Sunday, December 20, 2009

To Be an American

Somehow when preparing to come to Germany, I failed to realize that people would look at me...well, as my country. It's hard to explain, but many times I feel simple questions I answer are taken as what my country does, and not individually what I prefer. This being said, I feel as if there is quiet a difference being an American exchange student as opposed to any other country (that came out sounding really egotistic). My country produces an enormous amount of media-from movies, to books, to news, to songs. We also speak the world language as our mother tongue. And here's where my confusion lies:

the people I've met have assumed that they already know my culture. What frustrates me is that the films you watch are exactly that : a story. They aren't fair representations of real life. We don't all live in NYC or LA, I don't own my own car, I don't wear designer clothes every day, I don't live in a mansion. I similarly don't personally know any celebrities. But here's where I am lacking. See, I obviously always want to share that that view of America is not the typical life of 95% of Americans, but then I'm always asked, "Then tell us what is typical American"...what? I'm caught. Because the thing is, there is absolutely no such thing, and it took me until getting here to realize it. We are all from different backgrounds, we have different ancestry, every state has a distinctly different mindset/culture. So how do I ever say what's typical? My outcome of this whole problem: I can't. It puts an awkward stamp on a conversation, when they are expecting me to clarify what my cultures really like, but now I realize I just have to answer that there's nothing typical. We are America. Every single one of us is different. It's just the way it is.

I've also had to come to the realization that the horrible stereotypes of my country are not going to go away by me being angry inside. Lets just say that it's not rare that someone full-out insults my country. When I'm angry, I think about the hypocrisy; that you insult everything my country does and yet you watch our films, listen to our music, read our books etc. etc. When I look at it calmly, I realize that I just have to be the best representation of America that I can be. Some of my most fulfilling moments here have been those when I have changed, even in a small amount, peoples view on Americans. Whether it be from my ability to speak German, the fact I'm not fat, or getting high grades in Math- these things have been ones where teens have gone, "Perhaps their different". I only hope that someday Americans don't have so many insulting stereotypes to beat.

In my time here, I've also managed to find out small insider things about Germany that I know I would never read in a textbook.

1. Army or Community Service? Every male, I believe once graduated from high school, has to either do a year in the army or a year of community service. This depends on what health your in. If there's anything hindering your ability in the army, you are given community service. Women don't have to do this. When I asked why, it was simply replied that "that's the way it is".

2. Teen Parents. During the days of the DDR, and I actually believe still, for every kid you have you were given 250 Euros a month. Great, takes care of the kid, right?! No. Instead, teens had kids so that they could drop out of school and not have to work. Then their kids did the same. This then became normal, at least in East Germany. To this day, kids have kids. Those kids are left to fend for themselves as their parents are too young to know what to do with them. When I still lived in Forst, we lived across the street from the town supermarket. The kids of young parents were always together outside of it, drinking alcohol, breaking bottles against our store window. Once, when walking into the supermarket, I saw a kid who looked no older than 8 smoking with his dad who looked College-aged. Though Germans in general seem to have kids younger (my host parents are about 45, my old host mom was 39), in the former East Germany it's sort of a big problem.

3. East Germany. Most assume that the two sides were re-united after the fall of the Berlin wall. Not so. There is a HUGE difference between east and west Germany, and I really mean huge. When taking the train out of Berlin, into East Germany, it looks like two different worlds. East Germany is gray. All the old, cracking, graffited DDR buildings with broken windows are still there, and gone unused. There's a gigantic amount of unemployment ( anytime I came home from school there would be tons of people shopping or hanging around on any given day). And also, the mindset is much different. It's always about "the good old days of the DDR". People threw parties themed on the DDR. And this confused me until I talked to a West German about it. This is what they told me, " You see, when the DDR was around, everyone had jobs, everyone had great education, everyone was taken care of, even if they were closed off. When the wall fell, they lost everything. They weren't able to get back up when they had been relying on the DDR giving them everything for so long" and that answer finally cleared it all up.

4. Drivers License. I hear these words every day. And there's a very good reason as to why. For one thing, a German teen has to wait until the age of 18 to get their drivers license. But more importantly, the cost of achieving this is absolutely outrageous, and they know it. Take for example, my older sister Linda who is almost 18. She has 2 hours of driving school twice a week, if not three times a week. Every set of 2 hours costs 85 Euros. You do this for a year...nough said.

5. Turkish Relations. When coming here, I had heard that the Germany-Turkey relationship was much the same as the America-Mexico relationship- aka the whole "we want them out so they stop taking our jobs" mentality. But I am lucky enough that I am in the capital, we have the largest Turkish population, at least a quarter of my school is Turkish. No one has any problem with them or expects them to leave. I have a feeling this is very different in other areas but Berlins open to anything. What I like best about the Turkish population here, is that I not only learn about the German culture, but the Turkish as well.

6. Arranged Marriage. Never thought I'd run into that in Germany, but indeed its here. Many days we talk about it in English class, about how another girl has been taken out of school and moved back to her home country to get married. It's mostly the girls from Turkey, but yeah, totally new concept for me. Lots of girls don't come back after Summer break, so I hear.

Just thought I'd actually share some of that with you. Let me know of any questions you might want answered!


  1. You know, you write very well: You make me blow milk out of my nose when you write something witty, yet entries like these really make you think.


  2. My German host mother theorized that women usually lose at least a year for each child they have, so the men having a mandatory year of service is only fair. I doubt that's the official position on the matter, but it was funny, anyway.

  3. Your thoughts are profound and very enlightening. You have a phenomenal command of the written word. It has been quite a gift to be able to share your journey and insights. Your blog has made me laugh and cry. Thank you for your honesty. We are blessed to have you represent our country, it can only be done one person at a time.

  4. It's really interesting for me to read your blog. I'm a foreign exchange student from Germany and for one year I live in Salt Lake City, UT. I love it!! But I don't really share your opinion that the part that once was East Germany is grey and all the people want the DDR back. I'm really grateful that I have my freedom now, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to come here. And there are a lot of beautiful parts in the east of Germany as well. Go to Dresden, that's a beautiful city. I live in that area and just love the countryside :) But you have a great blog. I' gonna keep reading it.

  5. Maxi, I agree. The whole East Germany is not bound to be my picture of it. But that´s unfortunately all I got to see, and the only mindset I recieved in my area. I have heard that Dresden is beautiful, and hope to go back and visit the city.