You live in Germany, you must speak German. Click.
That’s what PC heard when he called to inquire about a phantom fine some German company is asking him to pay. I’m used to hearing this type of statement used in the US, so it was a tad jarring/hilarious to hear it from the other side. The moment was so comically rude, there was nothing to do but laugh.
It cracks me up because it highlights a difference as well as a similarity between Germany and the US. First, the difference. In the US, even the nastiest customer service representative has never reprimanded me and hung up. I’m sure someone out there has some horror story. However, US customer service in restaurants, shops, businesses, etc. is FAR superior to what I’ve experienced here. Now the similarity: I guess our views on cultural integration are more closely aligned than I imagined…must look into German classes….
I’m finding myself increasingly observing Germans these days. Nothing creepy, it’s just fun attempting to figure out another nation’s culture and character. The side effect of these exercises in cultural stalking, is that I find myself turning the tables. I’ve recently been more curious about what it means to be an American. What is essential to our national character that makes us recognizable (besides the doofy running shoes that US tourists always seem to be sporting)?
With a population of 311,591,917, hearing others describe stereotypes about Americans often prompts laughter and rage in me. American diversity from coast to coast makes generalizations pretty tricky. However, I must concede that common threads assuredly exist. So…in that spirit, I read The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Although the book was written back in 2001 (over a decade ago Aaahh), I think it’s still relevant and resonant. The collection of essays explores the question of what makes us..well American. It also explores the dilemma of patriotism in a country with an equally inspiring and horrifying history. America is a country of revolution, equality, and prosperity. It is also a country of civil war, genocide and greed.
I am thoroughly proud to be an American. However, I’m also a realistic, informed one (perhaps I just like to think that). When I hear people speak about our founding fathers as if they were infallible deities I’m simply annoyed. While I am so thankful for what they accomplished, I’m not going to pretend as if they didn’t own hundreds of slaves, or a serious taste for French prostitutes.
Reading Sarah Vowell’s warm and witty book, was like a little hug reminding me that it’s plenty American to forgo jingoism for a more critical brand of patriotism.
Back to looking outward…
I’m gonna try to share some of my German cultural observations a bit more. If they are horribly incorrect, ridiculous or insulting I apologize in advance. Don’t worry, they’re not all negative.
I’ll even end on a positive German note:
I went on a run today to the castle grounds nearby. Yeah. A Castle. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I ran around a castle. I had to stop for a bit on account of being overwhelmed by what a spoiled, lucky little turd I am.