Down the rabbit hole
I remembered what the elderly HR manager said in English when I first arrived a year before. “As long as you keep yourself to where you belong, you will be fine.” He said this in a sanguine tone with a guileless smile on his face, so I wondered if something was lost in translation or he was unapologetically xenophobic. But after observing my German colleagues for over a year, I came to understand they were highly territorial. Other than the famous “it’s not in the system,” their typical rhetoric included, “that is not my job/responsibility.” The English translation was brusque, but perhaps it was not so in German. My colleagues did get their job done efficiently and were paid for that, not for being friendly and helpful. Over the years working in Europe, I developed this Germanic attitude professionally and found it incredibly effective in getting the job done and gaining respect from colleagues.
But being in Europe just a year and being so emotionally vulnerable at the time, I catastrophized the situation and recalled the old man’s word verbatim. I blamed myself for not keeping to my place. Had I focused on honing skills instead of making a boyfriend, had I always kept my head down instead of butting heads with others, or had I just been pliant, obedient, or even invisible, I would have maneuvered the office politics better and succeeded in my job. The self-shaming voice was so overpowering that I began only to hear other voices that confirmed my wretchedness.