Blogging about Culture

There have been a few posts on blogs about culture and differences the past day or so.  One of my favorites American in Norway had a post regarding her son playing with an Iraqi friend.  A brand new read to me, Mommy Gossip posted a thought provoking entry from her journal.  It was about how to teach our children culture.

That is the amazing thing.  Teaching children culture.  How do you accomplish something like that, especially when they are young?  We have been living in another culture since my son was 4, so by the time we leave in 18 months he will have lived in America, the country he was born in, just as long as he has lived here in Germany.  I know our experience is not entirely the same as some people.  We have an english speaking international school, we belong to a large english and American community of expats here, my Hubby’s office is english speaking based.  How much do we really integrate with the Germans who make up this country?  
The truthful answer is probably not that much.  While some have had other experiences than mine (and I can only comment on my experiences here) I don’t find myself integrated into the German culture.  I may shop in their stores, observe their holidays and listen to their language but I am still very much American.  I made the choice not to go further in learning the language other than basic, basic communication.  I can gladly tell you that is a cow, house, bike, pencil; decipher a menu, tell you which gas pump I am paying for and general polite exchanges that involve few words.  This was my choice to not learn more and maybe I will regret that someday.  The German language is so complex to me and there was just a bit going on when  we moved here (umm, like an international adoption from Taiwan) that I never took the time to try.  Those are excuses of course.  I have consciously made the choice not to integrate further into the culture and the people.  I have honestly found trying to do so very hard and met with resistance.  I simply tell myself  ‘It’s the way it is here’ and try to accept it.
This is my take on life here and yours may be very different.  I spent almost 18 months trying to get a German woman I passed on my nearly everyday walk to my son’s school to return my friendly smile.  I failed.  Never once did she smile back.  That is definitely a moment that sticks out from this entire experience in Germany.  In general, Germans seem to be far more reserved, less open, less ready to make friends with outsiders.  I suppose given the history of the country, and having traveled last year to Berlin, having seen the wall, seen the markers in the pavement where it used to divide the country, having seen the memorials to the Jewish people who died; it’s completely overwhelming and understandable.  It really makes you stop.  And think.  And just imagine what it would have been like to be told you can never go over that wall to see the people you used to call friends.  I’ve posted about that before here.  I think Germans see what happened as a blight on their country and maybe they are in part right; but it is also an opportunity to learn – for everyone – to be sure something like that doesn’t happen again.
Children soak up culture in everyday interactions.  My son has German, Brazilian, Chinese and Indian friends at school.  It is one of the wonderful benefits of an international community.  We all mix together and I hope it has taught him differences in culture and appearances don’t have to be bad.  They are good and important and we all need to see differences as positives, not negatives.  My son has a Taiwanese sister.  She is part of our family and we hope we can try to bring some of the wonderful culture she was born into as part of our regular life.  If we were to ever adopt again I’d like to adopt from another country (or maybe again from Taiwan), not solely because it would make my family even more multi-cultural but it would be one of the  benefits to my children.  
Aren’t we all multi-cultural though?  My Hubby’s family has roots in Russia, Hungary and Ireland.  Roots not so far in the past.  My family has roots in Scotland, Canada and Ireland.  Again, not so far past as my Great-Grandparents emigrated from Scotland.  I want to combine all these wonderful cultures that make up my family history and include them in our lives.  So my children can learn.  Differences are good things.
My post strayed a bit from my original intent about teaching culture. But maybe not too much.  What I hope is that my children will not walk away with the impressions of this country I have gotten.  I hope they have formed positive experiences and ideas about this country they currently call home.

8 thoughts on “Blogging about Culture

  1. When I first arrived in Germany, I expected to be there for 3 years or so. My friends were all English or American, I made a point of listening to the BBC, etc…Now that I have been here over 20 years my perspective has changed!But one major difference to your experience was that I had to cope with German at work– not an easy task as I had no background in it. I did speak French but that didn’t help at all! My progress in the language was probably forced along because I had to converse in German every day and soon I was also teaching music lessons to kids on the side– this helped my fluency but did not improve my grammar (to this day I am fluent but flagrantly ungrammatical).Your story of trying to get a smile out of someone walking past is informative! The Germans don’t react to a smile as much as to a verbal cue (you should have tried a gutentag). But I must say, the difference for me between American and here is that although friendships are slower to develop, they tend to be deeper and once you are friends with someone the relationship is expected to last for life.

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  2. The hardest part for me is trying NOT to smile for fear it will be misinterpreted. It is so hard as an American not to make eye contact and flash some teeth! The other day a taxi honked (it’s not appreciative here, it’s more like a scolding that I’m not all covered up) and I smiled and waved. It was automatic. Like you, I’m hoping my kids will transcend cultural barriers by their experience of living here.

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  3. I enjoyed this post Andrea. I don’t think it was rambling at all. I’m sorry you’ve had some tough experiences here. I know many expats echo similar feelings. For some reason, maybe because of where I live or the fact that I ended up with a fantastic landlord who became a close friend, I have had a remarkable 10 months in Germany, feel somewhat assimilated, and already consider it home albeit temporary.Looking forward to meeting you in person in a few short weeks!

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  4. Oh sister…I HEAR you! I can not tell you the times I have said Hello or smiled only to get a “what a freak” look back… kinda makes you want to crawl into the corner.Just remember not all Germans are like that…just as not all Norwegians are rude… I will tell you to get involved with an American's womens group… often they have German ladies who are members as well. I really hope you make ONE good German friend before you leave.. I lived in Germany for 2 years & still have Germans I consider dear dear friends… 20 years later… (makes me sound old doesn't it?)Thank you for the shout out! wait to everyone sees what I posted today..oops!Off to make some more Norwegian friends… (back to school night… & not wanting to go… but alas, I must)

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  5. You know before this post, I had gotten the impression that you weren’t exactly thrilled to be in Germany. I hope that in the next 18 months before you leave that you do meet some Germans that you can become friends with and your last months in the country can be a little more comfortable and fun…A little Polly Anna-ish of me isn’t it?!

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  6. Amen And Amen! Wonderful thoughts here Andrea. I think that we strive way to much to “teach” what should be desired first and foremost. I once told someone that I am Indian but I don’t rain dance to prove it or to make sure I am “intouch” with my Indian culture and I am Yugoslavic, but I don’t eat patwitza everynight for desert because I want to feel “connected” to my slavic blood lines..lol.. I love our families lineage and now we will include Dh’s German backing, and Jer’s Japanese backing, and Jo’s Hakka backing. WE ARE MIXED UP OVER HERE! We are first and foremost AMERICAN! Red white and blue nutty MUTTS!

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  7. So sorry, Andrea, you made bad experiences with the people here in Germany. The lady not reacting at your smile must be some weirdo, I surely would have (as most of the people I know) and I am German also living in NRW. I read your blog from time to time, because we too adopted a little girl from Taiwan (through Cathwel) in 2006/07. If you would like to email me (and ask questions about odd German behaviour, LOL) please feel free to do so. Wish I could change your view onto Germany a little bit!Michaela (I have no blog, only email mikalu2007@yahoo.de)

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  8. What an interesting post! I love discussions on culture & culture shock (which I think you are experiencing a little right now). Does it help you to know that we Austrians have a hard time getting adjusted to German mentality as well? (grin). And that even though we speak the same language. OK, so I probably shouldn't generalize – not all Germans are like that, of course. I have quite a few German friends who are really very nice people (and they WOULD smile back at you). And yes, knowing the language would make a big difference in getting closer to understanding what goes on in “the German mind”, but I also understand (and respect) your decision not to. But generally … I know what you mean. It does seem as though Germans (and Austrians) don't like to smile as much at strangers as Americans. And think of the other way around too: when I was in the US for the first time, I got freaked out by all that friendliness over there (everyone's smiling, oh my! What DOES that waitress want from me by grinning at me insanely all the time?!?) 😉 Also, some of us tend to think that the friendliness isn't real, it isn't honest. Better to be honest and grumpy, you know. It's a cultural thing. You'll get used to it. ;)In the meantime, keep smiling at that lady. And know that, once she does return your smile, it will have meant A LOT on her part.

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