Cultural immersion is a beautiful, puzzling phenomenon. Which elements do we embrace and which do we refuse to change? Which slowly creep in versus those we knowingly adopt?
As a U.S. Army spouse temporarily stationed in Germany, I choose my level of cultural integration. If I desired, I could stay in the “American bubble” that our base provides, but frankly, that’s not my style.
I've jumped head first into Germany and this immersion has led to German friends, societal observations, and – gasp – new traits.
Here are some ways I've become more German:
I pronounce German words correctly.
Americans are known for Anglicizing language, but I’ll be the one correctly pronouncing German-derived last names and things like Bratwurst or Frankenstein.
I’m a better driver.
Germans take the roads seriously and have the laws and driving schools to prove it. Although I have always been a good driver, I now only pass on the left, no longer use a cell phone and have eliminated rude hand gestures.
I’m not afraid to stare.
It’s socially acceptable to feast one’s eyes in Germany. I can only indulge in this habit over here, as Americans find it impolite or threatening.
I’ve given up excess sugar and ice cubes.
My first German cake disappointed my over-sweetened American tastes. Now, I can eat Baumkuchen with a black coffee and couldn’t be happier. Also, like most Germans, I take my drinks with exactly zero to three cubes of ice.
I dress for the weather.
I open my windows and air out my house, have gear for every season, and get outdoors. I now appreciate the statement “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.”
I want to recycle everything.
Germany’s recycling rate is one of the highest in the world and I enjoy feeling “extra green.” When on the go, I have a cute, reusable shopping bag clipped to my purse, just in case.
I am more direct.
Until making German friends, I was more concerned with feelings than with being open, honest and to the point. I now appreciate being direct without dancing around issues. It’s quite a revelation.
Where Do I Go from Here?
I’ve always been a bit of a chameleon. It doesn't surprise me that I've adopted new traits, since I came into this experience with open arms and an open mind.
The topic of culture sharing leads me to wonder - how have I influenced my German friends to be more American? I’m guessing the answer has something to do with pop culture, slang, junk food and my sense of humor.
Now for the biggest question -- which German traits will remain with me when I return to the U.S.? Only time (and a follow-up piece) will tell.