More German than the Germans

Slowly, we’ve found ourselves integrating into our non-German lives here in America. Instead of hearing the phantom ring of our default Siemens ring tone melody, I’ve gotten attuned to hearing our Uniden telephone gently playing the Star Spangled Banner. Something I cheekily programmed, lest the palm trees outside of our doors didn’t remind us enough of where we were.

Although we are getting more settled, there’s room for reflection at every turn still. What always struck me when I was living in Germany was how picking your career path, often at such an early age, was a real commitment. It wasn’t something that you waited till you were 21 or so to kind of start thinking about. On one hand, I found it a shame that a concept that could be so enriching as a liberal arts education wasn’t mainstream, and I also found it stifling and foolish that it would take years of retraining to switch careers. On the other hand, with every visit to America while I was still an expat, I appreciated the in depth knowledge of his goods which a German shopkeeper might have and understood why the bread tasted so good in Germany instead. On the other hand, it was exciting and motivating to think that there were all of these possibilities in America. If you wanted to become a preschool teacher, why not! You could! If you wanted to work in a bakery, come on in!

Last month, I experienced my first “Elternabend” or Back to School Night as they call it here. We have a new teacher at the helm of my daughter’s class. My daughter seems to like her and she is very nice, but somehow her newness and youth was obvious. At our old Kindergarten, it was striking how young the leadership was, but I never really questioned their competence. Without knowing that much about it, the intensity of training of caregivers in Germany was clear to me as there was a constant revolving door every year of trainees and interns at all levels of study. I guess what it comes down to is experience.

There is a mix of nationalities in our classroom. I’d guess that about half of the parents in the room were German and the other half were not. At the end of the evening, I raised my concern that the kids had little to no interaction with kids of other age groups. There was some positive discussion on how this could be resolved: perhaps each class could partner with another class and share a favourite picture book or do something age-appropriate on a regular basis. But there was also the concern of what would happen if our 4 and 5 year olds were on the playground at the same time as the 2 and 3 year olds. Sure, in Germany, you have to make sure that there are specific areas for under 3s and over 3s. But one (German) mother asked me, “Could you imagine what would happen if a boy as big as Ben (supposedly a large 4-year old) ran into a 2-year old child?” The scare tactics didn’t quite have its desired effect on me. My reaction was, “Well, this is exactly what they need to learn: how to watch out for each other.” It struck me though that this was a bit of a role reversal. As the American, wasn’t I supposed to be the overprotective helicopter parent? And as the German, wasn’t she supposed to swing open her doors and let her children roam freely about?

It wasn’t the only incident where my purist Teutonic tendencies came out strong. My bafflement that they used English language books to read out loud (in German) seemed to be a solitary concern in that room full of parents that evening. Yes, of course the children can’t read, but all of the cultural nuances of Bobo Siebenschläfer going to the bakery with his parents or celebrating a German-style Christmas are lost in Dora auf Deutsch.

I seem to have become “that mother.” Luckily, my husband is also “that father.” So I share with him all of my thoughts on what is or isn’t done “properly” … and of course you too, dear reader!

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