Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Home vs. Heim

The US vs. Germany (Bavaria)... obvious cultural differences

This is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but it's interesting for me to step back and look at the oddities that make each culture unique. These are a few things that continue to strike me about Bavaria.

In America you would never see someone on TV with bad skin, a unibrow, or that was sweating. Here people are allowed to be more human. I recall the first time I saw newscasters in Germany and it surprised me how unpolished they were. People are much more comfortable with their bodies here.

Germans also love anything that claims it helps the body and health. There are tons of thermal spas as well as entire communities devoted to calm and healthy living. Ironically, when we went to a thermal spa, there were people outside smoking - so much for that. 'Bio' (organic) food is also quite popular even with discount stores, such as the German chain Aldi, selling organic produce. People here like to believe they are healthy. Weekend activities often include hiking and going on walks - complete with walking sticks, which regularly can often be spotted in the city as well.

Today in my German class we had an entire lesson devoted to reading a letter written by the 'Hausmeister' (janitor) regarding what was appropriate and what was not. There are plenty signs designating when things are 'verboten' and neighbors will on occasion tack a message in front of the mail boxes if they believe someone is violating the rules. This anonymous passive aggressive behavior is quite normal. Even if you are a foreigner, you had better be one that follows the rules and understand them! Especially watch out for 'ruhetag' - Sunday's day of rest, when drilling, hammering, lawn mowing and generally anything causing noise are also 'verboten'. 

Here everything is sorted - forget throwing trash in one dumpster... there are separate receptacles for organic matter, glass (which is sorted by color), paper, and finally packaging. Even at fast food chains they have places to put trays where someone gets the glorious job of picking through the refuse and putting it in the proper place. The people here are very disciplined and expect everyone else to be as well.

There are receptacles for used clothing, although from what I am told even that is then sorted and they are picky about what they take. There is no good will type store - either you afford things or you don't. I believe the donated things go to some kind of Red Cross. In all fairness, people here don't buy as many clothes since they are expensive, so there is probably less of a 'that's so last season' approach in getting rid of things.

Helping one another
This is a matter that I am torn on. For instance, last week I was riding the S-Bahn and there was a children's group with a couple adults. Whenever I see these groups I wonder how they are able to take so many little ones on mass humanity transportation. The group was disembarking and I noticed two little children looking confused and I quickly hurried them off after the rest of the group.

Just as the doors were closing another woman noticed a child with the same visor sleeping. She scooped her up and we tried to rush her out, only it was too late. We rode up to the next stop and got off with this little girl who was in tears. I was holding her and trying to console her by asking what her name was and what she did today (obviously in German). We waited at the next stop and someone fortunately came to retrieve her. Instances like this people watch out for others. Typically people here don't speak to each other, yet there is less personal space, so perhaps that's the trade off.

During embarrassing situations there seem to be more gawkers. I really feel like people enjoy watching other people go through hard times. They must if they even have a word for it, 'schadenfreude' (pleasure derived from other's misfortunes). Examples of this would be: being 3 cents short for something and no one offers spare change - instead the cashier makes a scene... or getting on the bus at the last minute with cash to buy a ticket - only it takes coins and no one offers to help you so you have to get off despite having money to pay.

This is one of Germany's trademarks. Everything has a place and there is a job for everyone, although there is a caste system - you won't often find a German as the bathroom attendant or janitor. Everything from the Post office to the Kreisverwaltungsreferat (office for foreigners) follows this mode of getting things done. The strange part is that it doesn't seem readily regulated. If you go one day you will get a a different price for your letter or different answer regarding your visa. It's really strange to me.

In the US people are very strict about putting food in the refrigerator and not 'double dipping'. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not going to contract some kind of disease if things aren't refrigerated, but it's something that is difficult to adjust to. I still don't think I will ever grow accustomed to warm beverages and the lack of ice. I have to bag my own ice and store it in an already small freezer so I have enough for margaritas and other drinks.

I am all about the holidays here, which seem to be at least once a month. Many of them are religious (Catholic), but regardless of what religion you are everything is closed. It is nice to have time with family and have some downtime, however it also leads to avoiding the grocery at any and all costs.

What's amazing is that even if the grocery is closed for one day during the week, the night before the shelves will go bare and people act as though they must ration food. Then begins the fight to get in line and inevitably having someone with a large cart of groceries slide into line ahead of someone with only a few things. You can guess which one of those people I am. Another invention that hasn't made it to Germany is an express lane. I can do without stores being open 24 hours, 7 days a week, however the mad rush for one day is a bit much... especially when you only need eggs to bake a cake.

1 comment:

Lane said...

What an insightful post! I most identify with the bit about the newcasters, who look more like ordinary people than plastic ones! Also, the schadenfreude...I accidentally dropped a glass bottle of beer when in the grocery line. I was struggling with tons of stuff out of my tiny handbasket and it just slipped...NO ONE moved to help, ask if I was ok when glass shattered over my flip flopped foot and the cashier just SIGHED, rolled her eyes and stared at me. I was on the floor, gathering glass, so frustrated! And humiliated!