Jan 082012
 
I cannot overemphasize how much I love looking out a window and seeing this.

New Years Reflections

New Year is as good a time as any to reflect and evaluate where you are, and from whence you have come. Most folks, we are told,  need to do that from time to time- I suppose I might as well give it a shot!

We have been in Germany a bit over 7 months now- David a few weeks more. He and I were talking the other day about our experience so far and we both agreed that this has not at all been what we pictured in our minds before coming.  But,  it has been an incredibly valuable and mind-altering enterprise.  We simply didn’t know what we didn’t know.    

Things I Love and Things I Miss

Love- 

Sternsinger
DS with a New Year Bretzel
  • the practicality and unvarnished nature of German people, 
  • assumptions of responsibility–  stuff isn’t set up to protect you from yourself, or to protect others from your complete stupidity
  • feeling of trust– similarly, there is no expectation that people will do the wrong things.  People regularly leave items on the back of their bikes, just setting out in public places. And, they often leave bikes setting out in a public place, too.  Locks aren’t unheard of, but, there is a sense that they are just a smart precaution, not a necessity
  • a seemingly more healthy relationship with sex and the human body– Unlike in the US, most ads are not about sex. But, what sexuality there is doesn’t feel the need to hide.  Sex shops are just shops, like any other on Main Street.  Nudity is not especially featured or ignore, it is just mixed in. People in practical shoes mix with people in 5 inch stilettos, and from what I can tell, eyebrows aren’t raised at either. People on TV are not all supermodels.  In fact, some of the news presenters are downright unattractive.  I love that!
  • dogs in markets and restaurants, definitely cool
  • bretzeln, scheuffele, German Coffee,  non-frozen toaster waffles, and German butter
  • seeing older people on bikes, 
  • seeing disabled people commonly out and about
  • picturesque villages
  • orderly drivers,
  • good, easy, inexpensive healthcare
  • access to Europe (gonna take advantage of that more this year!)
  • buildings with solid construction and blast shields for all the windows.
  • old buildings are common… And by “old” I mean older than anything in North America not built by Pueblo tribes 
  • I also love having weather, seasons, and space around me
  • green trees, green hills, green fields, green mindset 
  • I love learning about the local culture and customs, exploring completely new places, and the ability to pick any direction and know that if I am feeling brave that day, there is something over there I have never seen or experienced before.
This year’s blessing.  It says 20 * C + M + B + 12

Heck, I love that sometimes I don’t even have to leave our front door to experience something completely new.  Case in point-  Friday was the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day.  I usually look up local holidays when I think of it, but this time I failed.  So, we were caught completely off guard when the door buzzer rang repeatedly and the group of colorfully attired kids shown above this section greeted us.  They launched into a song in German that I am told describes the role of the Magi in bringing gifts to Baby Jesus.  They are called the Sternsinger, or Star Singers and are organized jointly by local Lutheran and Catholic churches. Apparently we were supposed to given them goodies when they were done (like for Halloween)- but we didn’t know that.  We did applaud and put money in the jar they were carrying in support of hunger relief in Nicaragua.  Then they wrote a blessing above the door.  We had seen similar blessings around town, but never knew what they meant.  I had always thought they had something to do with a building code!

Miss- 

Bagels!
  • Well, people, of course!  Skype and email and facebook make it easier.  But, yeah, it is rough not being able to see the vast majority of our friends and family without a trans-continental flight and severe bout of Jet Lag!  
  • Convenience– Very little about Germany is convenient- and what little there is, we still aren’t sure we know how to access properly! I miss being able to hop in the car, drive to a store or mall, park for free, go in, find what I want and leave- no matter what day of the week it is.  I miss receiving a delivery without having to be present to sign for it- or, worse, having to drive down to the customs office 20 minutes away.  I miss never having to go to the bank because I could pay for everything with the ATM card.  And I miss having a refrigerator large enough that I could shop once a week and be pretty well stocked should a football team drop by!
  • That sense of Competence and Self-assuredness that comes from knowing your environment.  It is odd how many cultural assumptions go into day to day life.  Sure, we all may need to shop, eat, get to and from work and have a warm place to live.  But, the specifics about how to get all that accomplished varies wildly.  We have said many times before that it is hard to feel like a full-fledged adult while living here.  Honestly, these days I am feeling adult enough (downright old some days).  But, I definitely feel like an incompetent adult!  I suppose the up side to this is that you are pretty much forced to ‘get over yourself’.  Getting through the day is a legitimate accomplishment! 
  • FOODS– Donuts, Asian Food, Crab and, of course Bagels.  I can make these things, of course (except Crab which is just not available).  But, it is not quite the same as getting them at locations in the States.  In fact, I did brave the Bagel Making process this weekend to pretty good result, if I do say so myself (see above).  I brought my own diastatic and non-diastatic malt from the US for just such an occasion. 
  • Access to fruits and veggies out of season.  I guess they don’t ship things up from Africa here the way we do from South America in the States.  Produce is pretty rigidly seasonal.
  • Stop lights on the far side of the intersection.  This seems like a piddling complaint, but it can have serious consequences.  The signals here are all on the close end of intersections.  So, if you pull up to the line, you can’t see the light!  It is right above you, not in line of sight at all!  Some signals have a little mini-signal to help with this problem.  But, mostly, you just have to crane your neck a lot and hope you get it right.  Not fun. 
  • Pets.   

Not exactly a pet, but Charlie, our tiny Christmas Tree, had a growth spurt.
So, we moved him into his new digs.  Hopefully he will be happy here until next December!

    Things I miss less than I expected:

    • English Language TV.  Maybe it is just a time-issue, but I just don’t find many moments when I think “Now is a great time for the Boob Tube!”  Perhaps if we had a set in our bedroom.  But, typically there is no time to do much watching until the kids are in bed.  And, in this tiny apartment I always feel like I will keep them up even with super-low volume.  So, I mostly read and log on.  Sometimes I read the TV Without Pity synopses of shows I used to watch- just to keep slightly in the loop.  And, there are still shows I would like to see.  But, I figure I can catch them on DVD later- or Online if Germany ever lets me!  Lifestyle-wise it just doesn’t fit right now, and that is OK.
    • The News.  Ok, maybe this doesn’t surprise me too much.   I have gone through various phases of being rather a News Junkie- especially during elections and the like.  I would listen to the News Radio on every trip, watch wall-to-wall coverage of every Disaster or Trial, and check out multiple channels’ and papers’ coverage of even vaguely interesting stories.  But, I find that a quick glance at the international headlines, maybe a Front Page read of the LA Times and an infrequent dose of The Daily Show is about all I can tolerate right now!  I don’t miss the constant radio/TV coverage of every prurient tale they could dig up for each 24 hour news cycle.  If there are high-speed car chases anywhere nearby, I am blissfully unaware of them.  And any local celebs getting divorces are pretty much out of my viewing line on a day to day basis.  Honestly, my own life is just too full.  I don’t care to take on frustrations I can’t do anything about.  Seems rather healthy, really!
    • Convenience.  Ok, yeah, I miss it.  A lot, sometimes.  But, I also acknowledge that there is some value in walking more and driving less.  In having stores close at earlier times so that workers can be home with their families.  In having the same workers work the same hours each week instead of being forced to take rotating shifts to cover more hours.  In expecting people to take vacations.  In shopping more frequently to ensure a fresher supply of foods.  In carefully recycling.  In having higher standards for drivers.  And so on and so forth..  There is a different mindset that goes with the less-convenient set-up.  A slower, more reasoned pace.  It doesn’t always fit us, yet.  But I am growing to understand it a bit better.  At some point the refreshing practicality of it will fall into balance with the dauntingly-work-intensive aspects and I will let you know how I feel about the system as a whole.
    • A larger car.  Our Euro-Rabbit ‘Golf’ is tiny by American standards and would drive us nuts in the States.  But, here it is just right.  The roads are narrower and there are fewer large cars around to tower over you.  Most store-items are sold with the understanding that you will only be able to fit a certain size into your car.  So, it really isn’t so bad.  Plus, fuel efficiency is essential!
    • Less state-involved-Religion.  Ok, that comes out a bit stilted, but basically I am saying that I am surprised that living somewhere without a separation of Church and State doesn’t bother me more.  Most of Germany, we are told, is pretty secular.  But, we are in the equivalent of the Bible Belt of Germany.  Here, though, that seems to pose far less of a problem for us than it would if we were to be living in the Bible Belt of the US.  As a non-religious family, we had some apprehensions about DS having religion classes in school, for instance.  But, somehow it doesn’t feel as repressive here.  I think that is for two reasons.  First, it is easy to justify every bit of it as learning about a foreign culture.  But, more important is the fact that I haven’t really ever felt religiously pressured or disapproved of.  Sometimes people react with mild surprise when we say that we are neither Catholic nor Protestant. That is the question asked here, by the way, not “what religion are you” but “are you Catholic or Protestant”! But, unlike in the US, there doesn’t seem to be much judgement that goes along with that.  Perhaps Religion, like sex, is just more healthily accepted  Or, maybe after WWII they learned a lesson on tolerance.  Or, maybe they just mask well.  Whatever the case, the overt political overtones definitely are lacking.  We were talking with Tom, my PT, about this issue the other day.  As he put it, “It is like your politicians are expected to be perfect in the States.  Here, our last president had had 4 wives.  No one cared.  They said ‘ go ahead and have 4 wives if you want to, just do a good job for us!'”  I think we all agreed that since it is impossible to be perfect, perhaps it is better to just be good at your job and honest about your imperfections- or about the ways you are different from the people you serve.  I am going to need to have a few more conversations with people about religion to get a better idea about the views.  But, for now not having it be a glaring issue is good enough for me!

    Biggest Surprise:

    I think for me, the biggest surprise is that such a rigidly structured society can also feel so relaxed.  First off, Germany really is a structured society.  Germans seem to have a mindset that there is a time and place for everything and they stick to it.  No loud work on Sundays.  Food offerings are distinctly seasonal.  Don’t park here.  Keep this door closed.  Tonight at midnight you set off fireworks.  Next Friday you eat orange spice bread and give money to charity.  And, of course, paperwork is amazingly thorough for a non-litigious society!

    However, and it could just be my own ignorance, but I find that the people rarely seem stressed-out.  Folks are generally OK with waiting in lines, walking long distances, standing in the rain.  I have rarely heard anyone raise their voice- in anger or excitement!  Overall, people just seem to take it as it comes and prepare for what may be.  I don’t think that the stereotype of a German is “quiet, industrious, practical and tolerant” but, that is the German character we have encountered most.

    When people do get agitated, it seems often seems to be the result of their structure being challenged in some way- or worse, some unexpected way- and they dig in.  For example, the unpleasant lady at the Auslander Bureau who just kept repeating that “That is the Rule” when we asked her about language classes, or the snarly fish man who started to lose his composure when I couldn’t understand him.  But, overall folks seem to be pretty good-natured as they work through their daily dose of inconvenience.

    Other opinions:

    I asked David, and he said that the biggest surprise for him has been the smallness and lower-tech feeling of our area.  Perhaps it is just because we are in a smaller town.  But, even the nearby autobahn is only a few lanes wide.  And, many of the modern conveniences and higher-tech infrastructure things we took for granted in the US are just not present.  He does really like being employed, though!  And, the proliferation of bakeries is definitely a plus in his mind.

    DS has been shocked at how difficult German is and how different the food offerings are. He, too, misses bagels! DH pointed out that Germans may have lost most of their local bagel makers 75 years ago or so…..hmmm. DS was also surprised how long one could live without furniture. 😉  He finds himself liking the wide assortment of noodles, much of the food available in France, snow (of course!) and the fact that he gets to play soccer most days at school.

    DD is surprised at how difficult French is compared to German in her mind!  And, she finds her ‘crazy international school’ to be far different than any of the US schools she has attended.  She really loves the fact that there are trees and other non-dead plants.  And, she says she is just pleased not to be in Santa Clarita anymore.

    Latest Furniture Building Project- DS’s dresser.

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