International Inferences

“PIZZA PIZZA PIZZA!”

My friends and I burst out of my room and skipped down the hall to go check on our hausgemachte (homemade) pizza we were baking that afternoon while relaxing and watching Netflix together. One of my hall mates happened to see us and shook his head at our crazy excitement.

Yes, the pizza was as delicious as it looks.
Yes, the pizza was as delicious as it looks.

My hall mates know me as the strange American girl who microwaves (and subsequently eats) Süßkartoffeln (sweet potatoes) about three times a week. Every time I go into my GAP Zimmer (common room), they all ask me if I’m cooking yet another Süßkartoffel. Cue laughter (from all of us) and a slightly judgmental expression (from them). Oh well. I also made the mistake of telling one of them that we had the pizza gekocht (meaning cooked, as on a stove top) instead of gebacken (baked, as in an oven).

Despite making a fool of myself, they have still invited me to hang out in the GAP Zimmer with them, and this week they added me to the WhatsApp group for our floor. That was also lustig (funny), because I gave them my American cell number and had to start with the international calling code, which is +1 for North America (Germany’s is +49). We laughed at this example of the American superiority complex. To be fair, the +1 code encompasses 25 countries and territories in North America, so it’s not just the U.S., but it reinforces the stereotype that Americans are very patriotic and somewhat prideful. Not a bad thing, but Germans tend to only express national pride for their sports teams, illustrating that Americans and Germans have different values.

In the same vein, Americans often think Germans are cold and reserved, and Germans think Americans are superficial and irresponsible. But really it comes down to what each culture has determined as polite. Germans value directness and getting to the point, and Americans value pleasantries and often feel uncomfortable jumping straight to business.

For this reason, I was very pleasantly surprised when the cashier at Aldi was nice to me. I had to show her my ID for the adorably tiny bottle of cooking wine I was buying (apparently I must look younger than 16—okay not really, I’m sure it’s procedure). After I helped her locate my birth date and she handed my license back to me, she asked me (in a friendly tone) what I was doing here, and we had a nice little exchange. In America, conversations with cashiers aren’t uncommon, but at Aldi, they are even rare between Germans. The cashiers ring customers up as quickly as possible, throwing their groceries at them and speaking only to ask “Bar oder Karte?” (cash or card—but the German supermarket kind of card, not the Visa or MasterCard kind). A rather stressful experience, so I was very happy when the cashier expressed interest in talking to me.

The little villages aren't far from each other.
Bavaria has a lot of small towns that are really pleasant to walk through. But drivers will stop and tell you if you’re walking on the wrong side of the road.

Being an international student has its ups and downs. I’ve accepted the fact that I will continually make a spectacle of myself, but then, that also gives me the excuse to excitedly prance around a circle of gold stones in the street with my friends because they make bells chime. It would be nice to speak German fluently and not have a very noticeable American accent, but at the same time, I embrace my American heritage and recognize it as part of my identity. I’m thankful for my homeland and also the chance to explore a new culture.

These deceivingly small stones make bells chime.
These deceiving stones make bells chime when people step on them.

Because only in Germany can you go on a spontaneous hiking trip in the valley, wander from one charming small town to the next, and wind up at a castle.

There are no foreign lands. It is only the traveler who is foreign.” –Robert Louis Stevenson

We found a castle on our adventure!
We stumbled upon a castle on our adventure!
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