Friday, December 25, 2015

Why do Germans have a cold stereotype?

When Mihai found out that he'd be living in Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost region of Germany, he was a little bit nervous because everyone he had met through his exchange program, CBYX, said that north Germans are cold, closed and reserved. This stereotype is quite common; I had heard the same thing when in Italy. However, based on my experiences, this generalization could not be farther from the truth. I was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness and generosity that I experienced with all of the Germans I met in the Kiel area.

He's not German but he's still pretty too cool

From the beginning, Silke, the owner of the hostel I worked/stayed at, had been more than generous with me. I had very little work and essentially a free place to stay. She often gave me rides to Kiel and back to Schwedeneck so I didn't have to take the hour long bus ride. She even left me a surprise birthday present of elderflower juice and chocolates. She cooked a traditional German dinner of raw, salted mackerel, apples and potato in a mayonnaise sauce for Mihai and I one evening. She even drove him to the bus stop that night so he didn't have to walk alone in the dark. She prepared breakfast for me one morning and invited me along with her and her 8-year-old daughter to play mini golf. She bought me a fish sandwich for lunch that day too. She let me take home a jar of the homemade elderberry jam we made together. She is an extremely kind-hearted woman and I'm so grateful to have met her!

The meal Silke made for us :)

Mini golf with Silke!!

Mathilda, Silke's 8-year-old daughter

Mihai's friends had a party and invited me to come too. As soon as I got there, everyone was so welcoming, friendly and talkative! A couple other times I hung out with Mihai and his friends and they were so nice. Mihai's one friend, Niklas, once waited two hours for us to finish eating dinner so we could all ride the train together. He also bought us subway cookies once!

New German friends!

By the last week in Germany, I got a decent amount of guests staying at the hostel in Schwedeneck. Nina and Frederike were two 16-year-old girls from Berlin staying in the countryside for a week during their fall vacation. And Johst was a 19-year-old guy from Hamburg who was staying in Scwedeneck for three weeks while he did an internship with a blacksmith. Nina, Frederike and Johst were all extremely talkative and were always hanging out together. Although, I was often busy cleaning and going to visit Mihai in Kiel, the three always invited me to join them in bike rides, meals or late night walks. Nina and Frederike even asked for my phone numbers and invited me to come visit them in Berlin sometime!

Midnight stroll in the middle of nowhere

Frederike, Johst and Nina

When Silke made dinner for Mihai and I at the hostel in Schwedeneck, it turned into a little mini party. Normally at night in the hostel it was just me, myself and I (hyperventilating in the dark from a nightmare about someone sneaking in and murdering me) but that evening there was Silke and her daughter, Mihai and I, Johst, Frederike and Nina and also two construction workers. Definitely a party compared to what I was used to! When I first welcomed the construction workers to the hostel, they kind of intimidated me. They were the typical construction workers: big, burly and gruff. As soon as they got into the kitchen they began unloading bottles of beer, vodka and whiskey. Silke had warned me they might be a little rambunctious. Oh boy. But that wasn't the case at all. The two men sat with the rest of us in the kitchen, sipping on their beers, talking and laughing. One guy offered us a piece of his own homemade salted eel (not my favorite food; super oily). He also pulled out his phone showing us picture of his wife and children. Shows you can't judge a book by it's cover! That tough guy construction worker was a  huge softie inside!

The two construction workers

Enjoying his alcohol haha

Barbara (Mihai's host mom), Jorn (host dad) and Merle (18-year old host sister) basically adopted me into their family as a second exchange student. After our first dinner together they invited me to come back anytime. I went over at least once a week for dinner and spent nearly every Friday and Saturday sleeping over. Jorn once joked that I only came over for the free food and was eating them out of house and home (not true!). Mihai and I were so happy that his host parents allowed me to sleepover! I couldn't believe it! These people had been strangers to Mihai less than a month ago and were now welcoming both him and his girlfriend into their homes as if we were family. I know that my old host family in Italy would never have permitted such a thing. Mihai is really lucky to have such an amazing host family. They're also a perfect fit for each other because the whole family eats healthy, Jorn and Merle do crossfit and Jorn always takes Mihai on long bike rides and runs.

For some weird reason, I don't have a picture of Merle but this is Barbara and Jorn!

Baltic sea!!!

Mihai's host family is also extremely family-oriented and slightly quirky (but in a good way). They eat dinner together every night and linger for at least an hour (sometimes two) afterwards in conversation. They have their own unique family words that they invented, for example schnabel is the word they invented for when they have a really small amount of food leftover. They eat a huge breakfast of bread with various toppings (similar to Danish smorrebrod but less fancy) such as pickled herring (fish), smoked salmon, sausage and other meats and a variety of cheeses and jams together every Saturday and Sunday morning at 10am. Then every weekend they take at least one outing all together as a family. I joined them too a few times! Once we went to a fall market in Surendorf (countryside) and another time we walked around the beach town of Eckenforde.

German breakfast mmmm

Hard candy factory

Flags from each district of Germany


Of course it was raining, what's new

The thing about German people, though, is that they are blunt, relatively private and don't talk if they don't feel like it. These are the only reasons I can think of that may explain why they're considered "cold". For example, Johst (the guy from Hamburg staying in the Schwedeneck with me) once saw my hairbrush and said, " You should really clean that..." Then when Mihai and I went to Hamburg, we asked this couple waiting in line if they'd take a picture of us. The couple was just standing in line, not doing anything, waiting for a bratwurst but they looked at us and flat out said "no". Not even "no thanks", just "no". Then they smiled and turned their backs on us. It was such an odd encounter. Germans don't really beat around the bush; if they don't want to take a picture of you, they're not going to do it just to be polite.

Oh and a random thing about Germans, they love contraptions for their boiled eggs. They use egg holders and have another thing for cracking a boiled egg and then two more devices for slicing their eggs. Totaling 5 thingamabobs just for boiled eggs. Back when I was in Italy, my German friend Christian even had egg holder in his camper. I guess he was munching on a lot of hard boiled eggs during his camping trips and, of course, being German, would never use anything besides the designated egg holder.

Egg holder! Don't have pictures of the other things though :(

But the good thing about Germans always telling the truth is that you know they mean what they say. I know Jorn and Barbara weren't just being polite when they said they didn't mind driving me and Mihai to a restaurant. They really just didn't mind. That's another thing, from what I experienced, German people are extremely laid back. I never once saw Jorn and Barbara stressed much less upset about anything (not even when I accidentally used salt instead of sugar in the apple pie). If I did something wrong at the hostel, Silke never got irritated either, she'd just calmly explain the right way to do it. Oh my gosh, quick side note, German bed sheets are SO WEIRD. It took me forever to figure out the right way to make a bed. Okay, so there's the normal bottom sheet that wraps around the bed (nothing different to the American one) but then things get strange. Germans don't use another bed sheet over the tops of their bodies and then a comforter. Instead, they just put a sheet around their comforters. Then they wash this comforter-wrapper sheet instead of the whole comforter. Typical efficient Germans. Why have a sheet and a comforter when you could just combine the two?? Except it makes making a bed a pretty difficult task because you have to shove the comforter inside of it's wrapper sheet.

The even weirder thing is that double sized sheets, comforters and mattresses simply don't exist. Germans simply put two single-sized mattresses side by side and each person has their own comforter. This is a prime example of how Germans value their privacy.

Found this pic on Gail Gaymer Martin's blog

Mihai told me that in the mornings before school he'd always eat breakfast with his host dad, Jorn. In the beginning, Mihai said he'd always try to make small talk with Jorn but Jorn would just reply half-heartedly and return to reading the newspaper. Mihai was worried that Jorn was angry with him or something because normally he was very sociable. Later, Jorn told Mihai that he simply didn't like talking in the morning. And that was that, Mihai never talked to Jorn again in the morning. Silke also told me that her boyfriend disliked talking in the morning. Maybe it's a common trend among German men to drink their coffee in peace and quiet?

I also took a day trip while Mihai was at German lessons to L├╝beck, a city renowned for it's gothic architecture, about an hour south-east of Kiel. Definitely my favorite German city so far because it had so many historic buildings compared to Kiel (a lot of Kiel was destroyed during WWII).

One last thing before I end this post, if anyone is curious/interested in traveling the same way I do, don't hesitate to contact me! I love helping and giving advice :) Just leave a comment on this post or message me on Twitter or Facebook!

Holsten gate

Inside St. Mary's church

View from top of St. Mary's

Huge marzipan shop called 

In love with this townhouse

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