information pertaining to your car ever in the history of man”, because that’s what it is. And, as I learned today, any time you need work or inspections done on your car, you must present this.

Later this afternoon, I went to a second tire shop for another estimate. When TM2 asked me for my Zulassungsbescheinigung, I grinned slyly to let him know I’m hip to the code and whipped out my supercalifragilisticexpialidocious before he could even finish saying the word. Booyah.

Yes, living in Vienna (or any European place) has its amazing highlights. Just the other day, I was buying paper towels and coffee in the shadow of the world-renowned Stefansdom Catherdral. I mean, wow. So many times we stop in the middle of our day and just look around and take it in because we – how do the kids say it these days? –  just can’t even. Sometimes we literally can’t even.

However, most days…this my friends – this conversation right here – is what it’s like to live in a foreign country.

In A Courtyard of Stone

We enter the empty courtyard on a brisk Sunday morning. The sky, a cloudless azure, is a stark and beautiful backdrop to the towering stone spires and turrets hovering above.

We are stopped in our tracks by the beauty. The stature. The solitude. The silence.

We stood there for an eternity – though really only a moment or two – and took it all in. A lone bench stood sentry between two bare trees. The monastery sandwiched between some classical architecture of which I do not know the name; I only appreciate the beauty.

These buildings, standing longer than my mind can engulf, represent my new home. Beauty. Strength. A deep and rich history – one of which I have barely begun to scratch the surface.

I stand before these structures and all I can do is stare. In awe. My balance waivers at the weight of the emotional and historical atmosphere. Or is that just the cobblestones beneath my feet? Or is it the jet lag? Or brain fog?

Everything is the same color. The same taupe-ish white covers the walls, the spires, the cobbles below. It is stunning. It is imposing.

It is the perfect mirror for the culture surrounding me. So beautiful and intricate and delicate and strong it all looks the same. At first glance. Yet the more I look, the more I learn, the more details emerge. The distinctions that once made it all look exactly the same are now the things that set one thing so distinctly apart from another.

My internal wandering and monologue is interrupted when something catches my eye.

A balloon, as orange as the day is long, bops and swoops on the breeze around the floor of the plaza. It makes no noise. No squealing child chases after it. It dances and sways this way and that. Its bright color and chaotic activity stand in stark contrast to the quiet and stoic setting.

I feel like that balloon.

Standing out, sticking out, no matter how much I try to blend. I just want to fit in; blend in. To know all those unwritten rules everyone else just follows without even knowing it.

Even in those moments in which I exhibit the perfect behavior, my very appearance gives me away. I’m simply an orange balloon in a courtyard of white stone.

And yet, there is something I enjoy about the chaotic blowing of the cultural breeze…of being swept about and dancing around the social cues and unwritten nuances of a city alive with a thousand nations, countless languages, running on the heels of a millennium of history.

One day, and I probably won’t even notice it happen, I will cease to be the orange balloon and will have emerged from my cultural cocoon some creature closer to what is native to this land. I won’t have to think about every step, every word, every road, every turn. Life will just be life, with it’s routines and friends and jobs and laughs.

I hope, though, not to lose some of the sheer awe and delight found in these early days in a new place. I am treasuring the newness; the discovery; the excitement. I will never experience these particular firsts again.

So, while I look forward to the day when I seem to belong in this courtyard, I know it is ok to be a little bit orange for awhile.