The results of the poll are in: a third of you wants to hear more about cultural topics, life in Germany, a third wants to know about personal details, what’s going on in my life, and the final third was divided among the other responses. Good news though, no one who voted said they were bored with what I write. Thanks for participating — I’ll try to cater mostly to the two main requests.
First, a cultural topic, fairly sensitive, with a disclaimer: this is simply my experience from select situations of observation and likely does not apply to all Germans. So, here goes:
Sometimes in my classes, I give a lesson with the use of the English book, but I usually prefer having a discussion so the kids actually get a chance to talk. Last week we had an eye-opening discussion in my seventh grade class regarding differences of national pride in Germany and the US. I played the US national anthem on my iPod and had the students interpret the lyrics, which obviously wasn’t easy as the language is by no means common. I made sure they got the picture of the battle and the flag still standing while bombs explode around it, and I also shared with them my experience regarding American pride. They found it odd that American schools have a flag in each classroom, that many schools have their students say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, and that students learn the national anthem in school (and were surprised that we sing it so often).
For me, it was a refresher of the German mentality regarding national pride. Their feelings of pride simply because they are German are, of course, kept in check by a mentality ingrained from the fallout of World War II. The students understand how to be proud of a football team, a delicious regional dish or a sleek German car, but they lack the ability (or the desire, perhaps) to be collectively proud while simultaneously maintaining their individualism. Fear of appearing as an extreme conservative or a neo-Nazi keeps German flags from flying except when the national Fußball team is competing. From what I’ve gathered, Germans would prefer to identify with their individual state (f.y.i. there are 16 states, or Bundesländer, in Germany — I currently live in the state of Hesse, but you Americans might be more familiar with Bavaria…that lovely land where those verdammte German stereotypes of Lederhosen and Oktoberfest originate), which makes sense considering Germany as we know it today was formed in 1871 …even later than when Wisconsin officially became a state in 1848. It’s easy to imagine why a person would identify more strongly with their state than with a country with that kind of history, whether or not you include the influence of WWII.
On the other hand, Germans are quite proud of their traditions, some of which do extend throughout all 16 Bundesländer. The wonderful German Christmas market, or Weihnachtsmarkt, is one such tradition that I wholeheartedly enjoy. Here’s why: magical snowy weather to coat the quaint, half-timbered houses, the scent of roasted almonds wafting through crisp air, beautiful lights strung about, steaming mugs of spiced wine, red-cheeked friends stomping their feet in the cold…This past weekend I took the 20-minute train ride to Marburg with Rick and Kyra to meet up with our Fulbright group leader and a few teaching assistants from the UK and New Zealand, and we spent seven hours drinking Glühwein, eating scrumptious German Kuchen, and laughing over differences between our variations of English. The pictures don’t do Marburg justice, but you’ll have to take my word for it when I say it was a marvelous day.
To return to something not “suuuuuper German”, I had another great night of salsa dancing the night before our trip to Marburg. There was a rueda group visiting from Frankfurt, and I had to laugh to myself when I heard “Kentucky” called. Somehow Kyra and I ended up staying until 3 a.m. and, coincidentally, met a Parisian law professor who teaches for part of every year at UW-Madison! Odd how familiar things find you wherever you are…