German Culture Essay, Research Paper
I choose to interview a woman by the name of Sylvia. Sylvia has been a family friend for many years and is twenty-eight years old. Sylvia moved here from Germany at the young age of five and lived here until sixteen when she moved back to Germany. Both of her parents were from Germany and she had family that remained there. She is now married to a German man and has one daughter. The interview that we had took place over the phone and I tried to keep it as short as possible so the phone bill would not be too outrageous.
I started by asking Sylvia about the country itself what was it like there. She told me that the weather is ok but that it does not get as warm there as it does here. She said that the temperature is about the same in the winter as here but in the summer it is not as warm. Sylvia lives in Berlin, which was considered East Germany. East Germany consists of an area of 41,768 sq mi and was established officially as the German Democratic republic on October 7,1949, but was later unified with West Germany on October 3,1990(Encarta, 95).
The first interview question I asked her was that of dating, how do people meet, get engaged and decided to get married. She told me that it was basically the same as here just a little more formal. Her husband talked it over with her grandmother first because that was the family she had there and then he asked her and she excepted, she has been married for almost seven years and dated him for about three before they decided to get married. I asked if couples are looked down upon if they decided to live together before marriage and she told me that they are not really looked down upon however it is not encouraged, and that could be for the simple fact that the cost of living there is very high. She said that many people come to Germany to marry for prosperity and said that German culture was very multicultural and a far cry from WWII, but the people that do come in cannot claim citizenship unless they are of German descent. So being on the subject of men and women asked her if she felt that men and women were treated equally? She told me that for the most part she does believe that they are, for instance she has friends that work at the Opel which is German for general motor plant and the women does not feel uncomfortable and is not discriminated against she enjoys working there even though it is mostly men.
On the topic of families we talked about housing and if children usually live in close proximity to their families and parents. She said that many families do live close to each other some move in with their parents after marriage or there is the option to build a house on the same land as your parents if there is enough room and she told me that while the house is being built it is tax-free for three years, that sounds like a good deal to me, she told me that for the most part that was the best way to go.
The next topic of discussion was on the beliefs or rituials of the German culture. I asked her what are some of the different beliefs that you have that really stand out from that of American beliefs. She first told me about the laws on German stores, that there are strict hours that they can be opened, and almost no shops are open on Sundays, if they are they are usually close to a train station and they must observe this rule on Monday, and all of them are closed during lunch for about one to two hours so that people can go home and have lunch with their family. Lunch is the most important meal of the day like Americans dinner. Children usually go home from school at this time and have lunch with the family, then after lunch children do homework or maybe take a nap before going back to school. These two hours is known as quiet time and you can?t play radios very loud and it is polite to hold off on calling someone at this time. Manners are also very important when sitting at the table, she said that you should have both hands on the table, or they should both be visible, and your plate should be virtually clean, they think that you did not like the food if there is leftovers. And to show when you are finished the fork and knife should be placed together, tips toward the middle of the plate and handles at your right hand. There are a lot of rules to have to remember to not be considered rude, nothing like America. She said that another thing that many Germans do is always keep the doors shut, even in the bathroom when no one is using it, she said this is because they like to have things in order and they also respect peoples privacy, I remember talking about this in class and just how odd we all thought it was but I guess for them it is just normal, to us it seems stupid. Another different belief that they have is one that we (Americans) do all the time, which I thought that this was just truly funny and it is to say ?Happy Birthday? to someone before the actual day and it is even worse to celebrate it before the actual day. The tradition also says that the persons whose birthday it is buys instead of everyone chipping in for them to eat or drink, that sounds a little rough to me. She told me that is also not uncommon to find that many people want to shake your hand Germans like to shake hands not only the first time you meet but every time you meet, wow that sure can get old!
The next topic we discussed was children, their upbringing, and school and boy was this good topic. She said that people teach their children at a very young age to be formal and respectful and she told me that there are six forms of the word you, one to address children, one for a superior, another for an elder, one for a peer in a formal setting, a peer in an informal setting and one for a friend or intimate. I take it that this is pretty good so that everyone knows their place when they talk to you depending on which word you choose to address them by, maybe we should try this, so that kids know who they owe the most respect to, she agreed. She also explained the way feelings are to be shown in public, she said that although Germans are very passionate and emotional they reserve their feelings for family and intimate settings, she assured me that someone would never show their feelings in public. This I thought was some neat information because I remember when we discussed emotions in class and the example you used of the Queen Of England. I thought to myself yeah right why would anyone be like that, I really thought that the queen just did not like the princess, however I see now that there are other cultures that are like that too. Then I went on to talk about school, she was telling me that German children go to school from the time that they are potty trained until the age of six. This program is for six hours, five days a week, and only cost about forty-five dollars a month, I could not believe only forty-five dollars a month. They also provide full day programs for working mothers. She said that from the ages of six to fourteen, it is mandatory for all children to attend school; they all attend the same program until the age of ten. At that time, they go to one of the four type schools. The track they enter will determine what school they will enter next either a university or trade school. This led to the discussion about colleges, which was disturbing to me because American schools are not set up this way. She told me that the colleges are controlled entirely by the government and they are free, yes, that is right free. Nevertheless, you do not get in with out their approval, and you basically go where they tell you, hey but if it is free who is complaining. The discussion then went on about who gets to choose the career. The family, or does the student, or maybe the government! Well the student does initially she told me because they decided on how well they do in school, but if they do not do well they are limited to in advancement, but ultimately the government decides based on test scores, and who gets what kind of schooling. Following this we talked about the working age for children, now as we know here you can start working at like fourteen. However she said in Germany you do not see many young people in the stores or business working unless it is family owned, this could have a lot to do with the fact that they do not get their licenses until eighteen years old and the family would rather them worry about school work. I was interested in knowing if teens do many of the same things that we do here and if Germany has some of the same problems that we have here for example drugs, pregnancy. Sylvia said yes they do have night clubs but they are called discotecks and they are usually opened until three a.m. As far as for teen pregnancy, she said that this is more of an uncommon thing but she does not thing that a teen daughter would be sent off in the middle of the night for it, socially she said that they are still in the nineteen forty?s and that violence would still shock them, but gangs are slowly developing but they are not dealing with large scale war in schools like we are. She said that the children in Germany tend to live up to their parents expectations more so there then in the United States, she explained that a teen pregnancy would prevent that child from getting an education at a better school. No one really wants to go to a trade school so teens usually prevent things like this from happening to follow their goals. I proceeded to ask her about some of the leisure activities that teen or adults like to enjoy because this is what I found my journal article on. The journal article looked at the difference in what activities men and women like in the German culture. The report found that three of the five most liked and disliked activities were the same for both men and women (Athanasou and Kirkcaldy, 1995). Athanasou and Kirkcaldy also said that women rated dancing and guitar amongst their favorite choices where as men included table tennis and endurance running, but both sexes showed strong dislikes to aggressive sports such as wrestling and boxing. ?Over all the report showed that there are distinctions between sexes in preference for specific leisure activities?(Athanasou and Kirkcaldy, 1995). She said that she would have to believe this as being true just like it probably would be in America that women do tend to take to the less violence sports such as dancing or swimming.
So after talking about the young we decided to talk about the old. She told me that usually when parents get old the children tend to look after them, but most of the old people are very independent, if there is no family usually churches try to help them out or even the government. I asked her if old people were expected to be listened to and if they were to be well respected? She said yes very much so children are taught at a young age respect and the elderly, I figured that just by all the formal and informal ways to address certain people they are looked up to, and are acknowledged for being wise and knowledgeable.
The article that I found in Time magazine was about murders that actually took place here in United States and the bodies that had been recovered. The case was called The Spokane Murders where a man went around and was murdering prostitutes. The tie that this all has to Germany was that they were also investigating the murders of twenty-six prostitutes near the U.S. Army base in Germany. I asked Sylvia if she remembers hearing anything about this and she could not recall of hearing about anything, but then again she try not to watch the news too much.
From murder to religion I asked Sylvia how important religion was and if was basically the same as here. She said yes, that for the most part they are mostly Protestant and Catholic and that there is also a strong influence of Lutheran as well because Martin Luther King was from Germany, Mormons and Witnesses are there as well. She said that most people don?t really belong to a church until they need something like a baptism or wedding, because the tithes for a church are removed right from a worshipers pay and with taxes so high to begin with Germans tend to try to avoid church tax. I asked how are the religious holidays usually celebrated and she said that they have parades or walks and that the Germans usually have the day off, just like here in America. The last religious question I asked her was if people can marry outside of their own religion and she said yes that for the most part that is not a big deal but some religions do not like it.
To end the interview I started asking Sylvia just how much she liked living in Germany and what she would change about it. She said that she likes living there very much; the small communities are so great. She told me that some Germans would drive p to two hours just to get to work so that they do not have to live in the town. Most Germans are very tidy and community oriented, they do have problems like our but just not as extreme. She said that she is very comfortable living there and that it is great to just be able to let the kids go outside and play and not have to worry about the dangers like we do in America, she feels very safe. Since she has lived in America for a while and she still has two brothers and a father here I asked her if she could change one thing about American culture to make it more like German what would it be? She changes the way families are raised. She thinks that we need to teach the children here a little more respect, and then maybe that would take care of some of the other problems that we have here today like the violence in the schools. So I asked her if she could change one thing about German culture what would it be, and she laughed when she told me this but she said she wished they would where deodorant, so that way we would not have to send her Secret anymore no but seriously she would like for people to be a little friendlier she said a lot of people tend to be formal and that makes them seem to be cold although that may not be the case, but they are just raised to be very reserved. She told me that she does have a few friends of a different culture but not that many most of them are German. When asking her if she was surprised by the different cultural behavior she said that everything in life holds surprises, and that is what makes life interesting.
All in all I think that this was a great project to do I feel like I really learned a lot. The questions were ones that I would not talk about in a normal conversation with her and it was interesting to know the answers. I don?t get to do a lot of traveling so learning about somewhere else besides New Jersey is always interesting to me. I thought that it was neat that some of the examples that you used in class applied to this culture, and it was great to hear that coming from someone who lives there. I have learned that there is a lot more out there then just what I know from living here and if I could some day I would love to travel there. Doing this project made me want to interview others from different cultures and find out how they are all different from each other. I think that now when I do come across some of another culture I will ask them some of the questions I asked Sylvia so that I can have a better understanding of the world around me.