Now that we've been here in Germany a full four months, I'd like to share some of the thoughts I have had. In a somewhat but not-really-all-that-particular-order, the top 10 things I've learned:
10. A lot of Europeans go to Miami. It seems like most of the time when we are chatting with someone about whether they have been to the US they usually say they have gone to Miami. This makes me a bit sad and actually contemplate a massive campaign to tell Europeans that there are much much much better places in the US to go besides Miami--even if you are looking for a beach vacation.
9. There are no fewer fries in Europe than America. There's an idea in America that we eat a lot of french fries. There's an idea in Europe that Americans eat a lot of french fries. But we honestly feel like there are just as many, if not more people eating french fries at every possible occasion here.
8. Not all Europeans handle alcohol more appropriately than Americans. This is sometimes used in arguments about younger drinking ages. Some say, Europeans can drink younger because of the way alcohol is portrayed in the culture. Well, we have seen some pretty poor and supposedly "American-like" behavior while drinking and we have had our train stormed by literally hundreds of drunks that did not allow us off the train. Yes, the public transit availability does make a difference though.
7. American tourists really can be loud and annoying. We've seen it and been annoyed by it. Please, stop talking so loudly.
6. ...but Europeans can be just as annoying. I've also been on a train with a large group of Scots, Welsh, and English who were talked so loudly and being so incredibly ignorant I considered starting a round of applause when they got off. We've also been traveling with a number of groups who enjoy singing loudly for the entire train or just generally talking loudly and yelling. All cultures have people who are guilty.
5. I am not a fan of 2€ coins. So in the US when you decide not to spend your change you don't miss much. You roll it once a year or so and deposit it and go on your merry way. In Europe, if you decide not to spend your change you can accumulate 60€ in just a few weeks. A handful of 2€ coins can pay for your groceries where a handful of quarters barely pays for a soda anymore.
4. I am super lucky that English is my native language. It's true--English is a universal language. We've been really interested to be traveling and see a Greek and a Swede or a German and an Italian conversing in English because it's their common ground. We English speakers really lucked out. At the same time, it makes me all the more convicted that being able to speak another language is important and providing signage and announcements in more than one language is not a big deal.
3. Germany as a country is not that old. Did you know that Germany was not really a country until the 1870's? I'm not sure if I ever really thought about it since I knew it was European and had really old history, but Germany was a bunch of smaller lands that came together even more recently than the US was founded. So it wasn't even unified for very long before it was all split up again. Which leads me to my next point...
2. WWII was a huge deal for Europe. OK, maybe that sounds really dumb to say and like I never paid attention in history (FYI: I had my own personal history teacher in my mother and usually made at least a 99 in history), but it's hard to really get that concept from history class in the States. As I mentioned, Germany was a unified country for about 30 minutes (OK, exaggeration) before it entered into its "war-torn country" phase. Due to the end of WWII, it was split up yet again. Which led to years and years of East and West Germany and that really didn't end all that long ago either. When we were first here, my husband and I noticed a couple of people alluded to WWII apologetically and we thought, well that's weird--we're not still upset about it. But the more I've learned during my time here, the more I've realized that the effects of that war were still going on in these people's lives until pretty recently. It's only the young university students and kids who have no recollection and they are of the first generation that has no qualms about raising the German flag and having some national pride.
And I mention that it was a huge deal for Europe, not just Germany. Europe had a really tough 20th century. The sacrifices and awful things that the whole of Europe endured is still embedded in the memories of people and still shapes the way many decisions are made. When we visited the European Union exhibit in Brussels (by the way, this is a MUST do if you are in Brussels), we all learned so much about the wars' effects on Europe and why the Union was created. It made me realize that a lot of the differences between Europe and the US are because the people suffered these awful wars on their own soil. The American experience was so different and I think it's really very hard for Americans, especially young Americans, to fully understand the impact of the World Wars.
1. I am an American. I've always been one of those people who really appreciates the diversity of culture in America and really enjoyed seeing people embrace their ethnic heritage. I think it's popular in the US because we don't really have a distinct American culture. However, I think if you take any of us and plunk us down in our "motherland" for a little while, we'll come to realize just how American we really are. It's the little things, whether the friendliness with strangers or grocery shopping practices or availability of certain foods, but you'll come to find that you have a comfort level with the American way of life that you probably never realized you were participating in until you weren't living it anymore. Many people come to like living another culture's way of life more and feel that it's superior and stay in that culture permanently. I must admit, before we moved here, I thought I might be one of those people. But I'm not. I don't think the American culture is superior--there are things I like and don't like about both the culture in which I was raised and the culture in which I live--but I have discovered a comfort I never noticed until I was gone. Just like I've always had to explain to people about my own heritage--I am French-Canadian, not French, not Canadian because French and French-Canadian are two totally different things as are Canadian and French-Canadian. Being some other ethnicity (Greek-, Italian-, Irish-, German-, Chinese-, etc.) American is great. But that second part, the American part may be much more a part of you than you realize.
I love Europe and I love the people and I'm so thankful for the great experience they've gifted me with during our time here.