Das ist nicht gut! Das ist nicht richtig!
January 2009

 
A downside of Germany -- and I want to emphasize there are VERY few downsides here -- can be living in a community where everyone likes to correct you, the foreigner. The whole country is NOT this way; corrections rarely happen to me here in Sinzig or anywhere else in the Ahr Valley, and it's never happened to me in Berlin or Hamburg. Most Germans are warm and friendly and welcoming and a LOT of fun. But in Bonn-Bad Godesberg and certain other German cities, many of the locals are obsessed with telling people, particularly foreigners, how to do anything and everything. I didn't mention it in my first year of blogs in 2001. Maybe I was trying to be kind; I was having such an insanely wonderful time otherwise that first year. I first mentioned the German correction-thing in February 2002, but I really held back in my description. The reality is that the corrections were so constant in those first two years that I didn't expect to be in Germany past 2002. When I would get together with friends, we would try to outdo each other with our "how I've been corrected by a German this week" story.

In my first two years in Germany, I was corrected for walking my dogs on the left side of a sidewalk instead of the right side. A woman scolded me in a grocery store for dropping a glove and not realizing I had done so until she LOUDLY pointed it out for the entire store to hear. A neighbor in a different apartment building said I shouldn't come out the front door of the apartment building with my dogs. I was corrected both for having my dogs on a leash (I was told mine was inhumane or that I was being unfair to have my dogs on a leash) and for not having my dogs on a leash (even though they were right by my side, not bothering anyone). One museum in Bonn made me wear my small fanny pack around my waist rather than carrying it as a shoulder bag, even though it was much smaller than the massive handbags women all around me were carrying. Another museum wouldn't let me carry my winter coat, because they said I could hit something with it (in this museum, *everything* is behind thick, protective glass); I had to wear my winter coat, in a museum with a temperature easily over 90 degrees and with no coat check, but parents were, ofcourse, free to carry their flailing kids. The Beethoven museum threw me and Erica out because she took a photo of their back garden. In fact, the staff of the museums of Bonn are so awful their behavior is cited in Lonely Planet Germany! (at least the version I bought back in 2000)

I could fill a book with so many German correction episodes. And the corrections weren't ever Germans being helpful; they were always Germans wanting to humiliate. I felt defenseless when I was mocked/corrected, because of my lack of German language skills -- which I was also berated for on more than one occasion. So I would just stand there and fight back tears and try to inch away. The turning point came because a man would stop his car and scream at me when I road my bike to work through Bonn-Plittersdorf. I understood that he was yelling at me for riding the "wrong way" down a one way street, but there were at least TWO signs within a block that said it's okay for bikes to go the "wrong" way on said street. I came into work in tears one day, just worn down from this latest barrage from angry driver dude. A German co-worker told me to say whatever I wanted to say to him or anyone else, in English, and it would be understood, and the correction would immediately stop, both because Germans hate confrontation and because they would realize I wasn't going to accept any more verbal barrages. Not two days after that, angry German driver stopped to lay into me, and I let him have it -- I said everything to him that needed to be said, in English. He never yelled at me again. I applied this tactic again and again, and it almost always worked. One of my favorite replies became, "How rude! Another rude German telling me what to do! No wonder people don't like to come here on vacation!" And I would laugh and walk away.

Something that helped me know I wasn't alone in being driven crazy by this behavior is the tiny book, "The Xenophobe's Guide to the Germans (Xenophobe's Guides). It's written by a German, and it helped me know (1) I wasn't delusional and (2) some Germans know about this too.

Apparently, Erfurt is similar to Bad Godesberg: an American friend's stories of how she's been treated since arriving in August have been heart-breaking, and brought back a lot of my own first experiences here. It reached a peak when she was on the light rail with her dog, something she'd done dozen of times, and the conductor stopped the tram, walked back through the passengers to her, and yelled at her because her dog didn't have a muzzle, even mocking her for not being a native German speaker. I was convinced she was going to pack up and leave. So I gave her advice. Lots and lots of advice. And very quickly, her emails started to change:

My neighbor below me continues to pull me aside and show me how to sort my trash almost weekly...with tampon in hand no less. She put up a SCHEDULE in the hallway outside her door showing when I am supposed to sweep the stairs. She has her name on it, but very lightly, and my name is in BOLD, every two weeks of course. Oh my god......please help me... I've just become much more blunt and mildly aggressive. I just don't put up with it. When I get one of their "Thuringian scans" (the head to toe and then stare....), and they finally look at my face, I've started saying..."BOO!" They need to realize how ridiculous that is!
But with all that said: I love how I don't have to tell anyone in a movie theater to shut up, because half a dozen Germans do it before I can open my mouth. I love that I can count on German quiet hours in the afternoon, 1 and 3 p.m. German obsession with order isn't always a bad thing.

Ofcourse I learned that all Germans were NOT this way, and most German cities are a pleasure to visit and live in. I really hope my blogs, collectively, reflect this.

I wonder how Stefan will be treated when we live in the USA...

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I support the:
National Education Association, great public schools in the USA for every child
Thank you, NEA, for ensuring that I got a great PUBLIC education.
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Keep the wild in your heard, not in your home; make no wild or exotic creature a pet

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