Saturday, October 13, 2007

absence makes the heart grow fonder

So I have been in Germany for 3 months now. You know that you have been away for too long when you watch a silly television show and watch two people kiss and your breath catches and you wish that it was your wife/husband that you were kissing like that. That's all the embarrassment I am willing to suffer for the day. So enough about my television viewing habits.

Life is good. I fall in love with Germany a little bit more each week.

Since my blog is more of a rambling account of the silliness that invades the area where I am residing I tend to browse other people's blogs with more intelligence and better observations and then comment on them. There have been several stories back and forth lately among the crazy ex-pats and their experiences living abroad. Do the Germans like us or not? Do we care? How do we make friendships? Is the Nuremburger better with mustard or without?

One of my favorite posts in the past couple of weeks was about Americans and Germans interaction. This post was great and also disheartening to me. One it finally helped me understand why I am having such a hard time building friendships with Germans. Basically I am going to need to be here for awhile and get invited into the group. I can deal with that. I discussed this with one of the German fellows I work with and he generally agreed with the article and the points made. His comment was that even Germans have the same problem between cities. The north not liking the south. Wow sounds just like being back in the states. Craziness!

The disheartening part of the article was me taking a moment to reflect about the generalized behavior associated with Americans and our social groups. I say disheartening because it made me examine my friendships and realize that their basis was very fragile and really only related to the circumstance we were in at the moment, whether that be career choice, sporting activity, or coffee shop (bar) we hang out at. I have only had 5 really good friends. People outside of what we did, where we were, that I could call at any moment and be on the same track within moments of hearing the other's voice. My friends are scattered around the US; Washington, Kansas, NY, NC. I have the friends in the same town, neighbors, etcetera but these are built around our current time, place and circumstance. The Germans have it figured out, "Enormous warmth, compassion, and helpfulness permeate the private sphere, while the public realm is generally characterized by social distance and purely functional exchanges with only formal involvement. Conversely, all 'impersonal' values - particularly those indigenous to the economic and occupational spheres such as achievement, competition, and goal-attainment - are strictly banned from the private sphere. Nor are public sphere relationships characterized by these values viewed as capable of being transformed easily into ones of friendship. Thus, frequent contact in the workplace - the major 'recruitment' arena for friends in the US -- does not lead, to the same extent, to the development of close ties." (copied from German Joys via American sociologist Stephen Kalberg)

I like this. It makes sense to me. These are the people you want influencing your life, your children, things within your sphere. I really like this. If you have a moment check out the post - I have read it a couple of times - some would say I am slow I prefer to believe I am being thoughtful.

As for whether German's hating us - I strive daily to be a positive representative of the US. This doesn't mean I am not still the BDAB ("big dumb american boy") My german sucks, but I am trying Tee sounds just like Tea to me but the Der Beck girl laughs at me every day. The Germans I work with love my BDAB stories - some of them even want to introduce me to their wives - guess I can't be that bad. I understand that the politics associated with my country are a bit absurd but hey I didn't vote for the knucklehead either time.

Oh by the way - you should always have the spicy mustard on your Nuremburgers - it's just plain yummy!

eeps almost forget - the 3rd Whiney Expat Blogger in Germany Meet-Up is just around the corner. I will get to meet people who at first glance appear to be much smarter about this living abroad thing than me and maybe they can laugh at my BDAB stories, or at least laugh at my attempts at learning German. See you there.


J said...

Ward, another big difference is that Americans tend to move more than Germans do, so most Germans don't need to find friends at work - they've lived in their village their entire lives.

Every expat has BDAB stories, even if they're not American. There's no manual on how to be an expat, just experience. Some of us might seem to have it figured out, but once upon a time we were just like you - 3 months into it and not really sure what to do.

heather said...

Ward--You may find disheartening your realization of American social behavior and its corresponding fragile core tenants of friendship. And it's good to be an expat, to see new things that one never thought of before.

However, having lived here now for over four years, I find it more disheartening that unless one is married to a German, you'll stand very little chance of breaking into the culture, no matter how much you appreciate those 'friend for life' values.

My favorite was an ernest work colleague on this topic who told me, "as you will go home some day, Germans do not see a point in making an effort to be friendly with you." Well then.

And on the Tea topic--try saying it more with a long A, like 'tay' which rhymes with 'pay'. Or ask the giggling seller to say the word a few times for you. They're usually happy to help train your pronunciation here if you ask.