Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The imposition of cultural beliefs OR Scary Spicy German Air

Americans with German ancestry so often like to think that we are soo much like Germans, but I’m here to tell you that we really aren’t that similar.  There is a big debate in academic circles about the false homogenization of “the West” and “Western” ideas that put American and Western European ideas and basic assumptions into one category.  Part of my time here will most definitely be spent thinking about and researching these differences.  To start off the discussion, I submit 3 very benign observations for your consideration.

1.      Too scary
We have an annual pass to Legoland here in Berlin.  It is a very awesome place to take the girls to play on these cold days, and Andy has been several times with the girls.  The last time he was there, he wanted to let Annika go on a ride that they have by herself because Mayzie was too small to do it.   The attendant for the ride would not let her do it alone, claiming that it was “too scary” for her.  Obviously this person has never spent time with our fearless little monster daughter who happily scares the crap out of us with her bravery!  The assumption behind this was quite a different flavor than the one that we might encounter at home.  At home the attendant might warn us that it is really scary, but they would never forbid us from letting her try it alone if we deemed it appropriate and ok for her to do.  This attendant forbade Annika to even try doing it.  This relates directly to…
2.      Too spicy
Andy ordered some lunch for the girls at the Zoo cafeteria, and the cashier wanted him to explain who was getting which thing.  When he told her that the pizza with salami was for Mayzie, she said, “Oh no no, that’s too spicy for her.”  She didn’t want to even give it to him and he had to insist several times before she relinquished it.  Mayzie, like the good girl she is, defied this lady and ate every last speck of that pizza.  What I find really funny about this is the fact that this is a place where we purchase “hot” salsa only to discover that it tastes barely medium spicy to us.  The Extra Scharf (spicy) anything is usually a disappointment to our very American palettes, especially Andy who LOVES him some spicy food.  Again though, the anthropologist in me has to report that the sentiment and assumption behind this well-intentioned cultural regulation is much different than at home, in the same way that #1 is.  In both situations these people were shoving their cultural beliefs on us in a very big brother “we know best” way.  I’m still trying to decide if they would treat everyone that way, or if it was at least partially because we are foreigners.  Hmmm… 
3.      Fresh air
Last but not least, I leave you with the German LOVE of fresh air.  (Not to be confused with the Swiss fear of drafts!)  Germans think that fresh air can and does cure many many things.  It is now winter and all Germans will open their windows at least once a day to let fresh air into the house.  German mothers everywhere will dutifully take their babies out for a stroll wrapped in 8 layers of clothing to make sure that they get their daily fresh air.  (They are very fearful that your kid will get cold and happy to scold us silly Americans when they can see any bit of flesh protruding from above the socks of on top of the heads of our dear little ones.)  Doctors all over Germany will prescribe fresh air for depressed patients, and even will send some to North Sea resort islands to get some real healing fresh air.  I am not making this up!  I sincerely love the “frische Luft” culture, except that it goes against the oh so tightwad American part of me that sees dollar signs flying out the window every time we open it up during the winter. 

Say it with me now, “Oh Germany!” 


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