Yesterday was my first big day out since arriving in Germany to the bustling town of Munster (pronounced moon-stir). Only then did I realize how completely helpless it feels to not even be able to say, “I don’t speak German.” I found myself wanting to say gracias and hola from the sensation that I should be speaking a foreign language.
My host family drove Kathryn and I into the town of Munster, and we established a time and place to meet up later. Right at 3 o’clock, Kathryn and I stood at the designated meeting spot proud of our promptness and successful navigational ability (we had experienced less success in trying to order food and coffee for lunch). We saw my family’s silver car start to drive around and began to run after it as it slowly turned the corner. We jogged slightly behind, finally made it to the door, stretched out our arms to grab the handle, and sure enough it was NOT Holger and Christine in the car. Awkward.
Having the strange, but not unpleasant experience of being a dependent kid again, my family dropped me off at Kathryn’s family for our “play date” that afternoon and later Kathryn’s host mom drove me back home. As a twenty-three year old woman, it is an adjustment to go back to a time where I am completely dependent on other adults for transportation and plans. Until we get our German phones, I can’t even communicate with Kathryn. (While writing this, my host dad came to my room to let me know that Kat’s “parents” had called to say that they wanted to visit our town’s castle and if I would be interested in joining them. It is making me smile at the sweet way that we really have become our host familys’ “children.”)
Kat and I decided it would be fun to ride bikes to the castle while the weather was nice. Kat’s host mom got out of the bikes for us. I stared at the tall bike, put my foot on the pedal, and attempted to hoist myself on the seat. I wobbled back and forth and only managed to stop myself and not fall over by running into the parked car. “Has she ever ridden a bike before?” Kathryn’s perplexed mom asked while watching this crazy American. If there is anything I have learned from my experiences traveling, being able to laugh, especially at yourself, is one of the most important life skills. Fortunately Kathryn’s host mom has a great sense of humor and didn’t seem to mind too much that I’d run into her car.
Some common cultural difference I’ve been noticing include the following (or at least between Kathryn and mine’s families):
-Sheets for the bed don’t exist. You get one comforter and that’s it.
-The homes are very open, yet there are a myriad of doors everywhere. Do I leave them open or do I close them?
-I have yet to see carpet in a home. This makes vacuuming easy.
-Germans drink non-alcoholic beer or at least assume Americans do. Both mine and Kathryn’s families offered us options of non-alcoholic or alcoholic beer much to our surprise.
-Like Spain, German towns are very distinct and centered around a cathedral. There is none of this sprawling suburban neighborhoods that are so common in the U.S.
-Everybody rides bikes. I learned last night that it is illegal to not turn the bike light on at night. Kathryn couldn’t find hers to turn on, but we didn’t get pulled over. I can only imagine that conversation to the police (or lack thereof). Oops!
Also, while talking to my host family, I have been surprised to learn of the shame that some Germans still carry regarding World War II and Hitler. My family told me that they are not proud to call themselves German despite a thriving a economy in what is otherwise a depressed Europe and living in a land rich in history and culture. I also learned that my host dad has a Ph.D. in medieval German languages and completed a 700 page thesis. The complex range of interests with people always fascinates me.
My battery is at a wee ten percent and I don’t have a converter yet, so I’ll bid you adieu as I finish typing this to the pitter patter of rain on my attic window.