Strangely, the culture shock coming back from Cologne wasn’t as bad as when I came back from Dessau. I guess this time I knew what to expect from Americans vs Germans – how the two countries would be different. There are things I miss from Germany, but this time, I already had an idea what I’d be dealing with. That I’d have to deal with not being able to have müsli or toast with meat for breakfast any more, for example. This time, the incredible flatlands and vast landscape weren’t as alien as they looked in 2009.
So after a month of being back, what has struck me as weird?
Well, reading some German news recently, I ran across an article about neonazis in the US – with a bunch of photos of fat white people marching in pseudo-military gear with hackenkreuz flags (the German word for distinguishing the nazi shape from the original swastika symbol). I was a lot more weirded out by this than I expected, because apparently I’ve gotten used to the idea that one is legally not allowed to wave nazi symbols around in public. Americans have no such laws so people here are free to look like racist idiots any time they choose.
You know, maybe if they did, we wouldn’t have all these people in the news comparing our politicians to Hitler for wanting to institute health insurance for everybody. :(
On a more daily basis, I’ve found myself missing the Cologne subway an awful lot – my hometown has an exceptional bus system (for the US), but it still takes about 20-30 minutes to get anywhere in town, and that’s not counting the time waiting at the bus stop. In Cologne I often only had to wait 2-3 minutes for the next subway, and in half an hour or a little more, I could get pretty much anywhere in a city of a million people.
I’ve also learned how American we really are. Like, we as americans don’t really notice it – what would you count as “American food” for example? Many of the first things that come to mind are originally from other countries! We’re such an isolationist country that we don’t look outside our borders much to see how other people live. But looking at Americans now, I see us as a surprisingly different country from Germany. I always sort of pictured Germany as being really similar to the US (hey, it’s a Western European country and we’ve gotten a lot of our history/culture/immigrants from there, how different can it be?), whereas a lot of people I talked to thought living in Europe would be like living on Mars. Really, it’s somewhere in between. Everything is just a tiny bit different – even the McDonalds (thank you EU sanctions, for making McDonalds food taste even worse! >.<). So you think “oh I know how this works, no problem,” and either you look totally clueless, or they just peg you as an American right away – sometimes both.
Compared with Germans (and probably all Europeans to some extent), Americans are big, outgoing, and impractical. They have BIG personalities, making space for their own opinions wherever they are – just like the settlers did in this great land of ours. Americans are LOUD. You will notice this if you ever stand on the subway next to a group of American youth all invariably armed with beer bottles (because open beverages are allowed – practically encouraged – in Germany), because they will practically be shouting at the top of their lungs to their friends in English about their thoughts on Germany. Presumably not realizing that they are saying these things in a train full of Germans. Americans also have no grace compared to the Europeans. They make absolutely everything look at least five times harder than it needs to be, from dressing appropriately to socializing and living their life.
I have lots more to say on the topic of differences between the US and Germany, so be sure to check back for that!