Thursday, May 15, 2008

language school culture clashes

Sometimes I have to remind myself that people coming to Germany bring bits of their own culture along with them - other times it's very blatant. One thing that I am continually surprised about here is how people aren't politically correct on many fronts - Germans included. I find myself feeling like I should pick my jaw up off of the floor after hearing the way people talk to one another or make assumptions (and voice them) about other people's home lands.

An example would be Alex, a classmate from the Ukraine. He's always seeking attention in what I perceive as an attempt to bring humor to the class, although he's not typically successful. Not only that, he's the character that likes to question the teacher to death and bring up obscure examples about how a carpet doesn't necessarily have to lay on the floor because if you roll it up it's also able to stand on the floor. I usually end up confused by most of the things he says so I try hard to ignore him. That's not always easy because he sits next to me every single day. No matter how I try to rearrange the chairs so that he's not thisclose he's always too close for my comfort, especially because he reeks of cigarette smoke. Today he showed me a provocative photo of his daughter on his cell phone, which was odd, although I could tell he was very proud. I had nothing better to ask than how old she was, to which he responded '19'.

This week he told a Japanese woman in the class he could speak Japanese and then he started making noises. We all looked at him like he was ridiculous and shook our heads. Fortunately body language can cross language barriers.

Some people are talkers even with language barriers. It's probably because we've all been thrown in together and share our new German life as a commonality, but there aren't many topics that are off limits. I realize we all want to know a bit about the faces we share our weekdays with, however I am surprised when I'm immediately asked not only how old I am and if I have children, but when I plan to have them. People get personal very quick.

Today the woman in my class from Iran was telling me all about her surgeries. She was told she would never have children after 4 surgeries and then she woke up sick one day and it took two months for her to figure out she was pregnant. She said since she's a Christian she attributes her daughter's birth to many prayers. She was very vocal that although she thinks I'm still young I should have a child next year so we can 'grow up together'. (She had her daughter at 36 and thinks people shouldn't have children after 30.)

I'm intrigued that she knows so little about my life but is already deciding that next year would be a good time for me based purely on my age. Being a bit of an idealist it would be great if life just happened, but many women spend so much time feeling in control of their fertility since the are able to avoid getting pregnant they believe it should be just as simple to get pregnant. The consensus among the women was it's really not that simple. It's interesting to see the unique perspectives - here I spend so much time thinking about everything and trying to make educated decisions to perfectly time things. I start feeling like I'm among the few that use logic and reasoning in my decision making.

I also find situations like this difficult because inevitably among the group is at least one woman who isn't able to have children, and I hate for the conversations to reiterate that. I'm accustomed to woman in the US taking fertility medications and going to drastic measures to conceive which doesn't seem as common here.

I'm so surprised that I am already halfway finished with this class. There will be more tales from language school coming soon.


JoernandAllison said...

Is your class sponsored by the government? It seems so different from my experiences! But I do find it amusing to learn about the different people in my classes.
I have heard enough American opinions on my having children this month alone to last me my life! So, I guess it all has to do with who you meet :)

Emily said...

Sorry I didn't reply sooner!... I think individuals in the class may be sponsored by the government, but I'm not completely sure. I guess I always thought it was due to the mix of cultures in Munich.

Hope you're enjoying still your time in the states.