I knew this would happen inevitably, that I would have a lot to post during the beginning of my stay here, but since classes have picked up swing (we’re halfway through the Vorlesungszeit [labeled as such because there’s also a Vorlesungsfreie period that’s still technically part of the semester during which students don’t attend class and frantically finish term papers]) I am kept a lot more busy. I’ve also got more things going on outside of classes, so I’m sufficiently kept out of my room off the interwebs, which is probably a good thing.
Basically, there’s too many small things that have happened to note (and still keep your interest), but I have noticed on a larger scale that the more I’m here, the more I’m learning about people, not just Germans in particular. Coming to a new place means meeting new people, experiencing new things. It doesn’t matter whether it’s foreign or not. I think that When U.S. Americans move to another city, or even a new block, it’s also a “foreign” location that needs to be explored, and one’s place in it also needs to be found. The primary difference to another country is that culture and customs are expected to be different from what one already knows and there’s so much more to learn.
As far as saying that I’m learning more about people, let me explain. Basically, I have had many good and a few bad experiences here. For some reason, I attribute the good experiences to human nature, general good of people, and the bad experiences to being particularly German. that is, when something negative happens to me, I attribute it to being a victim of German atttitude rather than that just being part of the person’s nature.
I need to remind myself that all people are capable of being nice or mean, regardless of nationality…but still, I can’t help but wonder if being a little ornery is a northern German trait.
On the other hand, I recently had the pleasure of working at a charity bazaar put on by the German-American Women’s Club of Hamburg. This event was hosted to help raise money for various charity organizations, primarily those helping children. I met many very nice German men and women who had some kind of ties with the U.S., whether through school, work, and/or love. They were excited to meet me and the other U.S. student, and pleased when they found a willing audience for their experiences. But what struck me was how generous these ladies at the bazaar were. Never mind the fact that they put together many similar kinds of events to help raise money for the student exchange programs, meaning they work hard so that the other U.S. student and I have an inexpensive place to stay, a bicycle… Never mind the fact that they invite us to seasonal get-togethers and gift us generously, expecting nothing in return. What really amazed me what how they thanked us, sincerely, for helping out at the bazaar. It was a sacrifice of our time and efforts, true (selling raffle tickets can be exhausting ;)), but it was only a small way to repay what they do for us. And still, we were the ones who were thanked and gifted with antiques and wine bottles that had been donated for the event. I think the point is, we will never be able to repay the generosity of these ladies. Are all Germans extremely generous? Who knows, But these ladies are.
Yet, despite positive things one can say, there’s also the negative things. For example, Germans can be really rude about line waiting or insecurity. I was surprised today when I hurried into a local bakery to buy lunch for later (a very German thing to do), by the encounter I had with an older lady. It could have been a very different encounter with anyone else, but with her it was a bit, well, not positive.
Basically, I was in a hurry because I wanted to catch the S-Bahn to get to class on time. I didn’t want to cut anyone in line though, and I was also anxious to see everything that there was to offer behind the mile long display case. Sweet pastries were on one end and belegte Brote (sandwich rolls) were on the other. The problem was, the sandwiches were on the opposite end of where the lines were, and it’s never really clear, when there are three people behind the counter, if it’s a line that needs to be formed, or three. At any rate, this lady had just ordered and paid and I was standing by her to see what it was I wanted to do next. She turned to go, and I didn’t know what it was she wanted to do next, so there was this awkward dance thing where she moved slightly right and I moved slightly right to eventually get out of her way… at any rate, to make a long story short, the end of our exchange was “Da bildet sich die Schlange und da steht man sich an. So macht man das in Deutschland…” I felt demoralized in that instant, and all I could say was “ja, dann, entschuldigung.”
But looking back at it now, I realize that I shouldn’t take being treated like an imbecile personally. I think, for some people it goes along with the attitude that the youth have no manners. This attitude varies from person to person and I think I’ve experienced in in the U.S. before. It’s just that here I feel like people are generally more impatient and OCD about lines waiting for food or to pay for their food at the grocery store… so maybe the Germans are just always hungry?
I guess the bottom line is, I’m learning to look beyond my first impressions of Germans and make distinctions based on the individual circumstances. I am entering more intimate interactions with Germans that teach me more about them, and them also more about me. That is, I am helping the Germans I meet to make new observations about U.S. Americans and help distinguish what it means to be “American” for them too.
For example, there’s the idea that Americans are really nice. I know people find me nice, and in general, on first-time, interpersonal basis, I have found that Germans respond well to my partially, through my father, southern upbringing. Yet, I’ve seen how Germans think this niceness is superficial, and I have to spend some time convincing them otherwise. I find myself struggling in my second or third encounters with new people I meet, as if I’m an aspirin, sugar coated, but bitter as time goes on. I know I’m just as nice the second time as the first, and I know I am sincere in wanting these acquaintances to find it pleasant to be around me and want to undertake more things with me (hey, I’m a foreigner in a foreign country, I get lonely!), and if I find them nice, I’ll tell them so. But the Germans need a little more time for acquaintanceship to turn into friendship.
Okay, so I have to be a little more patient.
In response to the recent queries I’ve had about whether I have finally “arrived” in Hamburg, yes, I believe I have.
Here’s photos to prove it (?):