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When Everything German is Wurst. Or: This is How I Get Myself in Big Trouble

It’s time to balance the scales a little. I’d lose my credibility if I tried a wholesale approach in selling you on Germany!

In my posts about how everything in Germany is better, I went on and on (and on!) about all that my family missed when we returned to the U.S. in the late 70s after four years in the Vaterland.

Some of these aspects of our German experience elicited eye rolling or a good-natured groan. Others hinted at darker currents. In no particular order, here are a few German offenses to my delicate and ladylike sensibilities:

1. The German Hit Parade–the American Top 40 equivalent. A cheesy carnival of home-grown pop. A particular shout out to the ubiquitous and everlasting Heino is mandatory at this point. Oy! Apparently he is still alive and about 102 years old.

Here he is as I recall him in the 70s:

And here he is in 2015. Careful! Watching this could be dangerous to your health. I shuddered so violently, I nearly bit off my tongue.

Nevertheless, I have to give the guy credit. Off the record, I may even be developing the tiniest bit of admiration for him. He is having a heck of a lot of fun. And laughing all the way to the bank.

2. Sexism. Surely this has changed…?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/methodshop/7599554718/

Image credit here.

3. Pecking Order. This rightfully goes together with the concept of Schadenfreude–a nasty delight one feels when others experience misfortune.

The culture can very sensitive to rank and authority. Even a low-level clerk can make your day hell if he gets up on the wrong side of the bed. Grace and flexibility are commodities which may be notably lacking in comparison to the harder virtues of order, punctuality, and logic.

See what happens when you stand in line at one bureau or another seeking assistance. You may be in store for some cat-and-mouse business. The one person you need to see may take one look at your anxious face and decide to head out to lunch. One “t” on your document may not be properly crossed, and you may be sent to the back of the line. Maybe you will fail to approach the esteemed gatekeeper with proper obsequity. Or maybe you will grovel too much, and it will inflame his or her sadistic glee.

Each of these rejections will be communicated with a polite smile and a tightly-clenched anus. You will have no choice but to calmly persevere since you are the supplicant. Of course, your tormentor is probably receiving the same treatment from his or her superior and only wants to share the wealth.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kevynjacobs/9021084880/

Image credit here.

4. Words beginning with “schm.” I might alienate a lot of you over this one but I just can’t help myself! (I’m sorry! Please don’t hurt me!) I have a visceral response to this particular combination of consonants when used in certain words, particularly names. I cringe when I hear them. And when I say them, I feel like I have dog poop in my mouth. I think the surname Schmenkel may be the worst word I have ever tasted.

Ach, nein, I said it out loud.

Waiter! Listerine, please!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dcmetroblogger/5739790840/

Image credit here.

5. Ö. This is a vowel sound. When used alone, it is a teutonic version of “uh…” or “welllllll…” which induces rage and nausea. I cannot abide that sound, as it was used by my erstwhile Latin tutor to delicately indicate my utter stupidity. Use it when you need ipecac but can’t put your hands on any. You make it by forming your mouth as though you are going to say long “o” and then actually saying “e.” Draw it out in a protracted and condescending pause as you contemplate my lack of order, punctuality, and logic, and I may have to box your ears.

Sometimes the sound is used to create “,” a hesitant and soft pink version of the good, hearty “nein.” This is for passive aggressive folks who mean “No. No. No!” aren’t willing to own it.

Both Ö and Nö have the mouth feel of kaka.

One of you is bound to ask. No, I cannot speak from firsthand experience.

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

6. Hygiene. Life was pretty smelly back then. Ladies, you will be glad to know that you wouldn’t have had to break the bank on razor blades. Back in the day, life was also pretty hairy. I believe that has changed. Part of me is sad. That’s a lot of acreage to tend once you start shaving.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/unfurl/321429543/

Image credit here.

7. Hands-off store policy. In all but the largest and busiest urban department stores, it was understood that you were not to touch the wares unless a salesperson presented them to you to examine. I couldn’t stand to go into small stores because the sales staff would always follow, right at my elbow, and watch me like a hawk to make sure I didn’t 1. Cause disarray 2. Soil anything 3. Steal anything. I stood out as an American, and Americans had the reputation of being overly familiar and crass. After reading this post, you’ll know that stereotype could never have applied to me.

The_Ugly_American_poster copy

Image credit here.

8. Sadistic children’s stories. Struwwelpeter is truly disturbing. I tried reading it to my kids once but I had to get rid of it because it was so upsetting. They didn’t even like having the book in the house. I guess it could be useful if you are trying to get your kid to stop sucking his thumb. Take a look at the orange link above and make sure you scroll down to the cautionary tale, complete with graphic depictions, of the consequences of thumb sucking. Just don’t read it before bed.

Max und Moritz is pretty bad too but I read the stories as a kid and actually kind of liked them. Here go the little cherubs–out of the grain sack and into the grinder.

Max und Moritz

Max und Moritz image credit here.

9. Toilet paper. I shit you not.

Photo credit here.

Photo credit here.

10. Schwäbisch. A German dialect. It has a slimy, runny, slithering sound which will make you want to run in terror. Don’t put it in your mouth.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

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Rule #7: Everything…

Here is my second to last segment about my family culture of Germany Worship.

I had a difficult reentry into suburban America after spending four years of my childhood in the ebb and flow of German city life. Over there I had been too American. On my return to the U.S., I was surprised to find how out of sync and foreign I felt. I clung to my German identity as best I could.

Awesome things about life in Germany included the following. And P. S.: I clearly love food but I swear this is not a food blog.

25. Walking

26. Walking

Photo courtesy of kelseyannvere

Photo courtesy of kelseyannvere

27. Did I mention Walking? It is basically a national pastime. I understand things have changed somewhat but when I was a kid, there were just not any overweight people to be found. Really. And along with the walking was the tradition of using a lightweight wooden hiking stick or cane. Each time you hiked at a new location, you had the option of buying a tiny colorful plaque to commemorate your visit. Yes, it is touristy. Yes, I have one. Yes, I still adore walking.

Photo courtesy of Faibel

Photo courtesy of Faibel

28. No waste. Or very little. I learned a lot about conservation. I witnessed one classmate saving money and trees by turning used notebook papers sideways and taking notes on top of and at a right angle to the original writing. Another example: Everyone had a single tiny water heater or a few tiny source heaters for their kitchen and bathroom. Some folks turned the water off after wetting themselves in the shower and then turned it back on to rinse off the soap.

I learned the hard way that long American showers were problematic. The first time I stayed at my German friend Hanna’s house, I used up the hot water supply for the entire apartment without realizing it. Oops! Everybody was too polite to correct me. Hanna’s Mom couldn’t stand me for years.

Photo courtesy of sst via wikimedia commons

What else? Public transportation was abundant and efficient. Plenty of folks went without cars, and those who did own them bought tiny ones. I went into culture shock in the late 70s when I returned to the U.S. and the endless swaths of pavement swarming with gas guzzling behemoths. We’ve begun to use tiny cars here too but at the time, the contrast was extreme. And yes, by the way, this is a double standard since we drove a huge station wagon!

In Germany, I also learned that you can wear your clothing more than once before throwing it into the laundry bin for Mom to wash. On the down side, I also learned that deodorant was optional and that it is actually possible to wear your clothes so many times they stand up by themselves…

Photo courtesy of Frank Murmann

Photo courtesy of Frank Murmann

29. Füller. Fountain pens. Everybody used them. Even young kids, and even for math! That reminds me that I need to buy another pen, since my last one broke. I enjoy writing with them. I stick to Pelikan out of nostalgia, since that is the brand I used in German school.

30. Making up your own words. Yes, it’s allowed. Think of Fahrvergnügen = driving + pleasure. Schadenfreude = harm + glee. Let’s do one now for fun. I think I’ll invent Schokoladentherapie and use it in my counseling practice. Chocolate + therapy = happy clients.

Photo courtesy of Hans

Photo courtesy of Hans

31. Federbetten. Featherbeds. Americans have caught on. But I’m not sure they have the kind that are just one big bag of down without any stitches to hold the feathers in place. Using a Federbett is like sleeping under a giant marshmallow. It’s just a gigantic bag of down. People get really, really anal about the upkeep of their feather beds, so tread lightly. Not to be used in cases of profuse sweating. Must be gently beaten so as to fluff but not break the feathers. Should be aired regularly–you may see them hanging out of windows on nice days. And speaking of conservation—it is these featherbeds that allow the Germans to sleep with open windows in cool weather and keep some bedrooms unheated in the winter.

Photo courtesy of Paul Downey

Photo courtesy of Paul Downey

32. Whipped cream without sugar. Found this one out the hard way but eventually came to like it very much.

I remember the day my sister Gwen and I discovered it. We had begged my father to buy us ice cream. Uncharacteristically, he hesitated, and we figured we had a foot in the door. We then begged my father not only to buy us ice cream, but to pay the extra money for a big dollop of whipped cream on top. He assured us we would hate the whipped cream, and it would go to waste. We thought he was crazy and begged harder. We promised to like it. We promised to eat it. Against the odds, he caved in on both accounts: ice cream and topping. Our lucky day!

After he paid, he started to lope of ahead of us with his long grasshopper legs. He must have noticed we were not huffing and puffing, as usual, to keep up with him. He turned around a split second after the whipped cream had, uh, accidentally slipped off both Gwen’s and my ice cream onto the sidewalk with a puffy splat. We were appropriately mystified at our clumsiness. Mercifully he did not question us further.

Photo courtesy of EME

Photo courtesy of EME

33. Quark. We don’t have it. It’s a kind of fresh dairy product. We used to eat it with sliced fruit.

Photo courtesy of Gourmandise

Photo courtesy of Gourmandise

34. Vanillesoβe. A ubiquitous Dr. Oetker mix commonly used to make vanilla-flavored sauce for desserts. It is good but I’m not prepared to say it’s legendary. I think it was raised to the status of an exotic delight because my father brought several of the small packets home after work trips to Germany in the years before we went as a family. Also, I think my mother remembered it fondly from her own childhood when she spent time in the home of her best friend Luisa, a German girl.

Photo courtesy of Magnus Manske

Photo courtesy of Magnus Manske

35. Pommes Frites. I don’t care if they are supposedly French. If you want to die and go to heaven quickly, spend the day hoofing it around the city, working up an appetite, and then buy a big serving of Pomme Frites with ketchup and a Coke. The best fries ever!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

36. Italian ice. The real thing is amazing. It is nothing like the stuff you get in the freezer section of American grocery stores.  Once you have it, you will wonder why people aren’t jumping up and down in protest. Can you believe my classmates actually used to beg me to buy American ice cream in the commissary and bring it to their birthday parties??

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in this series, click here. For the next post, click here.

Rule # 7: Everything German…

Here she goes again….

Can I help it if my family had a serious crush on Germany??

More of the things we hated to leave behind:

Lakritz Schnecken wikipedia de copy

Photo courtesy of wikipedia.de

13. Licorice. I loved Lakritz Schnecken, which are delectable black licorice strings rolled up like snails. Black licorice, in general, was a spiritual experience. In a similar category were Veilchen Pastillen (violet pastilles). They actually tasted like flowers. In addition to being addictive, they were pleasantly aromatic and chewy.

Igel by Gibe wikimedia commons

Photo courtesy of Gibe

14. Igel–those cute little hedgehogs that look like prickly chestnuts.

Red squirrel by Ray eye wikimedia commons copy

Photo courtesy of Ray eye

15. Red squirrels. Look at his cute, fringed ears! XO

Orange sluge by Guilaume Brocker copy

Photo courtesy of Guillaume Brocker

16. Giant orange slugs. Fabulous! Especially to a nerd like me.

17. Mainzelmännchen (tiny little mischievous cartoon guys). We thought the Germans were brilliant. Instead of annoying viewers with a commercial every few minutes, they’d save them up and show them all at one time, interspersed with these clever cartoons. We loved commercials! Hope you enjoy this selection from the 70’s.

Smurf Asrar Makrani

Photo courtesy of Asrar Makrani

18. Schlümpfe (Smurfs). We had them waaaaay back when. Pretty much every kid watched them on TV and collected the little plastic figures.

19. Kickers. These were actually Italian shoes. Germans are very serious about their footwear since they do so much walking. They were a fad at my school, and I begged and begged for Kickers until I finally got some. They always looked so cute on my friends. I quickly realized the effect was not so brilliant on a tall skinny girl with ginormous feet. Couldn’t find a photo. Sorry!

wooden sled

Photo courtesy of EME/Pixabay

20. Sleds. Made all of wood with fixed runners covered in a thin strip of metal. We kids used put them on our shoulders like backpacks before squeezing ourselves into the streetcar to head out to the best sledding grounds. IMHO, the lighter weight and wider runners made my German sled superior to my Flexible Flyer. Steering was no problem—you just had to gently drag one foot or arm on the side to which you wished to turn.

Mohrenkopf by Clément Dominik copy

Photo courtesy of Clément Dominik

21. Schaumküsse–known as Mohrenköpfe or Negerküsse in my youth. You probably don’t have to be a German speaker to intuit why those names had to go.

A Schaumkuss is hard to describe because we have nothing like it. It is a very large, moist and creamy white marshmallow sitting on a baked wafer (not unlike a large corrugated communion wafer) and dipped in dark chocolate. We used to eat them as dessert, obviously, but there was another method for the starved hordes exiting the XXXXXXX School after class. We’d stampede into Modero (a Mom and Pop store across from school) and order one served on a Brötchen (crispy roll) so we’d have something to eat on the way home. Open roll, insert Schaumkuss, squash, eat. Mmmmm.

Photo courtesy of Washington and Jefferson College

Photo courtesy of Washington and Jefferson College

22. Beer. Not being a delinquent (much), I took my parents’ word for it. (Note the cardboard coaster. Every single brand had its own, and there were zillions. We kids collected them and played with them like trading cards or used them to build card houses.)

Photo courtesy of frankieleon

Photo courtesy of frankieleon

23. Wine. Here are the typical glasses. I have what is left of my parents’ set and use them every weekend.

Photo courtesy of Saxo

Photo courtesy of Saxo

24. Johannesbeersaft. Current juice. Ahhhhh, dark, sweet-sour, strong. I could not get enough of the stuff.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post, click here. For the next post, click here.

Rule # 7: Everything German is Better

Rule # 7: Everything German is Better

This Family Rule must be understand in a very flexible way. In my family, “German” meant everything related to our years in 1970s Germany. If you lived in my house, you absorbed the fact that living like a German was the best way a person could live. If you were a visitor in our home, you knew you were in the presence of some pretty darn special people!

Here are some things–or ways of doing things–whose Germanness clearly kicked the butt of Americanness. Boy, there were so many things which were better. Germany would have beaten the U.S. in Rock, Paper, Scissors each and every time. And since we understood these things, maybe we were superior beings?

In no particular order, I present the first twelve testaments to German awesomeness. Drumroll, please…

Photo courtesy of A. Kniesel

Photo courtesy of A. Kniesel

1. Nutella. O.M.G. We were eating it by the pound before you American dumb-dumbs even knew it existed.

Photo courtesy of MPD01605 on Flickr

Photo courtesy of MPD01605 on Flickr

2. Drinks in bags. Ditto, American slackers. I was drinking bagged Capri Suns before you were even born.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Rosenau

Photo courtesy of Thomas Rosenau

3. Haribo Gummi Bears. Same story, third verse. Also, gummi colas, gummi worms…you name it!

Photo courtesy of Maddox74

Photo courtesy of Maddox74

4. Playmobil.

Photo courtesy of Hans

Photo courtesy of Hans

5. Steiff stuffed animals. Yup.

Photo courtesy of EME

Photo courtesy of EME

6. German bread. From fluffy to crispy to scour-your-anus-good. Just add BUTTER.

Blutwurst photo courtesy of Roberto Verzo

Blutwurst photo courtesy of Roberto Verzo

7. Sausage. So. Many. Kinds. Of. Heaven. (I swore never to try Blutwurst but I ate it once by accident. Part of me wanted to stick my finger down my throat. Part of me wanted more.)

Photo courtesy of Washington & Jefferson College

Photo courtesy of capl@washjeff.edu

8. Cheese. We only had, what…American, Swiss, and Cheddar back in those dark ages?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

9. Ikea. Who cares if it isn’t actually German? We used to go to shop at Ikea in Germany, before it came to the US. I would live in Ikea if I could.

Photo courtesy of capl@washjeff.edu

Photo courtesy of capl@washjeff.edu

10. Wooden toys. No plastic crap for us. No siree!

Photo courtesy of High Contrast

Photo courtesy of High Contrast

11. Coffee. My parents were partial to Tchibo, which they drank with a drop of Bärenmarke evaporated milk.

Photo courtesy of Mysid

Photo courtesy of Mysid

12. Chocolate. No surprises there, especially in the 70’s. I think Ritter Sport with rum, raisins and hazelnuts was my childhood fave. Also epic: Kinderschokolade eggs with build-it-yourself toys inside. Some of the toys were quite involved. The surprise and the engineering behind them was magic.

Stay tuned for more worship–uh, I mean, sharing. In the meantime, you might want to check out fellow blogger Aaron Schilling, who is writing fun and very authentic bits about the unfolding of his intensive German experience.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post, click here. For the next post, click here.

Rule # 4: Visiting Behavior, Acts II & III

Rule # 4: Visiting Behavior, Acts II & III

Act II: The Performance

Dad wasn’t kidding when he laid down the rules. We were even held to rules we didn’t know–but should have. If we transgressed and were lucky, we got “The Look.” If we were unlucky, we got a furtive pinch. I am not talking about a love pinch.

My younger sister Gwen, God bless her, was more spirited and less cautious than I; and she often got the brunt of Dad’s ministrations. My little brother was largely immune due to age, cuteness, and, quite possibly, maleness. He might have been too young to understand we weren’t supposed to say, “Ouch!” when swatted, pinched, or kicked under the table; and that could have been risky.

But Gwen seized the day. Oh, how I envied her! Whether due to intransigent joie de vivre or a failure to learn from the past, my sis lived large. Since visits were miserable anyway; since The Review (Act III) and punishment loomed inexorably; why not enjoy life instead of sitting there like a flat tire? Apparently she had decided that fun now was worth punishment later.

Gwen loved water, and wherever water was to be found, she managed to accidentally fall in. Then she proceeded to have fun. How dare she!

Gwen loved makeup. She found all kinds of interesting cosmetics in Mom’s purse and, even better, in the bathrooms of the homes we visited. After putting on her face, she’d emerge, composed and cool, in a cloud of fragrance, behaving as though she didn’t know she had lipstick all over her face and couldn’t imagine how on earth it could have gotten there.

Gwen loved animals. After being explicitly told not to go anywhere near the puppies at one house, she emerged from the dog pen with the bitch’s tooth marks in her left buttock.

During a period in the 70’s, we lived in Germany. I remember one Sunday visit to friends in Pfungstadt especially well.

It was horrible.

It was wonderful!

In the car, my father prepped us. The lecture went something like this:

Unlike rambunctious American children, German children do not guzzle juice. Furthermore, juice is expensive in Germany, and you should not burden our hosts by asking for more than the one small glass you are sure to receive with your meal. Furtherfurthermore, Germans do not drink tap water, and so a request for any drink is a request for a bottled liquid purchased with their hard-earned money.

After drinking our one tiny glass of Saft at lunch, we kids were high and dry. Unable to stand it any longer, Gwen asked for more juice. Her request was immediately followed by a loud shriek.

Hilde, our concerned and startled hostess, asked my sister what was wrong. Gwen answered evenly, “My father pinched me.” Thinking she had misheard, Hilde asked again. Gwen obligingly clarified, “My father told me I could only have one glass of juice. I asked for more. So he pinched me under the table.”

Dad tried to play dumb but he wasn’t very convincing. Gwen got her juice. We all got our juice. We got all the juice we wanted.

Gwen had just bought us a few hours of power and freedom, and we set out to make the most of them. There was no time to waste since our coup would be repaid with interest once we left the sanctuary of Hilde’s modest home.

Act III: The Review

During the ride home and beyond, we were treated to a blow-by-blow recitation of our misbehaviors and the world-altering consequences thereof.

I probably became a therapist in self defense.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post, click here. For the next post, click here.

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