Monday, 16 March 2009

Has Living in Germany Changed You, Too?

Just wondering...when you return to your native lands, do you find that either your tastes or your style has changed as a result of living in Germany? If so, how? And are there things from home you just can't quit doing or missing or wanting?

I'll start.

Changed: My openness to strangers.
In the US, and particularly in the Midwest where I grew up, friendliness to strangers is a mark of civilized behavior. You are required to make eye contact with and smile at people on the street, in shops, etc. Bonus points if you acknowledge them with a greeting, such as "good morning." This is a part of the world where "a stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet" is sort of an unspoken credo. It didn't come naturally to me, as I was a little shy as a kid, but I eventually learned to make small talk and chat up people whilst waiting in line, to pass the time. It actually became fun, and I made a few lasting friendships as a result.
Then I moved here and realized that not only were strangers not smiling at *or* making eye contact with me, but *I* was making them very nervous by smiling and looking at them. I'm not a threatening-looking person, either; in fact, even old German ladies come up to me in the street to ask me for directions. Still, I've also had mothers holding smiling, curious infants clutch their babies tighter and give me the stink-eye if I waved at said babies or returned their smiles.
So I've had to learn to a) stop smiling at strangers, and b) generally ignore other people in public. It was hard, but having finally gotten the hang of it, the re-entry to the United States is now difficult, because I'm so taken aback by the seeming "forwardness" of strangers...the eye contact and smiles aren't bad, but the random-people-striking-up-conversations stuff? It takes me a few days to get back into the swing of that. I didn't intend to become more reserved in public, it just happened, and I didn't even notice until I went home to the US.

Unchanged: My longing for a clothes dryer.
I *know* that I can buy one here; second-hand, they're not too expensive. But, in these teeny-tiny dwellings, there is no room. I'm lucky to have a washing machine. Even though it's in the bathroom. Le sigh. And I know that I can use one at a laundromat, but if draping wet laundry on the living room furniture makes me feel like a college student (not in a good way), schlepping to the laundromat is just beyond the pale. Not happening.
So I end up "drying" wet sheets by draping them over the furniture in the living room, which strikes me as super-ghetto; and yet, apparently, adults here do it without a second thought. (Those metal drying racks are too small to spread out sheets.)
To someone who grew up like most Americans, with a washer/dryer as an inseparable combo, like Batman and Robin, or peanut butter and jelly, I have to ask: what do people here have against clothes dryers?
I've had people tell me that dryers "waste energy," but in a place like downtown Cologne, where there's very little sunshine, let alone outdoor space where one can hang clothes to dry, many people don't have basements (and if they do, they're dark and dirty...not the place you want to hang clean laundry), *and* the air is humid enough all year-round to make drying a long drawn-out process....well, geez, a dryer would seem to make lots of sense.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?