Sunday, September 16, 2007

God mend thine every flaw

Notes from a week back in the US: The good, the bad, and the other stuff. I was really struck at first by the strange feeling of being in a place that was completely familiar, but also completely foreign. To see it all from this new perspective was really incredible.

* People, get off your damn cell phones. It's insane. Looking around at the airport, more than half of the people in any given scene were on their phones. They weren't even making arrangements or anything crucial like that, just blathering. Then, a friend picked us up from the airport and on the way home got a call. I was sort of okay with it until the words, "No, I'm not doing anything. What's up?" came out of her mouth. Actually, you are driving in city traffic, paying a toll, talking to your friends who just flew here from six time zones away? She proceeded to yap on the phone the rest of the way home. When I'm in Germany, I feel that I should limit my phone time in public - it's impolite and irritating. When I'm in the US, I feel that if I'm not yapping on my cell phone, everyone will think I have no friends.

* Oh yeah, and you don't have to be in such a damn hurry all the time. I know it makes you feel important, but you haven't even given yourself a chance to feel the benefits of slowing down.

* So many cars. Consider ped zones! They improve your life, I swear.

* It's so diverse!! There are people who are neither super-white nor Turkish! LOTS of them!

* Everyone sounds American! I got in the habit in Germany of turning my head at the sound of American English. My head was spinning the first couple of days in the US. Even towards the end I was doing it pretty frequently. And it feels like everyone is a potential conversation mate. Oh, the freedom!

* It's a bit loud, though.

* Shorts, shorts, everywhere.

* And flags! Ye gods, there are a lot of national flags flying, hanging, and otherwise displayed in the US. A short conversation we had our first morning there -
Me: "There are American flags everywhere!"
Damon: "Yeah, I wonder what happened."
Me: "Uh, I think it's normal."

* All the trash goes in the same can! It's so easy! When I cut a tag off something I don't go to the paper trash with the tag and the packaging trash with the loop. I can toss it all together. And I can toss it in the room I'm in (in Germany we didn't want 4 trash cans in every room of course so you have to go to the appropriate room to find the can for the particular type of trash you have.)

* Yap yap yap yap. In Germany, you get small talk only from people who are likely to see you again - your neighbors, coworkers, classmates. In the US, you get it from everybody. They go on and on! Examples from the airport alone:
- Lady from ag department who caught us accidentally importing a piece of fruit: "...yeah it's alright, we just need to take it, no problem, then you take this paper, and go over there? by number five? and turn right, and take it to that guy, and he'll stamp it, and hey! what does your customs form say you live in? your US address? oh, you're going to maine? something harbor? my brother works in boothbay harbor! he's a....blablabla"
- Guy at security when I took off the shoes I'd been wearing for about 16 hours: "step on! good thing you took off those shoes! it looks like your feet needed a break!! have a nice day!!"
- A guy wanted to get around me in the store. Instead of just silence or a short "excuse me" it was, "Excuse me, can I just reach over your head for just a second here?" So many extraneous words!
And....I can use extraneous words too! This is my language!! When someone came up to me for directions, at first I had the knee-jerk, "oh no....prepare inadequate German langauge arsenal for emergency situation..." but then he asked for directions IN ENGLISH!! YES! And I could say more than just "Go straight to whatever street and then left"...I could say any combination of words and extra information and "i'm not totally sure but"s that came naturally! It was so easy. My lazy side wants to move back NOW. My intellectual side says I should keep with the German, not be just another unilingual American. The whole inner argument makes me just want to take a nap. (There's the lazy side again.)


  1. On day two of our last visit to the States, I stood in Target for five minutes trying to figure out the German word (or some facsimile thereof) for "cell phone charger," when I realized I didn't need to speak German to the salesperson.

    I can never figure out if Americans are really as loud as I think they are, or if they just seem like it because I can understand them. I realize we're loud, but are we really That Loud? No, don't answer that.

  2. I had to laugh at your trash description! At our house, Bio and Gelber Sack are in the kitchen, paper is in the storage room, and Restmüll is in the bathroom and laundry room. So, yes, cutting the tag off a new piece of clothing requires disposing of the darn tag in 2 different rooms :-)

    Welcome back!

  3. You hit it right on with the cellphone. It is a pacifier for "grown-ups," a way of reassuring the terminally insecure that because they are seen talking to someone else, they're OK. A modern plague.

  4. Sorry. Not gonna lie. When I am by myself in public I talk on my cell phone. Or, more often, pretend to. It's less about people not thinking I'm alone more than a way to keep sketchy people from approaching me.

    Re: Are Americans as loud as you think they are? Yes. Yes they are. I am guilty.

  5. Glad you made it here and back there alright!

  6. What's the difference between a sidewalk and a ped zone?

  7. Blythe: Too funny!! Then it's a letdown when you come back and really do need to think of the German words again...
    I think Americans really are kind of loud, though I've wondered that too. I think a bus full of Americans is louder than a bus full of Germans, on average. And I have no doubt that I'm loud. :)

    Martina: Same as in our apartment! Well, paper is in our living room, otherwise they are the same. :)

    Letters: Exactly...they seem to have the same affect as cigarettes.

    Sara: The public isn't as full of sketchy people as you think ;) I'm loud too.

    Suzanne: Thanks! :D

    Mary: A pedestrian zone doesn't have any cars in it at all. So if, say, Newbury St. was made into a ped zone, the whole area would be just for pedestrians and cars couldn't come through. It holds a lot more walking shoppers, more space for restaurant/cafe tables, and is more relaxed.

  8. Funny perspective on Americans. I liked the comment on chatty Americans - made me laugh as an American living near Düsseldorf for the past year.

  9. They (the "experts") still haven't cleared the controversy about cell phones and the non-ionizing radiation they emit ... think of the fact that you are holding something that transmits at frequencies near those of a microwave oven right next to your brain. Sure, the power is much lower, but think of how long people have these things glued to their ears and wonder if brains have already been cooked.

    But is it really so different here?

  10. Gardner: Thanks :)

    Mike B: I think it really is different. I was telling a friend this story while we were sitting at an outdoor cafe. I remembered looking around in the US in a similar setting and noting that just over half of the people I saw had a phone and were yapping, even when with someone else. When I was telling the story here in Germany, we looked around and not a single person was on a cell. Also, it just really stood out to me when I got there!!


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