Cultural Differences, re: Japan

I’ve been majorly annoyed lately. Mostly because of Facebook, which is my ‘keeping in touch with contacts in the US’ weapon of choice. Maybe it’s because I’ve got friends and family in Japan, maybe it’s because I read the news too much, I don’t know. But it’s been killing me the past few weeks, reading the banal and often unnecessary status updates about the bowel movements of my ‘friends’’ kids, or their upcoming concerts, or what they’re listening to. I actually quit Twitter because of this, even though that was a long time coming. I simply can’t believe that so many people have moved on so quickly after the Japan happenings.

Maybe I’m not reading between the lines and it’s all a bunch of acting. I can’t hear their thoughts. Or maybe what I’m seeing and reading is what they’re really prioritizing. Because, let’s face it, this was no 9/11. This was no Katrina. Why? Because it didn’t happen to them. Regardless of how much of their culture we import and take as our own, maybe it’s not something that concerns the people I have to keep in contact with.

I decided a while back that my city, a second-, possibly third-tier Stadt by German standards, has a small-town mentality. I came to this decision when I started to take note of what the ladies were wearing. This was partially in order to try to assimilate and partially because I wanted to get an idea early on of what my local shopping options were. It occurred to me after a few weeks of heavy observation that most of the women and girls in my town didn’t know how to think for themselves when it comes to fashion and shopping. A perfect example of this would be this season’s unnatural love of tapered leg chinos in khaki, military green or a dusty blue. Most of my fashion-forward girlfriends wouldn’t be caught dead in these things, as they are generally unflattering and NOT attractive at all. But, as I’ve come to learn here, if it’s been in any magazine, every woman will run out and buy them and work them into the rotation.

As I generally prefer NOT to look like everyone else, I make it a point to not buy anything that is advertised. Also as a rule, I never shop at H+M anymore. That’s kept me looking like an individual so far, and I plan to keep it that way. I wonder if this is Germany as a whole, since until this point I haven’t met anyone in any city that is really doing anything different and exciting.

I digress. The Japan crisis has been all over the news here. You’d think Phil Collins was advertising donations, with how much you hear about donating to Japan (the Germans ALSO have an unnatural love for Phil-effing-Collins and it kills me) on the radio and television. In almost every store here, there are collection boxes for Japan donations. I think that’s awesome.

As I said earlier, I read the news too often. And when I say ‘the news’, I mean American newspapers. Even in the most liberal papers, talk of the Japan crisis has dwindled to a very specific topic: how to make our nuclear power plants safer. There’s also been some talk about radiation in the rainfall, tainted water, etc., but most of what is being written (that I have read, and I’ve read a lot) is about how ‘We can be safer (than Japan was)’.

Over here, of course, it’s a totally different discussion. Germany has been classically against nuclear power, with renewed protest last year when Ms. Merkel made the announcement that we would be extending the lives of our power plants by another 20 years or so, because our earlier date is not quite as feasible as planned. Germany currently only gets about 20% of its power from the nuclear sector, and people still want it gone. Now, after the crisis, people are out protesting again in full force, and in our most recent elections the green party did much better than normal. Call it luck; call it a case of right time/right place, whatever… but the Germans are taking some serious action. We’ll see how that works out for them. Apparently, the Germans feel the same way about their green party as most Americans feel about theirs: the values are anti-environmentally-bad-things, but they don’t know how to run a government. I don’t know enough yet about the politics here to make my own decision, but I’m excited to learn. I’m also excited about how open all of my very different friends here are with their opinions, all of which vary greatly.

In summary, America (and Russia, to a lesser extent) appear (to me) to be saying ‘we need to make our plants safer than Japan did’, and Germany is saying ‘we need to shut down all of the plants YESTERDAY’. Considering how much of our (Germany’s) power comes from nuclear plants, I think now and the immediate future would be an awesome time for Germany to lead by example. The rest of the EU and Europe in general might not think it’s possible, but if anyone can go fully non-nuclear, it would be us. And if we were to do that, it would provide positive leadership for the rest of Europe and the EU to follow suit.

Here’s where my mild confusion comes in. Going back to the idea of the small-town mentality and the fashion sense of my local Germans, I can’t help but wonder how the German people really feel. On one hand, we’re the clean-energy world leader and it makes sense that the Germans are anti-nuclear power for the future. They’ve been anti-nuclear since before the crisis, so it’s not exactly a 180. On the other hand, I catch myself wondering if the Germans are just flipping out now because of Japan’s crisis and have just decided that nuclear is bad, very bad, much worse than previously considered. Do the Germans genuinely learn from the mistakes of others, or has it always been so fervent?

This is what I need to learn for myself, and it’s only going to come with time and a LOT of history reading.

—Gina-Marie