Saturday, October 24, 2015

(a)Musings: German Quirks

Any of the approximately eight people (that's a grand and optimistic guess) who follow my blog with any regularity will not be surprised to learn that, the better part of a year later, there are still two posts about Germany left that I want to do, including this one. So, one. There's one more post left. 
Hey, that's pretty good for me! Being unemployed for a total of half the year has really given me a chance to catch up D'x

Now, I've learned the hard way since moving to Tokyo that visiting a country and living in one are two very distinct things. You might be thinking, "Well duh", just as I might have thought a year or two or three ago, but let me tell you, being aware of a concept like that and actually living it are also two very distinct things. 

Having been born and raised in Arizona, for example, I was fully and completely aware of seasonal changes such as leaves turning bright, beautiful shades of red and yellow, but as a friend of mine who recently moved to Colorado can relate, it is really fucking weird actually experiencing those changes for the first time. You're aware of it and know it to be true, but when it's actually happening, it's really a slap in the face, for better or for worse.

I talk about Germany being super effing awesome because of my wonderful and near-perfect SO, his equally lovely friends and family, because I had a wonderful time there, and because the gloriously cool, mountainous, democratic socialist region of which it is a part has been the place I've elevated in my own mind as the pinnacle of civilisation, the only place I've ever considered eventually settling.

My point, though, is that I don't profess to know a whole lot about Germany with this the same way I did profess to have come to know and understand a lot about Korea with this same type of post after having lived there for two years. 

I was generally more able to communicate with people in Germany, though, and was much more welcome into their daily lives and personal opinions during the two glorious months I spent eating, drinking, and relaxing there like a fat happy sea lion slapping its contented belly on a rock in the sun, and during that time, I noticed some funny things that German people say and do. 
At least, like, Northern German people within a mostly very young and progressive social circle.

WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, the first and most important one is that many German people eat the entire apple, including the core.

Hannes thought that all people did this, and was surprised and even incredulous when I showed him pictures of different types of people from different places coring apples and so on. The same way he was unpleasantly surprised and incredulous when he learned a couple of weeks ago that yes, actually, margaritas often come with rock salt on the rim of the glass.

Many Germans (it would seem) eat apples from the bottom up, which I tried recently and must admit is a much more clever way of going about it. Roundabout arguments concerning the tough and unpleasant texture of the portion of the apple surrounding the seeds and the seeds themselves aside, Hannes is right when he says that you end up eating much more of the apple and focusing on those bits a lot less when eating it from the bottom up and using the stem as a handle instead of starting from one side. 
He has dismissed my objections about texture and the possibility of accidentally chipping a tooth with responses like, "Pfft, you barely even notice it!" and "Come on, we're not little kids, thinking that if you eat seeds a tree is going to start growing in your stomach". No, I tried to say, I wasn't worried about stupid things like that- "Yeah, whatever".

During our most hilariously drawn-out discussion about this, Hannes found this article from The Atlantic about how the apple core "is a ghost" and how, "if you eat the entire apple, you are a hero to this ghost. If you do not, you are barely alive. Come experience vitality. The core is a product of society, man."

To be fair, too, we've genetically modified all of our fruit to be as fruity as possible at this point, and I think that last image really demonstrates it.

On the topic of food preferences, some others are that vegetarianism and food allergies are widespread and well-understood (Germany has one of the highest rates of vegetarianism in the EU), French fries are typically dipped into a creamy sauce like mayonnaise instead of ketchup, and coffee is often consumed unfiltered, or "Turkish"-style.

Now we move to Denglish, the German equivalent of the much-loved Japanese "Engrish" and Korean "Konglish". As I mentioned in that other post about Korean quirks, the funniest one has to be that "cell phone" is "handy".


"I just came for my handy."

"My mom gave me an awesome handy for my birthday."


*No one under 18 allowed

Some others include "sport" to mean "gym, workout, or similar duffel bag" and "side" instead of "page", because the German is "seite" (zei - tuh), and the language of these poor, unintentionally hilarious people is a minefield of false cognates.

Aside from "handy", my other favourite happened naturally during a conversation in which turtles came up for whatever reason, and this one guy said "oh, like a turtle tank!". Everyone facepalmed and laughed. I was like, "aww, turtle tank!" because that's adorable, and really a perfectly valid way to describe their shells. 
Well, it's perfectly valid because it is "turtle tank" in German. Everyone else was laughing not because it was cute, but because it was one of those countless pitfalls where the German seems to have an exact English equivalent but really, actually doesn't. Like "earworm". Ew, right? That's a song that's stuck in your head. Allegedly. I still cringe and think of horrific parasites from the tropics whenever Hannes says it.

It's hard not to see Denglish as charming and cute in a way that your German counterpart finds very embarrassing and probably a bit condescending, but to counteract those chuckles with something very admirable, a general attitude among Germans seems to be one of constant self-improvement.  

To illustrate what I mean by this and why I find it so awe-inspiring, let me give you an example from just the other day. Hannes is organising a conference for some important politicians, and a round table discussion is going to be complicated by the fact that this very-high-up-there guy needs an English interpreter, and that he wants her to interpret consecutively, not simultaneously. So he'll talk for a few minutes, and then she'll repeat everything he said in English. Major discussion killer, boner destroyer, whatever.

Hannes was like, "That's so embarrassing, how does a top-level elected official not even speak English? Who voted for this guy?"

My response: "Need I remind you that we have a senator who brought in a snowball to disprove climate change? And another candidate for Senate who said that rape is a gift from God, and so many other examples like this that just thinking about it makes me want to cry?"

Like, Germany's doing well. Really well. Compared to American problems, I can't help but feel that German problems, minus the current refugee/migrant crisis, are just, like, little sides and turtle tanks, because America's fucked. But as soon as I would say something about that, people would always respond by calmly and rationally acknowledging their own country's issues or even potential issues, like: "Yes, Germany's educational system is very good, and we have high standards. I remember having a great experience in school as a child, and when I got older. Actually, yes, I remember it all being very good. But I don't know exactly what it's like now, and I can think of some things they could've improved. It could always be better."

Sorry, but that's inspiring as fuck. Practically brings a tear to my eye. 

My whole life, dumb motherfuckers tryin' to be all like, "America's got the best healthcare in the world!" when we pay 4 or 8 or 15 times the amount other people do for the same quality and service from hospitals and private insurance carriers, et cetera. 

"America's the best country in the world! Because I've never been to any other ones except Mexico on vacation a few times and am probably never going to cross any oceans, because I barely make it paycheck to paycheck on a median income that's actually decreased over the last 30 years, am paying way too much for that aforementioned healthcare, college tuition, and everything else people need! America's the best because this nightmarish system of cyclical debt and working poverty imposed upon us by the scumbag corporate oligarchy has been an effective means of preventing me from experiencing anything better, so that I don't know what I'm missing! Also, social safety nets are one step away from communism!"

Oh, side note: Germans LOVE The Simpsons and HIMYM.

Continuing on the path of being really cool and progressive, we come to my last set of points, the first being that not only vegetarianism but piercings, tattoos, and alternative hairstyles are commonplace
It's very, very weird that Japanese people and that unfortunate crowd of socially inept older white dudes who have been here too long are super interested in or even shocked by things like gauged ears and tattoos. And that you can't even join a gym or go to a water park here with tattoos, unless you can cover them. Uhhhhh. Same planet, right? Same year? Okay, just checking.

There's also this glorious thing called a Lumumba, which is just hot chocolate with rum in it, that's a popular winter drink alongside the many varieties of mulled wine. It's named after the first democratically elected leader of the Congo, a progressive far ahead of his time and place, who was executed with complicity on the part of the US, UK, and UN in 1961.

It's one of those things that makes you wonder how you've never thought of it on your own, and where it's been your whole life.

And finally, political involvement is also very high among all age groups, because voting at all levels actually matters. There are many parties in Germany aside from the two largest - the Social Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Union (which doesn't ever even mention the Bible because it would be weird and politically suicidal) - who can be elected into both local and national parliaments once a voting hurdle of 5% is cleared. 
Not voting is very looked-down upon, because, as young progressives say, every vote not cast is a vote for the Nazis. Literally. Extremists will always go to the polls faithfully, and when people don't cast votes for the Liberal, Green, or Social Democratic candidates who are pro-education, pro-environment, and so forth, it's a lot easier for the several thousand right-wing guys who go to the anti-Islam and anti-immigration rallies to achieve that 5% threshhold and have one or even several (in Hannes' home state it's currently 5 out of 171 seats) representatives win seats and become capable of bringing forward and voting in legislation that actually affects your life. It's not like trying to vote an Independent Latino candidate or a female progressive in to represent a red state in the U.S., which basically just can't happen.

So, there you have it, hopefully a lot of interesting TIL's about Germany. I'm still working on the apple core thing, but I really can't wait to move there one day.

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