New culture ‘exhilarating’ for correspondent

New culture exhilarating for correspondent

New culture ‘exhilarating’ for correspondent

Rita Forbes

It is an exhilarating feeling to land in a new culture.

At home, I live my life without questions. I follow traffic rules, meet new people, throw my garbage out, go grocery shopping, eat and wash the dishes, all without thinking.

I do certain things and behave in certain ways, and change would never occur to me.

In Germany, though, everything is different. I look at the world through newborn eyes, overwhelmed with information as new impressions flood in from all directions.

It is easy to accept some things that would shock me at home.

In my first year of study in Germany, in 2006, I accepted a ride from a new friend. As we drove on the Autobahn in the middle of the night, I watched the speedometer climb to 250 kilometers (that’s 155 miles) an hour. Instead of worrying, I shrugged and enjoyed seeing Germany’s lack of speed limits in action.

“This is how it is in Germany” – words to cover a multitude of offenses.

Coming from a dry campus in southwest Missouri, I cannot suppress a smile as I pass by the beer case in the school cafeteria. In Germany, where 16-year-olds can legally purchase beer, there is nothing wrong with drinking a Beck’s between classes.

Other things are not so shocking, but just as pervasively different.

Concern for the environment is paramount. Wind turbines supply over 7 percent of the country’s electricity, and many homes have solar panels on the roof. In the Bundestag, or federal parliament, the Green Party occupies 51 of the total 614 seats. On a day-to-day level, trash is separated religiously into several different categories: paper, glass, organic refuse, plastics and packaging, and “real” garbage. Waste is a serious sin.

There are differences in mentality, too.

While I completely disagree with the common stereotype of Germans as cold and reserved, it is true that it takes a little longer to build relationships here. Germans also tend to have no qualms about expressing their opinions honestly. This directness can be mistaken for aggression.

German students have a ready answer when asked about their future careers.

While an American might reply with a few possibilities or even say “I don’t have a clue,” Germans know they want to be engineers, or accountants, or work in a TV studio. “Undecided” is not a major here.

The differences in culture add up quickly, whether they are large or small. I fall into bed at the end of each day, my brain exhausted from processing so much new information, seeking to put together the puzzle pieces which surround me.

So much separates me from the German culture. Thousands of years of history have gone into its development. But with time, the foreign inevitably becomes familiar.

Soon enough, life here will become normal. For now, though, I savor the unknown.

[Editor’s note: Rita Forbes is spending this academic year studying in Germany. She is a senior mass communication and German major at Missouri Southern.]