Life is magical if you live it. If you look outside the box, move outside your comfort zone, question government, converse with people, and enjoy the beauty of the world. Through my life, I’ve always been one not to conform to the norm. Traveling was always something I enjoyed, and I’m one who embraces change. This set me apart from many people within the different circles of my life.
I’ve been given a different opportunity to live outside the box, outside the familiar, and continue to question people and things I experience. Opportunity presented itself with the simplicity of an American girl falling in love with a German boy. What is life if we don’t question or wonder? It helps us learn. Everywhere on the web, people are offended by something. Everyone wants to be heard, yet no one wants to listen.
I wrote a blog post about How to be German. It was regarding some of my experiences in Germany told with a few exaggerations. I received some backlash for it, but I’m not apologizing for it. It’s my life and my experiences. Americans are very much the same. If one questions government, or says something negative about the “American way”, one can hear the gasps followed by patriotic roars. But why shouldn’t we question or wonder? Laugh at our faults. Cheer for our successes. It’s healthy, and in no way makes us any less German, American, or any other race, religion, culture, etc. It makes us wiser.
On my blog, I will sometimes talk about my experiences living in another culture. It should be a given that my experiences don’t include all Germans or all Americans. They include my small sliver of the world in Chicago and those I meet in everyday life in Hattingen and travels. Here are a few observations and experiences as an American immigrant.
1. When I first came to Germany, I thought it was crazy that everything closes on Sundays. All shopping malls and grocery stores are closed. The only things we’ll find open in our area are bakeries, and they close around noon. People must do their shopping by Saturday evening or they’re out of luck until Monday. This seemed outrageous to me. In America, Christmas is the only time the majority of places close. I couldn’t even imagine not having stores open.
Now I love it. Sundays are so peaceful, and you see people spending time with each other. Not that they don’t other days, but on Sundays most are taking advantage of walks or bike rides around the neighborhood or the River Ruhr. It’s awesome to see. Instead of wandering through malls or grocery shopping, people are embracing family and friends.
It wasn’t until moving here that I realized and appreciated the peacefulness, being outside with nature. Growing up in Chicago, it seemed like the pace continued to pick up as I matured. If we slow it down a bit, maybe we’ll see a reduction in stress, depression and anxiety among other things. Shut off the phones and televisions, get outside with the family, and explore new places. Instead, we’re on the go, schedules stuffed with sports activities, and the beauty of the world around us ignored.
2. While shopping or enjoying the sites of Germany, I’ve encountered a little too many pushes than I have in the United States. Someone who needs to get past just pushes me out of the way, sticks their hand in my face, or maneuvers in front when queuing up in line (I’ve been stepped on, pushed and squeezed waiting in line for Ryanair flights). More people tend to push and then say, “Entschuldigung”, whereas in the U.S., they will say, “Excuse me” first. I usually keep to myself, spend almost all of my time with my husband, so it bothers me when someone touches me without first having the courtesy to ask me to let them through. Sure, there are rude people in the States, but I’ve come across a little more in Germany who lack social graces.
This is one instance of many where manners are tossed to the wayside. My father visited in October. We were at the grocery store, and he was talking to his friend about something. Apparently, he didn’t move up enough, so a woman took her cart and kept pushing it into my dad’s back. I didn’t know this until we were outside. If I had, I would have gotten in her face and told her off in English! I might be an immigrant, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to be impolite to my family or me. In the States, I’ve treated immigrants with respect.
3. Germany has many walking and bicycle paths. They’re great. Aside from Sundays, I see many people walking into town or riding their bikes, including my husband and me. When it’s decent out, we hop on ours. We’ll see either die-hard bikers or people past their 20s and some in their 70s. It is amazing how many of the older generations are fit.
Where I grew up, there weren’t many bike paths. I would have to drive to the forest preserves or a park. It just wasn’t convenient. There are more bikers in downtown Chicago then there are in the southern suburbs. Biking isn’t what it used to be when I was a child. Kids don’t play outside much anymore. They’re either too involved in sports activities, watching television, or playing a video game.
4. Learning a new language is difficult. I can now truly sympathize and understand how immigrants in the U.S. feel. When I moved here, it was a culture shock. I spent the first year becoming familiar with the culture and my surroundings. Over the years, I’ve signed up for German classes, sitting in a room with people from other countries. Total immersion is challenging, and it doesn’t help when you can’t ask a classmate a question.
The teachers who taught the classes spoke fast and expected us to catch on, sometimes letting us know they were pissed by yelling. I’ve come across a few Germans who commented on why I don’t know the language. One woman worked at the place where I got my German Visa. I wanted to say to her (my poor translation of German/English), “Ich lerne Deutsch aber es ist schwer. Ich verstehe kurze und langsame Sätze. Ihr Deutsch ist schlecht.” Translation: I am learning German but it is difficult. I understand short and slow sentences. Your German is bad. Of course, I didn’t say it because I get flustered and my mind seems to freeze when I have to talk German.
The thing, and something my husband (a teacher) gets aggravated about, is that Germans are required to take 6-years of English, yet many of them don’t understand the language. He’s also said that many Germans don’t speak proper German either.
My husband and I have had a few heated discussions with his parents, who have complained that I should have a better grasp of the language. This is coming from two people who have been living in Spain for the last 20 plus years, and they still have difficulties with Spanish and don’t know Catalan, which is spoken in their area.
Plus, I’ve come across a few people who assume I want them to speak English. I’ll try to figure out what they said and struggle to answer in German. When they hear my husband talking to me in English, they change to the few English words they know. I never expect or assume people in Germany should speak to me in English. I’m in their country; I need to learn the language. But if Germans want immigrants to learn the language, a little patience and help is much appreciated. Since the end of last year, I’ve been trying hard to keep up with Duolingo on a daily basis, and when I have questions, I’ll ask my husband. Right now, Duolingo shows that I’m 44% fluent in German.
Have you or do you live in a country you’re not a citizen of? Do you travel to other countries for the culture? Are your experiences positive or negative?
Cultures and Understanding,