On our last night in Berlin together, I made a split second, last minute decision to find some late night dinner. Of course, I decided to look for food roughly 10 minutes before 11pm, which was when most restaurants closed business. One nearby Vietnamese restaurant I had visited a week or so earlier was still open, as in they brought all of their outdoor tables and chairs inside but one for customers whom seemed to be chatting.
I walked into the restaurant to confirm and asked, “(in Vietnamese) You’re closed, right?”
“Eh, we have stopped cooking already. We are about to close.”
“Actually… would you like to have dinner with us?” (while pointing to a table next to the counter holding bowls and dishes filled with rice, noodles, herbs, soup, and stir-fry.”
“Sounds great! The only thing is I am vegetarian, but this works.”
“Oh… then it is alright if you would like to sit at another table. We are going to make a veggie stir-fry for you then!”
(I think they thought that I was unwilling to sit at the same table as them because meat was served there, but this actually was not true.)
They brought out a large plate of the rice and veggie stir-fry, and then sat down at their table to eat. I took a deep breath and brought my plate over to them asking, “Can I sit closer to you all?” They quickly responded “Yes!” and promptly made space for me at the end of their table.
My Vietnamese is only proficient, but I would not have been able to communicate hardly or at all with the staff otherwise. They asked me about my major and my study abroad program, and I asked them what they studied/are studying. Unfortunately, none of them attended university in Germany as far as I knew.
I asked them, “…But university in Germany is typically free, no?”
“Yes, but only if you were born in Germany.”
So I rephrased my question to ask, “Which discipline would you study if you were able to attend school here?”
Of Huong, The, Thanh, and Hai, Huan told me that he loved cooking, singing, and liked business.
I also asked them about their experience with the Vietnam War, but they actually had no input to share because the older staff were living in Germany before the Vietnam War had begun. It then made sense to me, as I did not notice as much melancholy in their behaviors and conversing.
Near the end of the meal, Huan tells me, “Remember us. And let us know when you will return to Berlin so that we can eat together again and so we can make more vegetarian food for you!”
And although I was a foreigner to this country, I began to find home in it. The socially constructed territory dictated my feelings of being a foreigner status, but the people I have met have led me to recognize this place as home.