Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Situations you might find yourself in: Americans in Germany

Just an observation after a year of living here.

1. Someone, at some point, will probably ask you if you own a gun.
By someone I mean probably a stranger on the subway who hears you speaking English, and by at some point I mean all the time. Non-Americans (and lets be real here- even some Americans) are both disgusted and enticed by all the moral questions and death rates surrounding our Wild West style white knuckle grip on the 2nd amendment.

2. You will probably be entertained and mortified by  how inescapable all the worst dregs of American pop culture are here.
 I mean the same exact top 20s songs were playing in clubs/on tv here that were playing in the u.s. when I left. And there was a weird trend for a long time where all these adult germans were wearing letterman jackets. Also the gentrification of McDonalds, Burger King and Pizza Hut gets kind of hilarious... I mean most of them here are downright classy. And super expensive.

3. Some people might think you are stupid American. Please make us proud and prove them wrong.
I don't know how many geography or political pop quizzes I've gotten from acquaintances. We kind of get the reputation of being so caught up in upholding the image of our country that we never take time to properly educate ourselves about it, let alone learn beyond stereotype and fear-mongering of any other ones. This goes for only believing stereotypes from the get go. No all Germans don't celebrate Oktoberfest, it is a Southern Germany thing and in Munich (you should go though, it is really fun!). No all Germans are not 6 foot tall blondes (even though in Aachen I saw a crazy high Twilight zone level of extremely tall people). Also please for the love of god do not accuse a German person of being a Nazi just because they are German. Yes Neo-Nazis are alive & well but that doesn't mean everyone is one.

4. People are really into recycling here (which is great) but it will be a pain at first and then you'll get over it.
You have to pay for every single grocery bag you use here.10-25 euro cents each depending on how big/what store. So everyone brings their own bags (or old boxes?) to the grocery store. And IF you do have to buy a bag, the cashier will carefully look over the amount of groceries you bought and ask you to not buy more than the absolute necessary amount. As a 6 year old in the German class I help teach at said" If you use too much paper,we can't breathe." I guess that's what it comes down to. Also all plastic bottles have a 25 cent tax (Pfand) that you get backwhen you recycle the bottle at the grocery store. Timing grocery visits with back carrying & bottle carrying got tiring, but then routine with the added bonus of feeling awesome for recycling. I mean think of how many plastic bags you use in a year.

5. "Uh, excuse you." you say, as the person who nearly knocked you over keeps going like they don't give a damn.

(hint: it's because they don't. )

Ok. While I am not "from" Alabama or the south in the traditional sense... I have lived there for the past 11ish years. Meaning that I have gotten used to a certain level of physical and social politeness. Cultural expectations. If I am bumped into, I expect an I'm sorry. If I knock into someone or even brush up against them to much, I say the same. If I am trying to get past someone, I say excuse me and more often than not doors are opened. Now my German friends have told me how sad the "Germans are rude" stereotype is. But the fact is we all have different definitions of what rude are, and you have to redefine that while living in Germany or you will get extremely bitter. Just like when I lived in Brazil and I had to redefine what personal space means. Traveling is a constant reminder of where you came from. Also, this rule is not only for on feet... I have almost been ran over by people on bikes (both in & out of the bike line.pro tip: stay the heck out of the red part of the sidewalk, bitte.) and sometimes this is accompanied by a warning bell if they are feeling friendly. And this closed off-ness from displays of superficial and expected politeness (or common courtesy as we so polyannaishly call it back home) extends to definitions of friendship as well. In German the word for friend is reserved for people you are close to and know very well and is a serious thing while the word for acquaintance is thrown around more freely. This kind of honesty and lack of putting on expected friendliness can be refreshing...if you stay away from that getting bitter thing I talked about earlier.

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