Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't Tiptoe Around My Feelings Or Anything

Now that I'm about halfway through my experience here, I'm past my initial impressions of the country and beginning to feel fairly solid in my observations on Germany. There's definitely a lot of untrue stereotypes Germany's faces with. Its certain to me that Germany's history is the biggest influencing factor in their mindset on life. Such as in my country, patriotism beams even in the darkest of corners and many are oblivious to our unpopularity around the world. Here, they know what their history has done to their reputation. Unless your at the capital, you won't find a German flag displayed. They are taught every year the history of their countries wars and its ramifications. My cousin Fiona (from Germany) once told me, "We have to be careful, as to not draw attention to our country again".

But in a recent dinner conversation, an interesting point was brought up regarding American-German relations. America is in a war in the Middle East. Germany said from the very beginning that they will not join Americas "fight". For the current generation, they agree with this decision as its an unneeded war. But for the generation of our grandparents, those that lived through the war...well, their pretty furious. They attribute the fact that Germany is not currently under Russian occupation to the Americans helping them out in WWII. How could we not help them after all they did for us? They ask.

Now one thing most will hear about the Germans, along with a horde of absolute bullshit such as "everyone speaks English there", is that the Germans are both cold and blunt. Now this may be made as a joke in America, but its not here, and its no exaggeration. Germans are indeed not people who strike up conversations with strangers or who will flash you a friendly smile passing on the street. I think it puts it somewhat into perspective that German language has two forms of the word "you", one for friends and one for everyone else. This is how I would put it; Germans can tell you everything while telling you nothing at all. They just don't let you in. Added to this is a bluntness that during my first month here I thought didn't exist, but in fact I just couldn't understand what was being said to me. Now that I consider myself fluent, I've been SHOCKED by what Germans tell each other. I, personally, have been told things that would be considered completely rude in America. Take this conversation during a nice dinner with my host family:

Grandma: "Claire, how much do you weigh?" (keep in mind we are currently eating dinner)
Claire: "No idea"
Grandma: "Don't you weigh yourself when you go into the bathroom?"
Claire: "No. I don't think weights important if I feel healthy"
Grandma: "Well your definitely heavier than your sister."
Claire: "..."

Similarly, in school, grades are announced in front of the whole class, so everyone's aware of your success' and failures. I've heard teachers comment to the class on a students acne or been told by my French teacher that the American accent is the ugliest of them all. Even students say these things to each other. Take a girl in my class Jeanette who sat directly across from me and said this:

Jeanette: "I hate people who have a lot of piercings"
Claire: *Points to the total of 8 piercings on her ears*
Jeanette: "Yeah I know. I find them really ugly"

But this is the thing, Germany has given me a tougher skin. You realize that they don't say it out of unkindness or because they are trying to upset you. Then again, I also wouldn't say they say these things out of the kindness of their heart either. Instead, I like to think that this country simply lacks a verbal filter. They aren't mean people, but it takes a lot to crack open the hard shell. On the same page I love my schoolmates and family, but sometimes I would kill for a good smile beamed at me here in Germany (or as another exchange student once called it "The Land of Frowns")

Oh right, and on a totally non-important level, my host sister got a baby turtle as a surprise 18th birthday present. Cool gift...I guess? I can't decided whether its cute or ugly, nor is that distinction high on my list of priorities. Just thought I'd mention that mind blowing event in my household. I also featured a picture in this entry (despite the fact it holds no significance and I took it a month ago and its not even from my city) in a vain hope that perhaps the AFS blog will actually feature me as they only seem to feature blogs with pictures. HAPPY NOW AFS?!!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sisterhood and Friendship

As a little bit of background, in my life back home, I have three older brothers. My first host family I had an older brother, staying with the Neubauers I had 2 older brothers, and then BAM I got two sisters. I would have liked to have a picture of my face when I was told "Your new host family has two sisters". It must have been such a mix of confusion, surprise, and fear. " do...with...two sisters?". I don't know anything about being a sister, I thought. I'm used to older brothers. Protective, loving but not to the point they'd ever talk about it, calm. What would sisterhood bring after 16 years of brothers?

But the first day, we bonded instantly. We danced in the kitchen, we exchanged jokes, we put on our underpants over our clothes. I knew they were perfect. And it's been a couple months here with them, and I feel just as strongly. Although my sisters are similarly warm and inclusive, they both contribute two totally different things to the table. My older sister is mature, takes me to parties, lets me borrow her clothes and translate homework. My younger sister is silly, always up for a laugh and enjoys randomly turning to strangers and snorting like a pig in their face. Depending on my mood, I can hang out with a sister who fits it, if not both.

Moreover, I am gradually learning how to be a sister, which let me say, is quiet different and sometimes straining for me. It's a lot more emotional. I'm expected to sympathize as well as empathize and be a very good listener. It was strange at first to get used to my sisters showing up in my room at random times just to chat about boy problems or recent school drama (in which I have no clue who they're talking about but act like I do). Having my clothes and jewelry borrowed is now the norm, and hearing/getting into petty arguments at meals is also quite typical of this families sisterhood. Also changed is that I am now the middle child, a hard position which made me appreciate my brother Colin a lot more. It means I have to learn how to be an older sister, which is both difficult and rewarding all the same. I defend my younger sister when she's being picked on, and many times I've been her shoulder to cry on. I like it, its different, but in such a good way that I can't imagine ever not being placed in this family.

And now to school. Although I went through my schedule, I didn't get to share about the kids in my school. I have to start with this sentence---I LOVE MY SCHOOLMATES. Literally, they are the best and make me look forward to school. They are so real, and fun, and don't treat me like an exchange student. They realize I'm smart behind my sometimes crappy German (also known as: morning German), and correct my German in such a way that I know in my heart they just want to help me (as opposed to the jerks who correct your German only to make themselves feel smarter and give you a look like your the dirt of the earth). They realize by now that I do the same things they do, just in another country. Were all procrastinators, lazy, go on the computer, and hate school and French class. Now that I've been a few months in, I've started being invited out with school friends and am comfortable going up to any of them for questions. Its just...nice, and I wanted to share that. It's a very happy part of my life here, and I'm very lucky to have such a good school and home life (corny but I don't really give a...)

I'm hoping this entry slightly made up for my last one, in which I'm still not sure why I posted it. I figure perhaps I'll stop posting so often after this one. ALSO I've been thinking of how people who are on semester programs are going home this month, and I seriously can feel their sadness right now. I can't imagine going home now, or in the next month, its like everything's finally starting to click and it would devastate me to have to leave it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Is it raining in here?

Embarrassing Story of the Day:
Like any typical school day, I went home by bus. Unfortunately, what wasn't typical was the fact that my bus today was only one story as opposed to my usual double Decker. This caused a large amount of people to be squeezed into one small space, and for me to (of course) end up standing, as there were no seats left. Halfway through the ride, tired of smelling armpit being so close to strangers, I spotted an open seat. Yes! I thought. How totally inconspicuous that all these people are standing and they are leaving one seat open. Thereby I headed for the seat, sat down, and got a bulgy eyed look from the girl across from me. What? I thought. Until I felt the sensation of liquid on my pants. Then on my arms, then saw water on my book bag. I looked up just in time to see the heater on the top of the bus POUR water all over me to the amusement of the whole bus. Worst part was that I had no choice but to sit there for another 6 or so stops until my street. I performed the walk of shame getting off the bus, suffering the whole way from wet-ass-syndrome, worsened by the -4 degree weather. Happy Tuesday!

Well, hooray for the New Year! Mine was 6 hours before yours, which is particularly weird to think about. I celebrated in Koeln with two very good exchange student friends of mine as well as many other people at a house party. The night passed by fast, lots of drama and excitement, mistakes and things. A typical new years, which always seems to invite the unexpected. I have mixed feelings about the night, but wont give details. But I will be eternally grateful for Matt Knoth and Marios being there, who would make any night a very good one.

I don't have terribly much to say. Though I suppose I will admit that I feel like I didn't have a Christmas due to my lack of family. Although my Christmas with my host family was lovely, it makes one sad knowing your family back home is celebrating without you as you almost expect them to wait until you return. But the world doesn't stop while your away, one of life's hard realizations.

So I decided to just post pictures, as I put all my other ideas into another entry, in which I'm still pondering over, wondering if it came out right.