Witnessing the election as an American expat in Germany
In the months before the election, I lived in blissful ignorance in rural Germany. I couldn’t simply flip on the television to watch CNN or NBC for coverage. Instead, I briefly skimmed a few articles online and watched a few snippets from the presidential debates on YouTube. I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed, thankful that few friends were posting politically charged articles.
I watched shows on Netflix and iTunes and was glad to avoid political ads that touted Hillary’s promises to the tune of pop songs and, alternatively, labeled her a “crook” and a “nasty woman.” Long before November 8th, I knew whom I supported and didn’t need a commercial worth more than most American homes to help me decide.
Four weeks before the election, my husband and I grabbed empty chairs next to a French couple and elderly man (presumably either the husband or wife’s father) at a self-service bistro in a German amusement park. I raised the fork to my mouth to blow on a bite of steaming pumpkin-stuffed salmon. The woman next to me smiled and said, “Bon appetit.” I responded with a quick “merci” and started chewing. The couple began speaking to me in French, asking me about where we were from and if we’d been to the park before. I responded in broken phrases I remembered from college French.
Then, the elderly man interjected loudly in English, “So, what do you think of Trump for president?” And my apolitical bubble was burst.
I became trapped in a conversation about how Trump was an anomaly — surely he wouldn’t be elected. I was embarrassed that Trump — a crude businessman with zero political experience, zero plan to implement his promises, and zero respect for minorities — was a presidential candidate in my home country. Even more so, I was resentful. My salmon was now cold, and my stomach churned at the thought of a Trump victory.
Three weeks before the election, my husband and I attended a fellow American expat’s Halloween party. The theme was “Red Carpet Disaster,” and guests were required to dress as washed-up celebrities. My husband and I chose Trump and Hillary because we felt the election had turned into a shitty MTV reality show. As my husband straightened his red tie and I printed fake Gmail emails with “Classified” in the subject line, we replayed clips from the presidential debates, followed by SNL parodies. SNL’s sketches were eerily close to the real thing. We were a hit at the party as friends laughed nervously at our costumes, the thought of what might happen November 8th on their minds.
Election day, I drank a glass of wine and read to relax before falling asleep around 10 p.m. Central European Time, well before the polls closed in the States. The following morning, I hit snooze on my iPhone alarm a few times before unlocking the screen and looking at the news. The polls had just closed in Hawaii. I looked at the Electoral College map for several seconds before it registered — Trump had won. I got ready for work in silence.
Surrounded by fellow American expats, the mood at my office that morning was somber, as if someone had died. Though no one had died, something had died — our hope for a female president, our hope for the next four years. One friend had red, puffy eyes because she’d been up since 4 a.m. She cried before telling her young children that good things sometimes happen to bullies who don’t deserve them. Another friend’s son asked who Trump was, and she’d awkwardly responded that he was going to be the new president, in shock to be uttering the words.
On my walk to the parking lot at 5 p.m., I received a Facebook message from my brother in Texas. “I hope y’all still move back!” My husband and I had started the process to move back to the United States in the weeks before the election. I called my mom on my drive home and told her about the message. “Well, I certainly hope you are still coming home,” she said. “You can’t run away from things when they get tough. You have to face adversity to make change happen.”
In the weeks since the election, my husband and I have traveled in Germany, a number of Baltic countries, and Russia. Thankfully, we have not been asked about Trump, Hillary, or the election. My husband and I are waiting for official confirmation that we’ll be returning the United States after 7 years and 10 months overseas.
I am doing my best to be hopeful. I hope when I return to the United States it will — eventually — feel like home. I hope President-Elect Trump proves all the naysayers wrong because we need the next four years to be successful. Most of all, I hope the public realizes that we cannot rely on a president to make America great again — we, the people, have to fight to make our country a better place.