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."
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?!!