Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A single thread in a tapestry, though its color brightly shines, can never see its purpose in the pattern of the grand design

Before I start writing the actual portion of this post, I have a quick announcement. There is a competition for everyone who writes a blog about living in a foreign country. The point of the competition is to get the most votes. If you guys wanted to vote, here is a link to take you to the website.


You have to scroll down the list to the blog titled "Mikes Year in Germany". They are organized alphabetically so its about halfway down the page. 

On to the real part of this blog. I haven't done anything overly interesting lately. So this post is not going to be about what I have been up to but instead about the differences between Germany and the USA (and maybe a few other countries too). 

The way people get around in Germany is definitely a lot different than in the USA. Asides from the amazing public transportation (something that the USA is seriously lacking), the people walk and bike to get to their destination. Germans love biking and not just biking around the corner to pick up something from the store. They bike for miles and miles just because. My host brother biked to school everyday (even when we had like a foot of snow above a sheet of pure ice. I, on the other hand, took the bus everyday. For example, my family back home has 3 cars and my family here has 1. I think both of those are pretty normal in both countries. I know a lot of people back home with more than 2 cars. In Germany on the other hand, having two cars is the absolute most. I think that this system works well though. Things are much more spread out back home and we spend more time driving to and from the destination than they do. For the most part, everything in Germany is close enough to bike to. If it is not, then you just take the train/bus/tram and problem solved. In the USA, that is not the case. We have to drive about 45 minutes just to go to (and from) school everyday. My dad has to drive about an hour to get to work everyday. Clearly it wouldn't work with one car and all of us needing to get where we need to go. 

There is another big difference between our cultures; sex/nudity and violence (ok, that's two). In the USA, violence is not as big of a deal as it is here. On the other hand, we make a much bigger deal out of sex and nudity than they do. For example, think about how many of the games and movies that deal with war and violence. Most of the popular video games about shooting people or killing them in some other gruesome manner. They spare no details either. If things like that existed in Germany, there would probably be a riot. They do not display things of violent nature, they don't put so much graphic violence in the media etc. Sex/nudity on the other hand is pretty taboo in the USA. It is not talked about, our billboards are not plastered with naked women and the newspaper does not display naked women. The first day I got here, I walked out of the airport and was greeted by a billboard advertising shoes. There was no catchy jingle or slogan like in the USA, there was a just a naked woman in front of a white background with the caption "buy ?????? brand shoes". You would think they would have at least made her wear the shoes they were advertising. Not to mention the naked women in the newspaper a couple times a week or the fact that you go from the toddler movie section of the electronic store into the pornographic video section with absolutely no warning. Add the nude beaches/parks and I think it is safe to say that they view nudity very differently than we do. 

Germans are very blunt people. They tell it like it is. In the USA, when someone asks "does this look okay?", you automatically answer "yeah, you look fine". We say things more to avoid hurting their feelings. When someone here asks "does this look okay?" and it obviously doesn't, you would get more of a "No, you look like crap, go change" kind of answer. Don't misinterpret that though, they are not trying to be mean. They just want you to know how you really look and stop you from wearing it in public and embarrassing yourself. That's the thing about Germans, they want to help you and if that means telling it in a harsh way to open your eyes then so be it. 

On to probably one of the most common stereotypes we have of Germany; they are cold and ein bisschen unfriendly. I think for the most part, this stereotype is a little outdated. I think the older generation is a little cold and standoffish but the younger generation is just as friendly as anyone else. I think that that the older generations are more of the "I have lived my whole life without knowing you so clearly there is no need to get to know you." They still say hi and carry on small talk but it's nothing special. The younger generation is more welcoming and they are more likely to put in the effort to get to know you. You have to make the first move though. Once they know that you have at least some interest in getting to know them, then they start to get to know you. Before I left, all the returnees said this quote "Americans are like peaches. They are soft and easy to know but always have that hard-to-break pit deep inside them. Germans are like coconuts. They have that hard shell but once you get past that, they are soft and real friends. 

Another piece of returnee wisdom was about how much more freedom they got in Germany compared to the USA. Although it's true that Germany gives more freedom in regards to what we can do, I think overall I had more freedom back home. To my host family when you all read this, this is not me hinting that I need more freedom. I think in the USA, unless they need to drive you, parents are kind of kept in the dark about our plans. Not in the way that we are off doing sketchy things and not telling our parents. It's more like this.

*as we're putting on our shoes*

"see ya later mom, I am going out."
"with whom"
"when are you coming home"
"late, I'll text you when I know"
"well okay have fun"

Now here is how Germans let their parents know about their plans.

*about 3 days in advance*
"Can I go out on Saturday?"
"we will be here and here and then at 8 we are going here"
"with whom"
*list off everyone who may possibly be coming*
"when are you coming home"
" there are trains at 11:30 and 12:00. I think I am taking the earlier one. I will text you if it changes"
"okay, have fun"

Germans like to have things planned out and to follow these plans. We usually like to just see what happens and go from there. On a slightly related note, in Germany there is a specific way to do everything. Loading the dishwasher for example. The forks all go in the back right corner, spoons back right, knives in the front right and miscellaneous smaller silverware in the front left. That is only an example. Everything in Germany has structure. I am not saying it's a bad thing though. It makes things much easier once you get the hang of it.

 Another big cultural difference would be the way that the people look at drinking and smoking. For one thing, the drinking age is 16 but in all honesty, no one checks id. Another thing that took some getting used to is how nonchalant the parents are about their kids drinking. "The kids are all underage and drinking? 'ohh pff egal.' " In the USA, when you say "do you want to hang out", that could mean anything, video games, watching the game, playing a sport etc. In Germany, hanging out basically implies two things. Those two things would be either going to a bar and drinking or going to a shisha bar and smoking shisha. Smoking is something that is handled very differently here. A lot more people here smoke here, even the younger generation. The thing is that Marijuana is almost non-existent in Germany. It is illegal and the people leave it at that. More people here smoke normal cigarettes. Underage drinking and smoking back home are kind of treated very harshly. Parents usually take a very firm approach to it, that's not the case in Germany. 

Friendships in Germany work differently than they do in the USA. How many of you are still friends with your best friends from when you were 12? Well if you were German, there would be a large possibility that you would be. In German school, you are with the same 30 people from grade 4 through 12. Because of this constant bonding, they do not talk about each other when they are not around or break off into cliques. Talking about someone else when they are not around is big thing in Germany, it is not done.

Ok I thought I should wrap up this post with a bunch of other random little German cultural things. They do not eat with their hands. French fries, pizza etc are all eaten with utensils. I think that that is common all over Europe though. Another thing is that Germans wear the same outfits for days in a row. As far as they are concerned, clothes are not dirty after one day. They wear the same outfit until it is dirty. I like that system better. It makes it easier to get ready for school. 

Ok that's all for this one. I hope you learned something about Germany.

Remember to vote for my blog!

1 comment:

  1. Hey :) Ich habe deinen Blog zufällig bei dem Blog-Wettbewerb gesehen. Ich bin dort auch angemeldet, weil ich einen Schüleraustausch in Lettland mache.
    Es ist super interessant, wie du die Unterschiede zwischen Deutschen und Amerikanern beschreibst!

    Okay, I'm not sure how good you German is already, so I'll comment in english as well. I saw your blog on this blog competitions homepage. I participate there, too, because I'm a german girl spending my exchange year in lativa.
    It very intesting to read your description between the differences of Germans and Americans!

    Viele Grüße,