Naked German Girls
Aug 10, 2001 (Updated Aug 16, 2001)
The Bottom Line Friendly and accomodating, there are changes to get used to that one might not expect.
I apologize for the title, but I just finished reading an article about writing eye-catching titles, and that one actually fit. You see, when was sixteen (back in 1995) I took a 3 week trip with my school to Germany. I'm from Columbus, OH, and our "sister city" is Dresden, Germany. That means there are all these special programs designed to allow citizens from one country to stay and visit in the other with a family there. So for 8 days of our trip, each of us was to stay with a German family. We were supposed to stay with the person who'd stayed with us a few months before, but I'd ended up with the girl nobody liked - and for good reason. She was rude, self-centered, mean, and was upset when my parents wouldn't let her call home every day to find out the scores of her favorite soccer teams.
But I digress. My parents explained the situation to the teacher from Germany, thankfully she empathized, and so when I went to Germany I stayed with someone else. Her name was Jule, short for Julianna. She was a year older than me and had two older sisters, Ulrike, and Cornelia, though Cornelia was away at college. Her father was a pediatrician and her mother was a nurse. I was surprised to find this out when I saw where they lived. They had half of a house and one car. I was even more surprised when Jule mentioned that people were often jealous of how they lived. I later learned from other people on my trip that most of them stayed with families in very small apartments called "flats" in buildings 20 or 30 stories high. The fact that the family I was with lived in a house at all was considered "rich."
I should also mention that Dresden is in former East Germany, and many people in that part of the country were and still are recovering from Communist rule. So even doctors and nurses are used to being paid less wages than we would expect in the U.S. It's also important to note that most Germans don't see the necessity of owning a big house. While my family has a huge house and buys all their clothes on sale, Germans are more likely to have nicer clothes and cars than homes.
The house was smaller, but I was able to have my own room since Cornelia was at school, and the family was very friendly. Unfortunately, neither of the parents spoke English, so that led to me being a little quiet at mealtimes. Meals were much different than I expected. Breakfast is much heavier, with more bread, cheese and meat, though they did have Nestle Quik (A Swiss product. I had always thought it was American.) The Germans have very small appliances. Their refrigerator was actually part of the cabinetry, and maybe half the size of our refrigerators. But they don't refrigerate as many things as we do - especially beverages. They kept juice in the pantry (I didn't know you could do that after you opened it) and drank it at room temperature. In fact, most of their drinks are only slightly cool, or even warm. They wondered why we would take a drink out of the refrigerator and add ice to it. I told them we like our drinks to be at either extreme, but not in the middle. They also drink much less than we do. Their cartons of juice were only the equivalent of a couple of juice boxes, and they don't drink tap water. In East Germany this is because the rivers are still polluted, but they don't drink still water either. Almost all of their bottled water is seltzer. This family understood Americans weren't used to this, and bought me some bottles of still water.
Lunch is very different in Germany. They have their main meal during this time, and most Germans get a few hours off for lunch. The high schools work like college campuses - different classes each day, and you're free to leave whenever you want. We would go out to a restaurant and have a sit down meal. I was also told that fast food was considered almost taboo. It was something you ate only if you had too - not something you go out with the purpose of eating. And while the portions are large at the restaurants, only order pop if you have a real craving. It comes in glasses half the size we're used to, and with no ice. Oh - and there's no such thing as free refills there. When the Germans came to America they were fascinated by this concept.
Dinner is then very light since they eat so much for lunch. This meal is mostly deli meats and cheeses, bread, and maybe some fruits and yogurt. My family knew I was used to having a big meal at dinner, and so every night they fixed me something different to eat, like pasta, or pizza. I didn't ask for this, but I was grateful. I know I would have been hungry after a few hours if I'd had what they did.
Their washer and dryer were also very small like their refrigerator. I could only fit a few shirts and a pair of pants into each load. But I also doubt that they need as much room as I do. Jule noticed I was taking a shower every morning (she took one every other day or so) and asked me if we washed our clothes after every wearing. I said, "Well, yes, in the summer time." (This was June.) She had trouble understanding why I would ever wash them that often, especially since I washed my body every day.
I thought it was funny that for a culture obsessed with keeping our bodies clean, we are very careful about showing them to anyone. I opened my door one day to see Ulrike strolling down the hall in only her underwear (the bottom half.) I know her father is a doctor, but it was quite a shock to see someone walking around with just panties on.
There were a few parties for other German students while I was there. At a birthday party for one girl there was a huge selection of alcohol (the drinking age is 16). They had clearly spent a lot of money for the party it seemed. Then they brought out the food. Not traditional party food - a big bowl of spaghetti - and ketchup to put on top. Not exactly what I had in mind. It seemed they put more emphasis on having good liquor.
We traveled mostly on a type of trolley car that ran along the road on tracks, and one time on the bus. Jule would buy a pass for the whole week, and for me she bought a pass that would allow me ten rides. It was cold when I first got there, and so I forgot that most women there don't shave their armpits until I got on the bus one warm morning and a women with a sleeveless shirt was reaching up to hold onto a rail. You have to be 18 to drive, and so Jule and her friends took public transportation everywhere, and it went everywhere.
The country also rewards students with cheaper passes for transportation and everything else. While we sometimes find student rates for the movies, they have a student rate for anything that has an admission price. It's also cheaper to buy train tickets too. Jule's school provided me with a student ID (very official, almost like a passport) because there it is to your advantage to be a student, and it would be very lucrative for someone to have a fake student ID.
While I felt fairly safe there, we were informed there were problems with skinheads. One of the guys from my school was Indian, and the German students informed him that he should take taxis at night rather than the metro. Also, every student at their school was white except for an exchange student. This country is definetly not very diverse. I later hosted another exchange student, and after seeing a white and black student talk to each other, asked me if whites and blacks were friends at my school. It had never occurred to her that they might be.
Overall the people were very friendly, though it was tough getting used to the lack of beverages, and the abundance of meat. While not the opposite of our culture, it held a lot of unexpected surprises.