When we moved back to Germany from the UK four years ago with two small daughters in tow, I decided that for their sake I had to commit to the culture so that they would fit in and find their place in it. I suspect we are still regarded as those weird foreigners by many, but I like to believe that I have made a staunch effort to assimilate. For example, I always speak German, even to people who detect my accent and immediately start speaking English to me. It becomes somewhat competitive – who’s going to give in first – and l’d like it on the record that I always win, even with people whose English is better than my German. I’m determined that way. And extra points are given if the interlocutor then starts speaking Dialekt. That’s when I know I’m really good – even if I can’t actually understand them.
Other ways that I and my family fit in are:
- I bake cheesecake
- We now call fairy cakes “muffins”
- My children immediately take their shoes off on entering any home
- We eat “hot” at lunchtime
- I shop at cheap no-name brand supermarkets, proudly
- We recycle
- We invite guests for coffee and cake on a Sunday afternoon and then we go for a walk afterwards
- We don’t get hot under the collar if we are ignored by a waitperson in a restaurant, because we know we will finally be served. For this, we feel no guilt in tipping small.
- We respect society’s quiet times. Most of the time.
- I get very shirty if someone queue-jumps. I had an altercation with a teenager who tried to butt in front of me while I was queuing for popcorn with my kids at the movies. I told him he was not a special human being and he needed to get in line like everyone else. Luckily German teenagers still appear to respect their elders.
- Oh, and I reprimand other people’s children. Even if they are taller than me.
- I have become a lot more frank
Here are the many ways in which I still don’t fit in:
- I don’t like lace curtains. Our cleaner, the divine Frau M, was so appalled at our lack that she provided lace curtains and a rail for the kitchen. Having already received very ugly angels, egg-yolk yellow bedlinen, heart-shaped vases, and plastic flowers as gifts from her, I had to draw the line at the lace curtains so I frankly but politely told her, “They are not to my taste”. She was deeply saddened.
- I find public spitting disgusting. This seems to be the preserve of teenagers and a certain kind of man, but nevertheless it happens a lot. When one of my children spat recently as a sign of disapproval for some parental ordinance, she was firmly reprimanded and placed on the Naughty Step – for rather a long time.
- I don’t eat or buy Leberwurst
- However, we do eat Marmite. Lily’s teacher is on a health food drive at the moment, and she questioned the appearance of something dark and chocolate-looking on my girl’s sandwiches. I had to write a note the next day saying, “Marmite is very healthy. It is made of vegetables!”
- I don’t wear slippers or Hausschuhe in my own home, but will offer to remove my outdoor shoes in someone else’s home
- I wear an excessive amount of jewellery (usually three rings, a necklace and earrings – all at the same time!)
- I will never give in to any inclination to get a tattoo, no matter how much Weizenbier I have drunk
- I think pale skin is more attractive than orange skin
- I do not jump queues
- I am not a confident bike-rider and probably will never be. The chances of Ollie being transported in a baby-trailer or bike-seat are very slim. I am well aware that I am depriving my son of a formative German baby bike experience.
- I still find it odd that my neighbours, who are the same age as my parents, call me “Frau Otter”
- I have no fear of my circulation collapsing or of being killed by a draught
Maybe it takes a lifetime to become a real German. Perhaps I never will, or perhaps I won’t stay here long enough to find out.