4.6.06

Privacy

I had always thought Germans were more private than Americans. Warm and welcoming is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the German culture. Nevertheless, having a German boyfriend has given me a different viewpoint than I would have otherwise had of the culture because I get treated as part of the inner circle of his friends and family. I have experienced first hand German gemütlichkeit, which translates roughly to coziness and warm friendliness. You will be hard pressed to get a smile from a German stranger but when amongst German friends you will smile and laugh to your heart's content.

Germans, on the other hand, tend to view Americans' outward amicability and shows of friendliness and caring as nothing more than that, a show. One day shortly after M. and I met, I answered the phone. When I realized it was him I gave him a very enthusiastic HEEEEYY!!! How are YOU today!?!? I'm doing JUST FINE!! GRREEEAT to hear from YOU!

His response was basically something to the effect of "Knock it off with that American Fakiness!"

HUH!?!??!? I was stunned! Did he honestly feel I wasn't being sincere? I was really taken aback at that response. At various times since we have been together, he has pointed out this "fakey effect" and having had some time to think about it I have come to a conclusion.

At the risk of overgeneralizing, I think Americans tend to protect their privacy in a manner that is non-exclusive. Even if he were having a horrible day, an American would still maintain a happy facade, not saying anything of substance and packaging it up with a big smile and lots of chit chat. Germans are not going to be bothered with this. If you are a friend, you get the straight story, good or bad. If you aren't you get nothing.

There is substance in most German relationships and it can feel kind of intense once you do have friends in Germany. There are no built in barriers for avoidance. Your house is open and your life is open to those you call your friends. We are friends with all our neighbors in the building. I don't mean 'friendly with', I mean 'friends with'. This is nice sometimes. You are never lonely and can (and do) have company almost every day.

However, it can also feel imposing if you are an American. Almost everyone has at one point had the overly friendly neighbor in America. They stop by unannounced. They want to chat for several hours in the back yard. They give and seek advice about anything and everything. They want to go on vacation with you. It can be downright uncomfortable and if your avoidance tactics don't work, at some point you realize you just need to move to get away from them.

There are some exceptions to how Americans and Germans behave in matters that are private that I can think of. For example, when an American does want to tell his real story, nothing short of the Oprah show with 40 million viewers will do. And anyone taking a train from Washington to New York has doubtless been exposed to all the intimate details of a relationship gone bad or Johnny and Susie's 12th attempt at fertility treatments as some loud mouth blabs on their cell phone.

And as much as Germans are protective of their emotional privacy they sure don't have issues with physical privacy. Take for example James's post about public urination (Public Urination). Germans are prone to drop trou anywhere and everywhere if the urge hits. Anyone who has been to a German sauna knows that public nudity is NOT an issue with Germans. A couple would never think twice about cramming into a small two person table with complete strangers if its the only seat availble. I always hate this as it feels so awkward and imposing to me and would never do it without M. Finally, there is definitely a nosey element, where people are always peering out their windows and watching what you are up to. They might act like they don't care about things that aren't their business but they sure are keeping their eyes on everything!

Posted from Munich

1 comment:

rebecca said...

This sounds SOOOOO familiar (excuse the americanism :) )