Sunday, February 8, 2009
Although I like this blog to be a sort of journal of my creative work and processes, part of what forms who I am is that I have lived abroad for almost exactly ten years. Because of this, I occassionally want to write pieces on what it is like to be a perpetual expat (and yes, no matter how much you assimilate, part of you is always "other". But I like this for the most part.) The following text was actually something I wrote for a blog I keep on MySpace about a year ago. I still keep that blog, but it has morphed into a dream journal. If you would like to read some of my wacky nighttime wanderings then click here
That Germany is a country of major hypochondriacs was something I discovered when I first moved here in the spring of 1999. That spring and following summer I had to take a lot of naps, something I wasn't used to having not previously been much of a napper, but I was always feeling so weak and listless that I inevitably lay down some time in the afternoon. In retrospect, I think I was suffering for a major case of homesickitis, but at the time I was seriously concerned that something might be wrong with me. So I asked my (German) boyfriend and he told me it was clear: I was suffering from Kreislaufprobleme. My German not being very good at the time, I was impressed with the ominous sound of the disease and went around telling other Germans "I'm suffering from Kreislaufprobleme" after which they would give me a solemn, knowing nod. However, at some point I found out that the translation for the word was merely circulation problems. Circulation problems?? "Are you sure I have Kreislaufprobleme?" I asked my boyfriend. "I thought circulation problems were something you first get when you're around 70."
"Oh yes. Now go lay down with this Warmflasche (hot water bottle)until you feel better."
As time progressed I soon discovered that just about everyone is complaining about Kreislaufprobleme in Germany. And I'm not talking about people hanging about the geriatics ward, I'm talking teenagers on up. If they ever feel light-headed, weak, tired or generally under the weather then they are sure that it is an attack of serious Kreislaufprobleme. Not that there is any medicine or remedy that will cure these odious Kreislaufprobleme, but it does give them something to complain about which is another widely practiced national past time.
Keeping in sync with complaints that, in the U.S, would only come out of the mouth of an 85 year old woman named Violet, Germans are also deathly afraid of drafts. By drafts they don't mean the cold that sneaks under doors in winter and is, admittedly, unpleasant. No, in Germany a draft is any time the air is moving, even in summer when the rest of us would call it a "refreshing breeze". In the summer, people in the U-Bahn will often close the top window (the cars are, of course, not air-conditioned)and then shoot the person who opened it a dirty look as though to say "do you want us all to catch our death of cold?"
Every American who has been together with a German has had to deal with these hypochondriac tendencies. Still, they do vary in intensity. The only time I've heard my (German) husband say anything along these German health lines was when he told me everyone must always wear a scarf indoors when he has a cold. When I told him how incredibly German that was and how in the U.S. we actually have cold medicine that works (don't get me started on that one)he just said, "Maybe that's true. But it always makes me feel better." Reasonable enough and easy to respect. Still, if, in the middle of an August heat wave, someone said "es zieht" (there's a draft) I can guarantee he would jumped up immediately and close the window.
A friend of mine had a girlfriend from the former East Berlin who was really extreme with this German health stuff. Whenever she would ask her, "Why do you believe that anyway?" her girlfriend would say "Because my grandmother told me so." (Hence proving my theory about the 85 year old named Violet...) Anyway, my friend was open to taking the dirt when she had a stomachache (it clears out the toxins, you see)but she absolutely put her foot down when it came to the red light bulb. She had a cold and her girlfriend told her to shine a red light bulb down her throat. These red light bulbs are completely normal and available at any pharmacy. "No red light bulb," my friend said. I'm not sure if that is why, but they broke up several months later.
Red light bulb aside, my absolute favorite German hypochondriac item are kidney warmers. A lot of Germans are very, very concerned about their kidneys getting too cold so, in the winter, they wear this padded belt under their clothes to keep them warm called, appropriately enough, a kidney warmer. I've tried logic before like "Aren't kidneys covered in a thick layer of membranes?" or "My mother's from Nebraska, which is much colder than Berlin, and yet she's never heard of kidney warmers and is no worse for the wear", but it simply doesn't work. I've decided, therefore, that the next time a German frets that maybe their kidneys have gotten a bit chilled, I'm going to say: "What about your liver? Isn't your liver also a bit exposed?"after which they will undoubtedly turn quite pale and then immediately rush off to consult their grandmother.