I must confess we did celebrate Thanksgiving. The Fulbright people invited the illustrious American grant recipients in Berlin and their spouses to a Thanksgiving potluck on Tuesday. We arrived punctually at 5:30, and the event began, in accordance with my new understanding of German punctuality, at 6:30 on the dot. We heard congratulatory speeches from the German directors of the Fulbright, the DAAD (Aaron’s grant), and the Humboldt (the schmanciest grant for post-docs in Germany). Finally we arrived at the moment we’d been waiting for: the address by the American Ambassador to Germany, Philip Murphy. I count the next 45 minutes as among the most uncomfortable of my tenure as an American in Germany. The speech inspired the sensation I always get while watching someone perform who may at any moment crash and burn. Instead of the glib speech I expected, poor Ambassador Murphy floundered and hemmed and uttered several George Bush-worthy gaffs. He started off trying to speak a few words of German, only too reveal that he knows hardly a word. A few minutes later, I had just thought to myself, “Well, at least his wife isn’t here to see himself flub up like this,” when he doubled back on himself to, “by the way,” introduce her in the audience. For a taste of the cringe-inducing experience, see the clip provided by the embassy here:
(You can even see a slice of Aaron’s head in the audience shot at around 2:50.)
Now I know who is representing our interests with Germany. He’s been here since Obama appointed him in August. I can only conclude that we feel pretty secure in our relations with this country and don’t need a masterful ambassador.
We grantees and families did not represent ourselves well either. At that American institution, the pot luck, we failed miserably. Only about four people bothered to bring a dish. Not even I pulled anything together, as I had been out all afternoon at the Turkish market with the Australian girl in my German class. So, we had the turkey, potatoes, and squashy dessert provided by the grant organizations, and nothing else. It was a tantalizing reminder of the joys of Thanksgiving, just enough to get our hopes up, only to have them smashed into a vat of industrial gravy.
While the experience was disappointing, writing this blog post reminds me that I am thankful for my right to free speech. I only risk hurting the feelings of Ambassador Murphy, who, I hope, is doing a better job over here than I give him credit for.