One way I want to introduce myself when I meet someone for the first time is to explain that I come from Fort Worth but now live here in Germany. I do this for several reasons.
First, this is a fun way to start a conversation because almost everyone on the planet has heard about Texas. Another reason is that I want the Germans to know that, as a citizen of the United States, I respect their language and culture and I do my best to assimilate.
I am almost always praised for my German grammar and vocabulary, and that is, of course, pleasant to hear. But I also consider myself an ambassador, and that means leaving everyone I meet with a positive impression of the United States and, of course, my state in Texas.
In fact, I’ve never met anyone here who didn’t have a close relationship with Texas. I am always greeted with praise in our state, from comments about The Alamo and Davy Crockett to interesting phrases like “Houston, we have a problem” – the latter is far more entertaining when you hear it from a local German accent.
Many people I met were surprised to learn that Texas is actually more diverse than a colossal desert with a number of oil wells and an exponential rodeo arena.
When I describe the rolling Bukit Negara, east Texas swamps or the beautiful bay coastline, they are a bit surprised. Especially when I open a museum, gallery, restaurant and entertainment venue.
I also want to share with my friends here the number of counties, cities and cities with German names throughout the Lonestar State. It was a gentle reminder that they, too, through their ancestors, had a stake in resolving the Texas border. Naturally, this is the main source of pride.
One day, while standing in line at the local grocery store, a sweet little woman praised my face mask (being bright red, that also matches my clothes and socks). When I thanked him, he asked where my accent came from. I explained that I was a Texan, so maybe that’s why I didn’t sound like a local. And from there he lights up and I can tell from the corner of his eye that he has a radiant smile under his mask.
“Gosh! I love Texas!”
And that’s exactly what he said. In the most perfect English.
I thank him and ask if he has visited our great country. He didn’t, but he explained that he liked movies, television, and books about Texas and Texas in general. He calls Tommy Lee Jones, Chuck Norris and, wait … Bruce Willis. I smiled and told him that I did not know that Mr. Willis was from Texas. He then assured me that he was not a Texan. But he might too, because he is so strong and full of courage.
“Young man, he is from here. Bruce Willis was born in Idar-Oberstein! “
He later told me that his father was an American GI, that his mother was a German and that he spent his first two years on this planet here, in this city, a few streets on and on a mountain.
Finally it was my turn to pay for my groceries and I thank the woman for her time. When I return to the apartment, I can Google more about the story. He is actually the son of an American soldier who married a local girl and, indeed, Bruce Willis was born right here in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. I also found a news article reporting on the visit of the actor in 2005.
Apparently, he even appeared to the house where he lived as a toddler, both surprising and pleasing to the current owner.
They were happy to show it around his old home, and even commented on his efforts to express his gratitude in rather damaged German.
It doesn’t take many magic skills, but I can also find the real physical address and that means riding a bicycle across the city to see the actor’s birth house firsthand.
And, thanks to the fact that the house is located on the highest peak in a city surrounded by mountains, I can burn calories about a week in a short trip of 5 kilometers.
Because the weather is currently “warm” here, local residents in the neighborhood can often be found in their front yards tending to gardens and flower beds during the daytime.
The old Willis family road was no exception, so it created a bit of curiosity when a random cyclist wearing a Texas Christian University running shirt was parked in front of a house and took photos. I just said that I am a Texan and that I was there to see Bruce Willis’s childhood home, and then there was a collective smile directly on everyone’s faces.
In the end, this is more than a fandom exercise or celebration of famous and talented actors. In many ways this is a reminder of how small our world is, and our ever-decreasing number of degrees. I am quite happy to think that the sweet little German woman I met while standing in line actually equates Bruce Willis with a Texan because of the strength and courage of the character he plays. This is important because he told me this fully knowing he was born in Germany.
Diplomacy is much more than an ambassador appointed by the government and the implementation of foreign policy. It is a matter of being considerate and wise when meeting our neighbors abroad. Like trying to ask directions in the local language, or even opening the door for the person behind you. Sometimes it’s as simple as Bruce Willis quietly surprising people in the city where he was born with a quiet visit.
This is a recurring installment of a bi-monthly column about the experience of the American Expat in Europe. Christopher Combest and his wife, Gerri Lyn (née Webb), have a permanent home at The Retreat in Cleburne, as well as an apartment in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. In addition to his art and writing, Combest is an additional instructor at Southwestern Adventist University in Keene. He can be reached at [email protected].