Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Importance of Luften

Jasper is definitely not a fan of German culture. He is always complaining about his fellow countrymen (especially the Prussian Berliners) and how they have a pickle up their butt (his version of stick up the butt which I find so adorable.) He hates how serious and uptight most people are. Everything is always such a big deal. We both also detest the extremely un-charming German obsession with always telling the "truth", especially to family and close friends. "The truth" is invariably just your own self-righteous, overly critical and unfeeling subjective opinion. Sorry people, but sometimes a little old white lie is just oh-so-much more civilized....
Still, there are of course ways in which Jasper is quite German. One of them came up recently when we got together with my Brazilian guitarist and his wife. Marcio (the guitarist) mentioned that he was hungry and Jasper's inevitable first question was "Do you want a warm meal?" The Brazilians haven't been living here very long and don't really know many Germans (in Berlin it's very easy to live exclusively in an expat community without much exposure to actual Germans....) and it was clear they found the question somewhat strange. As far as I know, Germans are the only people who talk incessantly about the temperature of their meals. The way it should go is breakfast=cold meal, lunch=warm meal, dinner=cold meal. If you are a little more relaxed, you might eat two warm meals a day (say lunch and dinner) but definitely never three. I've never figured out what they think will happen if you do this: indigestion? gain weight? go nuts? Basically, I think it's just not done.
I didn't say anything to Jasper about this one because, after all, I decided to live here which means I just have to put up with some of the bizarre cultural quirks. Still, sometimes I can't help but roll my eyes and say, "God, that's so German!" When I do, he inevitably gets annoyed. Although he criticizes his own culture non-stop, he gets sensitive when I do (unless I'm agreeing with some of his complaints of course....) But I know how he feels. When I first moved to Berlin I was pretty disgruntled with a lot of what was going on in America, especially politically, and I complained about it to anyone who would listen. But when people came up with there own criticisms I would often get annoyed. Then again, most of what they had to say was usually just based on arrogant ignorance they had acquired from a five day trip to New York at seventeen and from watching too many episodes of Bay Watch.
Before I moved to Berlin, I never thought of myself as a typical American, but of course I was. Maybe not in my attitudes and beliefs (I would also never in a million years have described myself as bubbly....)but in my habits both socially and in practical matters. These habits are so deeply ingrained that you are completely unaware of them. When you first run into the differences you tend to feel hurt and isolated and later kind of pissed off (especially when you are aware of what the actual differences are.) "These people are crazy!" you'll start telling yourself. Your country of origin becomes saintly in a rose-colored glasses kind of way whereas the local culture is such a constant pain in the ass....
Of course, since I've lived here for ten years I have become somewhat of a Mischling, a mixture of both cultures. I'm sure I've complained on this blog before about the obsessive German habit of "Luften", i.e. opening the window and airing out the room several times a day for around ten minutes, even in the dead of winter when it's freezing outside. Although this habit has definitely made me roll my eyes a thousand times, as well as protest loudly in the middle of February, the last time I was in the U.S. I was kind of shocked by how stuffy and mildly stinky all the rooms are. When I recently went to Marcio's apartment to sing, it was obvious that he also never does the Luften (maybe it is only a German thing....) because the air was pretty stale. My first thought was that I should ask if I could open a window but then I caught myself and was pretty shocked. "Crap. I'm becoming German."
On Wednesday I'm flying to California for three weeks. I'm curious what other things I might find strange there inzwischen. I'll let you know when I get back as this is probably my last post until then. lG, Rebeccah ;)

11 comments:

Heidi said...

I'm from Norway, and I think I would have liked living in Germany. Norwegians tend to be very serious as well, though I think not as much as Germans are - as I'm often told to cheer up. Though most Norwegians do tend to be annoyed by the American cheerfulness, which we find phony and annoying. Actually, we often find American politeness to be rude.

My father moved to the US a few years ago, and he is becoming increasingly critical of Norway and Norwegian culture, and I get annoyed at him for saying critical things that I wouldn't have reacted to if they had come from my partner.

Cleanliness have come to be an issue durings visits, as many Norwegians don't shower daily, but use washcloths between showers. My father and his American wife thus view the Norwegian part of the family as unhygienic, while we in return think they waste too much water. We also think they waste food, energy and use their car far too much.

Room temperature is also an issue, as we prefer to adjust our clothing rather than the heat in the room, and only very few Norwegians have an AC. We also like to "lufte", but I don't think it's as important to us as "Luften" is to Germans.

Karen/Small Earth Vintage said...

Ah, I love your "German culture" posts (and was thinking of you yesterday while we were enjoying our local Oktoberfest--hee hee!). I think I kind of knew about this temperature thing because I bought some Kniepp bath products (love their pine-scented stuff), and the literature that came with it had a long discourse about the importance of the temperature of the bath, and rinsing with cold water after hot water, etc., for good health. And maybe it's my German heritage, or maybe just my desire to follow any such seemingly easy health advice, but I now follow up every hot shower with a cold rinse, feeling very "German" as I do so!

And really, Luften seems to make great sense! A nice fresh breeze--you can't go wrong, right?

It *is* so true how our own culture can become so very annoying when we are immersed in it. I think I probably spend a good 20% of every day complaining about some "American" trait or other.

Have a great trip home!

Schaufensterbabe said...

Hi Heidi, Thanks for your comment. It does sound like Norway and Germany have some things in common. Germans also generally don't shower everyday (though my husband is an exception) and they think a lot more about wastefulness and definitely just wear an extra sweater in the winter inside instead of cranking up the heat. I admire the German (and apparently Norwegian) way of thinking more about the environment. Americans can definitely be very wasteful (as well as obsessed with cleanliness) to a sometimes absurd degree. Germans also find American cheerfulness phony and annoying, but personally I find that they need to lighten up a little on this one. Granted, at its most extreme, the upbeat-ness can be annoying, but in general it just creates a light and friendly atmosphere and what's wrong with that really? We could definitely use some more of that here in Berlin.

Schaufensterbabe said...

Thanks Karen! Yeah, that kalt duschen (cold water after hot)thing is big too. I did it for a while and found that I got used to it and that it helped my energy level a lot. Plus my ex-husband would always nag me about it, trying to break me of my bad American habits. Come to think of it, I don't think I've rinsed with cold since we split up. My own cultural revenge I suppose!

Heidi said...

Well, part of the problem is that what might be perceived as light and friendly by Norwegians and Northern Europeans often isn't perceived the same way by people from America or cultures where part of the social contract is to smile more. You know, I feel that people talk to me here all the time, making little friendly comments or whatever, but tourists and immigrants still allways remark upon how mute Norwegians are. While if we were to be more chatty with strangers, it would be a breach of our social contract, and many people would feel that their personal space was being invaded.

But while I don't feel comfortable with the overly cheerful part of American politeness, Norwegians could definately learn something about "please" and "thank you".

Schaufensterbabe said...

Yes, that definitely makes sense. I think that it's important (but not always easy...) to remember that there is no right and wrong in this. Every culture has their own social contracts, as you said, and their own feelings about personal space. If you are in another culture where these social contracts are different, it's quite likely that you will sometimes misunderstand and annoy each other. C'est la vie!

petoskystone said...

i like the idea of Luften as i can't bear to be in a stuffy room. air circulation is a wonderful thing. in thinking about american cheerfulness, it's odd but i don't really see it. guess i've been around it too long. i will nod acknowledgement to those i pass on the street, but overly friendly i don't see in cities. what i have noticed (esp. in people my dtrs. age--25) is the ease at which they will yell &/or flip out at percieved insults.

Schaufensterbabe said...

Yeah, I think this American cheerfulness thing does vary by region and is definitely less common in big cities as is the case everywhere. Still, you do say excuse me when you bump into someone in the U.S.which is a big improvement on Berlin. Americans in general don't tend to mind telling somewhat personal things about themselves to people they don't know very well. It's also considered polite and friendly to ask people things about themselves. Both of these are things a lot of Germans find really invasive. "But I don't know you...." would be their complaint. Of course, it takes them forever to get to know anyone because of this attitude, but then a lot of people have the same friends they had as kids without many new additions. Not everyone is this way of course, but it's definitely common.

petoskystone said...

one difference i have noticed between american & german friends is that americans expect to be mobile, & not only physically. most of my american friends expect to switch jobs every 5 years (or shorter). most see nothing wrong with moving to find another job. not that they're happy about moving, but it isn't anything unusual. those planning on buying a house, usually expect to buy/sell a few times before settling down. whereas, with my german friends they have a much more settled outlook on life! since americans move more frequently, needs must make friends in new locales (for business & personal)quickly.

Schaufensterbabe said...

Yeah, that is definitely a very big difference. Most native Berliners don't even move very far from the neighborhood they were born in let alone to another city (a lot of people from other parts of Germany do move to Berlin though, but mainly because they think it's cool because there aren't many jobs here.) My sister-in-law is in retail management and she has had at least four or five different jobs in the past 10 years (changing for better money or because the company folded or just because....) They also have bought and sold at least three houses in their 12 years of marriage. People would find that crazy here I think, but it's defititely not out of the ordinary for the U.S.

Kari B. said...

I have to agree on the German point of view on the annoying bubbly American, but probably because I was a New Englander in the South for a very long time and couldn't stand all the fake "Southern Hospitality". I'll take a less-than enthusiastic German over that any day!
And I guess while I'm agreeing with the Germans I may as well go all the way. I went home to visit my mum in Florida this spring and it was really, really beautiful and breezy most of the time I was there. She didn't open a window ONCE in two whole weeks! Needless to say, I was appalled, haha!
I like the differences and learning new points of view on life, and then being able to pick and choose what works for us. No cold rinses for me anytime soon though! ;)

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