My friend Charlie is that rare thing: a German friend who is even more, to put it bluntly, fucked-up than I am. Twelve years younger than me, twice as many abortions, last week her electricity got cut off and the TV Licence/GEZ people and/or Finanzamt are constantly locking her bank account due to various failures on her part which are mostly caused by her habit of not actually living in her actual apartment, but always spending months and months and months of her life, far, far away in Barcelona, Lisbon or maybe even, sometimes, Leipzig. This is my friend Charlie.
why did I ever move to this cold, hard country?
I meet up with Charlie for drinks in Mehringdamm, it’s the first time we’ve seen each other in about a year, and the first time I’ve been out in a month. My kid has been sick – SICK – I can’t even be bothered to go into it – and I’ve missed out on a lot of work, a lot of freelance performing gigs, and I haven’t had much contact with people either. Just me and my sick child, stuck at home, the flat always, always, stinking, slightly, faintly, of vomit and sage tea. It hasn’t exactly been the easiest of times, and I am looking forward to seeing Charlie and letting my hair down.
Charlie, though, has other ideas. I realize when we meet up that this is going to be one of those German get-togethers where your German friend just criticizes, quite strongly, your life, personality, and all your choices. You listen. Sometimes you try to defend yourself. Mostly you just nod, and think to yourself: God, why did I ever move to this cold, hard country?
“You have a victim mentality!” Charlie scolds me sternly.
“Do I?” I ask feebly. I feel like I don’t actually have THAT much of a victim mentality. I lost over 2000€ this month, due to my kid being sick, and I haven’t complained about it to anyone.
“You have such a victim mentality!” Charlie says. “You think everyone else has a better life than you! Admit it, Jacinta. You think everyone else has an easier life than you!”
Obviously I think people who live in Neukölln have an easier life than me
I do a face like Robert Di Nero in a romantic comedy, you know the face I mean. Bemused. I mean, I think a lot of people have easier lives than me, I am a single mother, freelance writer, who lives in Lichtenrade. “We all have the same twenty-four hours!” THE PERSON WHO MADE UP THIS SPRUCH DID NOT LIVE IN LICHTENRADE! On nights out, I have to either take a night bus, but like the loneliest, grimmest, bleakest night bus in Berlin, and if you accidentally fall asleep you end up in Brandenburg, or leave at 11.30? Obviously I think people who live in Neukölln have an easier life than me. But to be honest, I think most parents have it as hard as, or harder than me. Yeah money can be tight sometimes – this way of life is precarious – but I am still making it as a writer and on the days when Leo is well enough for kita, I can drop him off and then go and do the thing I love doing most in the world. Writing. Also my kids are really funny to hang out with and nice to look at.
“I’ve never met anyone with as big a victim mentality as you!” Charlie says bitchily. Then she tells me all about how her parents chucked her off of their health insurance because she’ll be turning thirty soon. I am a real NHS bitch, I actually think the NHS should become the IHS – the International Health Service – and take over the whole world. But surely, a German person would think Charlie is being the victimmy one right now? Wouldn’t they?
We slowly get drunker, and Charlie stops being quite so judgy.
“You just need to ask for help more!” Charlie says. “You think the whole world is against you, but actually everyone is on your side. Why don’t you ask for help more often?”
“Actually I need someone to pick Leo up from kita next Thursday,” I say. “They have a half-day and I’ve got a really important meeting.”
Charlie’s face turns to stone.
“Not from me,” she whispers frantically. “When I say you should ask for help more often, I don’t mean from ME!” She waves her arms about melodramatically. “I have my own problems. Next Thursday you say? That’s when I am getting my electricity reconnected!”
I nod and look at Charlie and feel my heart filling up with warm, gentle love. There isn’t really any other German person like her in the entire country. I think the people in Wir Kinder von Bahnhof Zoo were more organised than she is. I look down at my glass, slurp luxuriously on my ridiculously delish, garishly pink cocktail. Sometimes I think victim mentality quite simply doesn’t exist at all- it’s just the world trying to gaslight victims into blaming themselves for all their problems.