Saturday, May 29, 2010

You're Not In Germany Anymore

Damon had an interesting experience while in line at the bakery the other morning. He was multitasking, walking the dog at the same time, but that generally doesn't seem to be a problem in Europe. Damon looked for a ''no dogs'' sign and, not finding one, simply brought the dog in with him. I know. I know. But this is France. ''Le petit chien joli'' can under no circumstances be forced to wait alone, outside. It just isn't civilized.

It's like that all over Europe, Germany included. ( I don't know about Great Britain but, going by the old adage that the British love their dogs and horses as well as, or more than, their own children well.....) I'm still mildly appalled at seeing dogs at the mall, in the shops, and at restaurants. Somehow, it doesn't seem right. But...since it generally HELPS my situation, I'm not going to complain about it. We don't take Wolfy to the mall or to any fancy restaurants, but he's allowed at the beer gardens and ….in an emergency will come into the bank or post office.

A lot of smaller neighborhood groceries, bakeries and butchers, don't allow dogs. But they always provide a hitching post out front.

Europe is very dog friendly.

Wolfy was sucking up all of the attention while in line at the bakery. He gets very still, and puts on a demure, love me, love me, can't help but love me, look that dog-lovers can't resist. He had four little German girls swooning all over him the day before. He really knows how to milk it.

Damon was practicing his French and flirting with the French lady at the cash register. (He didn't tell me this last part but, I know. I've seen him in action!) ''Le petite chien est tres joli. Et quel genti aussi. Awwwww!'' Does this really need to be translated? The French were swooning over him. ''Quel age?'' (How old? And forgiveness from anyone who speaks French, I can only think of the question in Creole right now?! ''Ki laj li genyen?'' for anyone interested.)

It continued for quite a while. The line was long. The mood – and pace – were French. It seemed like every French family camping here also needed their baguettes and croissants and pain-au-chocolate. Fresh out of the oven. Warm and flakey like only the French can bake ém. (And the northern African immigrant who won the award for best French bakery this year. Globilization – you go girl! Seems even the French agree that anyone who can make French pastries counts as a real Frenchman, regardless of race or ethnicity.)

Appears that most of the German families were home eating Muesli. Either too cheap or too health conscious to spring for white bread, no matter how light and buttery.

I know. It's not fair to pick on ém. More than anything, I've noticed that countries define themselves by their breakfast pastries. The French have theirs, light and flakyt. The Germans eat brotchen. (Also delicious, hearty and crisp.) Americans have donuts, sugary and fattening, but like nothing else in the world. Maybe the first meal of the day helps define who we are as a people.

But they make it too easy sometimes.

As Wolfy, and Damon, basked in the adulation of the French, the woman in front of Damon obviously couldn't take it anymore. She turned to Damon and, in heavily-accented English, loudly told him that the dog didn't belong in there. The line got quiet. Because the accent was quite obviously NOT French and because the sentiments, and the abruptness, were even less so. Damon told her to mind her own business and leave him alone. Not very polite either annoying to be told what to do by a GERMAN in a French shop.

Of course she was German. If she'd been Italian I wouldn't be writing this story. (What do the Italians eat for breakfast anyway?)

After the lady left, the French slapped Damon on the back and congratulated him. ''Don't worry about it man'' they said. (Or something close to it!) ''We're damn sick and tired of the Germans coming down here and acting like they own the place.'' (Insert line about when the Germans really DID think they owned the place!) And, rather patiently from the women, ''it's not their fault. The Germans are just odd that way.''

I've always said it. The French have a lot in common with the Americans. (Although neither side wants to admit it.) We are both scared to speak a second language. (It's not only arrogance, folks, it's fear.) We both value individual liberty over common law. Both of us fought revolutionary wars, against kings, for 'liberte, fraternite,egalite.'' It's something the Germans wouldn't understand. French liberty emphasizes the individual even more than the American does. If a Frenchman isn't following the rules, noone corrects him, the way they do in Germany. Its almost as if the laws and signs are a suggestion, rather than a command. And there is nothing to compare it to in the German psyche. Germans need their rules.

In the same way, the German old-world structural heirarchy makes ''egalite'' an impossibility. But, playing by American rules here, that everyone is created equal, I don't really notice. I do know, however, that it pisses my German cousin, and a lot of other German businessmen, off that we Americans come over here so darn friendly and smiling and shaking hands and being nice to everyone. Who do we think we are?

I've seen German ''fraternite'' only once. June/July 2006 when the German soccer team rose to the finals in the World Cup held in Germany. Germany charmed the world that summer. We need more of that. The jokes say that the only two times the Germans ever felt national unity, they started two world wars. But I'll be the first to agree that that has got to change. When Americans see eachother we practically fall all over eachother like long lost relatives, irregardless of the fact that we've never met. The French are a little more dignified, but smile warmly, secure in the knowledge that they are countrymen, The Germans, I swear it, are sizing eachother up to detemine if they are going to have competition for the choice spot at the pool.

And now it hits me. The French hate a bully. They fight for the underdog. In this case, our Wolfy. In others, our kids. Six years ago, when I was flying from France to the USA alone with Ryan and two year old Andrew, I had a heated exchange with an older (French) man sitting in the row ahead of us on the airplane. Let's face it. His seat sucked. Andrew was on his best behavior, but he was two. This meant playing with cars, listening to stories and singing nursery rhymes. Apparently my singing was not impressive. When the guy turned around and asked me to keep my kid under control I apologized that I was doing my best. I empathized with him and told him I was very sorry. He told me that wasn't good enough. I suggested that if he could do better, he was welcome to try. I also, in a show of support, suggested he take advantage of the free red wine the airline was offering. I sure as hell was. He told me I was a ''typical American'' , unwilling to accept responsibility. I told him he was a typical man, one who had obviously never spent any time with the three kids he claimed to have raised.

The stewardess came by and told me not to worry about it. Later, as we were exiting the plane, more than five other passengers (women, to be sure) made it a point to come up to me and show their support. ''You did just fine,'' they said. Loudly. So that my antagonist would be sure to hear. ''We didn't even know you had two kids sitting with you. That man had no right to treat you that way. Good for you for sticking up for yourself.'' My French was better then, but I remember the message. On a plane full of French people, against a French antagonist, people took my side. It had nothing to do with nationality. Probably more to do with the solidarity of motherhood. But even more to do with right and wrong.,

Damon's incident at the bakery has less to do with nationality than it at first appears. (Although,let's face it, sixty years isn't going to erase centuries of rivalry over land and domination.) The fact that the woman was German, was unfortunate, for her and for the reputation of her countrymen. But she might just as well have been a well-intentioned, bumbling American. The point is that we don't own the countries that we come to visit. The campers are German and English and Dutch as well as French. Even a Lithuanian license plate and some Americans. You hear as much, or more, German and English, than French. (It was worse when we vacationed in Italy, or in Mallorca. It makes you realize why the Germans always look so shocked when you remind them that German isn't a world language.)

But this is THEIR country. And you play by THEIR rules.

What fun is a holiday in France, if you've never even bothered to leave Germany? You can go to France, and to Italy, and to Mallorca without ever leaving the comfort of your home. Book through a German travel company and you'll never have to hear a foreign language or try a foreign meal.

Try leaving your (German or American) self behind the next time you travel. You'll be amazed at how much fun you have. My goodness, at least try learning a LITTLE of the local language. (Don't look so shocked when I tell you that French really IS a world language!)

And, word to the wise, if everyone else is admiring the little dog in the bakery – in THEIR OWN COUNTRY – try joining in instead of antagonizing everyone.

Personally, I agree wholeheartedly that pets don't belong in a bakery. general I think, not only in France, being friendly gets you a lot farther than being right.

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