Monday, November 1, 2010

German or Swabian?

I believe I have taken that last step into being truly German.  I'm going to mock the Swabians.

When my family - spread from Cologne in the west to Berlin in the east - heard that we were living in (the German state of ) Baden-Wuerttemburg they all said one thing.

"How can you stand living down there?  Those people are odd."

When Damon's German colleagues from graduate school heard they said two things.

"Told you Germany is a lot cleaner than France."  (It is.)  And " how can you stand living down there?  Those people are odd." 

I didn't have the heart to tell them at the time that we thought they were all a little odd, so that Baden-Wuerttemburg didn't really faze us that much.

My oldest friend in Germany, whose Hessisch accent sounded like the language I learned as a child, told me not to judge Germany by Baden-Wuerttemburg.  I did.

You know.  The tight-fisted, scowling, close-minded old person tending their garden, scrubbing their steps and washing their windows while they glare dolefully at the children who dare to venture too close to their previous flower beds.  (Like the couple who ran the bed in breakfast we visited in Munich, funnily enough NOT in Baden-Wuerttemburg and just the exception I need to prove the rule!)

The dialect in Baden-Wuerttemburg is so strong that the state's tourist motto is : we can do everything except speak German.  Proving that at least one person there DOES have a sense of humor about themselves!  (It's also the reason noone here has picked up on my American accent. I tell them where we have been living and they excuse the poor German based on that fact alone! Although, I gotta tell you, when some of the older Bayern folks compliment me on speaking German, I have to bite my tongue not to ask them if they wouldn't mind trying it too please. Amazing what you can intuit from only understanding half the words!) 

Of course Damon and I owe our sanity, and our security deposit, to the kindness and generosity of our Swabian neighbors.  And Andrew's baseball coach, the epitome of jocularity and good sportsmanship, is Swabian.  As are all my good friends who showered me with thoughtful gifts and sentiments when I left.  Aidan and Matthew's godfather is Swabian, and a happy father of four.  (Although I am sure his wife, my oldest friend, would ask me to reiterate that she most emphatically is NOT!)

My fellow Dresdeners (in the German state of Sachsen) didn't exactly greet me with warm fuzzy sentimentality either.  They were respectful, courteous and helpful.  Which was already an improvement over Stuttgarters who are often resentful at having being asked.  If you don't ask the correct question, in the correct way, to the correct person, at the correct time somewhere between coffee break and lunch, you not only won't get an answer, you will get a cold sneer.  And no, they won't direct you to the proper office.  "Nicht meine Verantwortung."  Not my responsibility.  And they won't make it their responsibility either.  (Which is why it is always so pleasant doing overseas business with someone from the USA, where they honestly try to help you find a solution to your problems and actually seem to find pleasure in doing so.  Even if they ARE faking it.)  Bureacracy, they call it here, shake their heads at the absurdity and chuckle ruefully.  Go ahead, you're doing it right now if you live here!

Back to courtesy without warmth from Sachsen.  Which prompted our hosts here in Bayern to tell us.  ''Oh, we don't really have that much to do with those people up there.  They are kind of odd."  Well yeah, I guess losing a war you started with the Russians and then falling victim to communism might do that to a person.  Or in this case a nation.  Didn't I hear something about a united Germany though?  Has anyone told the GERMANS that those "odd" people to the south and north of them are actually fellow countrymen?!

But it IS friendlier here in Bayern.  Especially with four children.  Back in Stuttgart, we do get smiles, but mostly of stunned disbelief and sympathy.  People here actually LIKE our large family.  They are HAPPY for us.  Out here in Iglersreuth, Frau Bauer tells me that families of four and five children are nothing unusual on the farms.  With less incomes than in Baden-Wuerttemburg. 

But we still turn heads in the larger towns.  Heads that stop, bend down and talk to the kids.  Heads that laugh when they realize they are holding the door open for more than the two children they had first spotted.  Like a gaggle of geese coming through the door.

Wait.  Let me repeat that.  They are holding open the door.  Holding open the door.  As in a common courtesy that I thought had been forgotten in Germany.  Holding open the door.  For children.  You aren't going to see that in Badem-Wuerttemburg. Unless you are hanging out on one of the American military bases.  Which is quite possible since they seem to be proliferating quite nicely there despite the end of the cold war.  (Another essay, another time!)

In Dresden, a woman in her sixties insisted on giving up her seat on the tram for Aidan and Matthew.  As if it were only the right and proper thing to do.  She wouldn't have had a seat on the U-Bahn in Stuttgart.  The men are pretty quick to get there first. 

So that common courtesies aren't as common as they should be.  But universal after all.

My cousin in Cologne had some advice when we told him we were considering relocating to Freiberg two years ago. ''It's nice enough." he said. ''I spent seven years there. But it's still Baden-Wuerttemburg. I couldn't do it again."

Seven seems to be a magic number in my family.  I couldn't do it again either. 

But I do leave a part of myself behind in that odd little part of the world the rest of the world considers part of Germany and the Germans consider Baden-Wuerttemburg.   So that I'd like to make an introduction.

Germany, meet Baden-Wuerttemburg. 

Baden-Wuerttemberg, meet Germany.  Go ahead, they're holding the door open for you!

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. It seems like you've really learned a lot about the spirit of the southern Germans. They are indeed different from the Westphalians, the Berliners, the Rhinelanders or the Northerners. Can't wait to hear your reports from Brisbane!