Never have I been stared at in this way. A gaze piercing through my body as though the onlooker(s) are taking an attack on my being—but at the same time not having an ounce of care that I even exist. Never before have I felt this violated by someones eyes—It has given me a keen appreciation for what many women must feel on a more regular basis. As men stare at them, consuming the visual aesthetic of their bodies skin.
No, this isn’t the hormonic eye fucking transposed onto a woman by a man, this is different—but know that I’m not saying it is worse, simply different. I would never, and am not now, taking away from the feeling a women has in those hidden moments of harassment—But I do ask…Is it Cultural? Are we so easily observed as being American? Do we dress weird? Do we look a certain way? Are we in “The Truman Show” or some strange version of that reality?
This has been occurring since my arrival here, in Basel. People simply look at us, at me, at nicole. While walking past, their gaze is incredulous. While they cycle by, as if their tires are locked in a rail and steering is of no concern for their wellness, they stare. While we sit, calmly, as if this is a crime for which we are in blatant fault of, operating in the open air market of Kannenfeldpark park.
But these people, they have no idea who we are, from where we have come, or to what we are doing. And so what is it that transcends their gaze upon us with such negative confliction—this is the riddle of our lives (then again, there’s not a lot happening in life atm, so maybe this is just one of those strange things we come back to whenever we are out and about).
If it is cultural, then the people here, the Swiss, the German, the EU/EFTA nationals, they are lacking in the social niceties of personal space, personal respect. Or is it contrary to that, are we, as 3rd country nationals, Americans, are we so very socially private, respectful, kind?; to the extend that an irreversible, an un-reversible (?), gaze is something to which we have been trained not to do?
Americans are rare in this part of the world
These are some of our initial thoughts — our inclinations. You can’t know we aren’t local simply by pouring onto us your suppositions. no — you can’t! Can you?
Nicole took me to an artists book sale late one afternoon. back in the narrow streets of old town. We call it old town — i’m not sure how it is called. But it is the old part of the city, blocks off the Rhein. It wasn’t an artist so much as a professional book maker / designer duo. Internationally recognized and based in Basel. The man, who’s name I won’t mention simply due to his innate arrogance, he said we were rare in this part of the world. Specifically, “Americans are rare in this part of the world.” Is what he said to me. That struck us both as an odd annotation, an odd gesture? Was it a gesture? Or was he saying we don’t belong…because shortly after he also alluded to the fact that we don’t belong by telling us, quite directly that we don’t belong. Like I alluded, he wasn’t our favorite person.
Was he right? Is this true? Are Americans rare in Basel? I for one don’t see (hear) many Americans as we walk about the city and interact in this place that we now call home. This place where we grow individually and as a couple.
If and when I hear English spoken as a language, it is mostly with a non-native accent, or that of a British accent. British English. Seldom do I hear an American speaking. In fact, on my left hand I can count the times I have heard an American speak in these last 5 months of living here.
And so maybe this arrogant book designer was correct in his words—Maybe we, we Americans, are rare. Another odd conceptual later for which I am now directed upon to digest in the never ending quest to understand and digest who / what I am.
There is a creamy pink hue to the flat blue sky as I glance out the window for just a moment. It glows through the window, begging to be swam in. to be relished. But how does one relish the aesthetic of sky? How does one fully enjoy the emotions within the gradual change of kelvins? This crisp spring day masks the reality of winter. But only for a few more days.
But we do. Nicole and I — we speak perfect, crips, clear, fast … English. American English. East Coast English. New York City English. We are different from everyone and everything that surrounds us. If anything — we are simply trying to hide. Trying to dissolve into the background, to not be noticed. Who doesn’t want to simply fit in – to be accepted by ones peers?
As we walk, this english flows from our mouths with effortless grace. Something I have never previously observed, but now as I learn and struggle with the German language, I more readily feel what it is to have a mother tongue. I truly understand what it means for my tongue to be born into and live within the physical speech patterns of a given language.
And as we walk past others on the street, in the tram, or on the Bahn, people from this region can and do hear us — they can let their aural attention float into our lives, they can listen to the American English as it falls off our tongues and into the open air. The open air that is currently not so open, not so shared, as it is masked, we are masked, life is not ordinary. and Americans are not even allowed to travel here or anywhere in the world.
And so maybe they stare—maybe they are staring at two people who truly are rare. People who come from America–a country of global presence and global impact. A place that has defined nuanced cultural norms, like how music should sound or movies be made. A place that so much is known about, but seldom are its’ the people destined to live in this small European city.
Are we rare people here? Is there something intrinsically interesting about us to the local body of inhabitants? Do we simply feel these gazes because of our own insecurities? Do I stare the same way at people why i’m walking the streets in American and hear or see something to which I am no accustomed? Or do the Swiss just have an odd lack of respect for people and feel it is truly O.K. to dive into the depths of anothers’ presence through the beam of their eyes? I will keep wondering. We will keep wondering. I gather we will never, never actually know.