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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…

As previously mentioned, this Family Rule is called Everything German is Better. German, I say.

When my mother remarried after my father’s death, she mutinied abruptly and shamelessly. And she has never looked back.

Mom married a third-generation Irish-American and became an overnight evangelist for all things Irish. She eats soda bread. She reads Maeve Binchy and Frank McCourt. Mom reads up on Irish folklore and history. She named her puppy Finn McCool, for the love of God. My Mom started buying shamrocks and Beleek china and became more Irish than my stepfather’s entire family combined. Before the marriage, while drunk on romance, she visited Ireland and kissed the Blarney Stone. She came home bearing gifts to soften us up: wool sweaters for us and kilts for the children. Mom tried hard to convert us but we weren’t buying. Nope.

There are many fine things about Ireland but that is not the point! The family rule is GERMAN is better, Mom, GERMAN.  Get with the program. Ach du liebes Bißchen! So eine Scheiße! I don’t really need to translate that, do I?

So on that happy note, I offer you the last in a series of four pieces on what exactly IS better. Or at least what we enjoyed when we lived in 1970s Germany. We hated to return home to such a young and uncouth country, and we lamented it in a stage whisper every chance we got. This way we got a lot of attention, which was, of course, the point. Right? Yes–we were just that cool. By the way, don’t trip over my Dachshund and my authentic German Birkenstocks in your rush to escape….

Image courtesy of Hebi65

Image courtesy of Hebi65

36. Scrubbing your front steps: pastime of German grannies everywhere. If I can stereotype for a moment: Germans can be super clean and orderly. It was common in my childhood to see old women scrubbing down the front steps of their houses as part of their morning chores.

Imago courtesy of JaBB

Imago courtesy of JaBB

37. Spätzele. Small, lumpy egg noodles. You can buy them ready to cook but my friend Margarete makes them by dropping a blob of the thick batter on a small board and using a knife or wooden blade to scrape it off into boiling water one tiny bit at a time. She is a real pro and moves like lightning!

Image courtesy of Gerbil

Image courtesy of Gerbil

38. Lighted candles on the Christmas tree. Yes, I suspect some are still doing it. Beautiful. Magical. And probably the stuff of VFD nightmares.

Image courtesy of traude

Image courtesy of traude

39. Logic. As a whole, the Volk is not warm and fuzzy. But it works for them.

Image courtesy of OpenClips

Image courtesy of OpenClips

40. Punctuality. No ifs, no ands–or you got your butt handed to you.

Image courtesy of geralt

Image courtesy of geralt

41. Order (Ordnung!) This, logic, and punctuality fit in well with my Dad’s worldview. The word trinity comes to mind. But this emphasis didn’t always sit so well with the rest of us. See a pattern here? If not, please see this Family Rule and then treat yourself to a good stiff drink on me. I don’t think I have ever known my father so happy or our family life so calm and orderly as when we lived in Deutschland!

Apfelwein_Geripptes_Bembel copy Eva K.

Image courtesy of Eva K.

42. Apple wine. Pucker up! You might have to be a Frankfurter to appreciate it fully. Drink it ice cold or your brain will implode. Great with Schnitzel. Shown above in the mandatory Bembel (pitcher).

Image courtesy of GS1Brasil

Image courtesy of GS1Brasil

43. Shower gel. We were using it in Germany waaaay before the U.S. even thought of it.

Image courtesy of Kuchen

Image courtesy of Kuchen

44. Clogs. So what if they were not strictly German? We adored them and how we click-clacked around town. I proudly wore my white Swedish clogs my entire 9th grade year after returning to the US. People gave up heckling me because I wore them with such confidence (read: oblivion to fashion). Ha, ha! Clogs became popular in the U.S. when I was in about 11th grade but mine were better. Nanny, nanny, boo boo.

Image courtesy of sechtem

Image courtesy of sechtem

45. Daily shopping. No need to clutter up the kitchen with a month’s worth of hermetically sealed foods. If you shop each day for fresh food, you only need a dorm-sized box. Also cool–many small, family-run stores. This is changing but back then there were many, many of these shops, each of which handled only a small niche: baker, butcher, coffee shop, etc.

Image courtesy of lheofacker

Image courtesy of lheofacker

46. Mittagspause (afternoon rest). This is probably changing too but most people, including those working in little family-run shops, dropped everything each afternoon from 1-3 for a hot meal and a break. Makes sense since the midday meal is the big meal of the day. Dinner is the time for light fare.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Billinger

Image courtesy of Jonathan Billinger

47. Plums. Italian plums were the only plums I knew there. So mouth-wateringly scrumptious.

Image courtesy of Томасина

Image courtesy of Томасина

48. Dogs. Germans love their dogs, and the stereotype of the Dachshund is accurate. You can probably still see the little hounds sitting under restaurant tables where they wait obediently for their masters to finish a leisurely meal. Restaurant meals could last a long time. Once you sat down at table, it was yours until you choose to leave–even if you closed the place out. Restaurants weren’t just a place to fill your belly. They became your living room. I don’t know if it is still the same way now. Anybody?

I think that is more than enough data from my informal study of German, well, supercalifragilisticexpialadocious…ness? Thanks for hanging in there with me. I may devote a future post to the stuff which was not so savory.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the 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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