This particular blog has been a struggle for me. It has to do with my struggle with the cultural differences here. I struggle with this post because I want to be fair and not generalize. In Texas, I had many friends from other countries. I often heard generalizations about Americans. For example, I heard that American’s won’t go out with their kids to the playground when it’s a bit cold outside. I would often tell people, no that’s just Texas, you should visit Brooklyn. Or the generalization that Americans waste energy, ok that one is probably spot on, nevermind. So here we go with my generalization, Germans stare and not only do they stare at you they can sometimes give you “ the German death stare”.
When I was growing up I was told don’t stare, it’s impolite. The minute your parents caught you staring you got a sharp reminder threw bared teeth “don’t stare”. I didn’t even realize how ingrained in me that is until I moved here and started reacting to the endless stares. Max and I walked into a restroom together last week and a whole family was in there. When we walked in they all stopped suddenly and just stared at us mouths gaping. Max asked me why they were staring. I told him it was probably because they heard us speaking English. He thought for a moment and said: “well I speak German so they should only stare at you.” Well, I speak German also, I rebutted. “Yeah , but not good” he replied. Why do kids never have your back?
At my son’s Judo, one of the mom’s was staring at me so hard and just wouldn’t stop. I immediately felt 14 years old and wanted to yell at her “ Bitch what are you staring at”. Then I remembered, staring is totally acceptable here. She was probably daydreaming about what to make for dinner and just staring at me in the process. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt anyway.
The “German death stare” however is slightly different than the ordinary German stare. It is frequently given by an older German lady who is mad that you broke a rule or a cashier. This stare will bring the strongest person to their knees.
The grocery store has been a scene of countless stares and stress for me: so much to understand, so many rules and so many older German women. The grocery stores in Texas are so easy, they greet you with a fake smile and make chit-chat while the groceries are being entered into the system. Then a teenager dutiful bags your groceries for you. All the while you chit-chat about the weather or the latest High School dance. Here in Germany, you have to get your groceries on the conveyor belt and Schnell! Last week my son was distracting me about the candies for sale, I did not get all of my groceries on the conveyor belt in a timely manner. The cashier stopped what she was doing and waited with arms crossed for me to finish getting my groceries up on the belt. I looked up in fear and caught “the German death stare”. I am fairly sure she called me a bad word in German in her head. You think I’m being sensitive? You were not there to witness the glare. I was sweating and yelling at my son through gritted teeth “ let me concentrate, dammit”. I finally got all my items up and she proceeded with checking me out. I was not done yet, I needed to bag my own groceries. I turned around and there was a line behind me of German stares and I imagined that they are all cursing me for being so slow. I bagged like a maniac throwing eggs on top of bread and drag my energetic, whiny son out of the store.
So I started practicing the stare. I mean a really good one. I caught a women staring at me from the bus stop. I stared back so hard and shot imaginary superhero type rays from my eyes saying” piss off”. She looked away quickly. Victory was mine, I thought I might be getting the hang of this place. I took it a step further when a woman yelled at me about being out of the bike lane I yelled back in German “ I know, I know, leave me alone.” I was starting to feel empowered and was imagining ways to tell people off.
Then I was feeling a tad introspective. Why was I angry and reacting to cultural differences? Is there a way to incorporate a little of who you are into a new culture? Could I kill the cashiers with kindness? Could I stare back with a lovely smile? Wouldn’t it be fun to have some freedom and just freely stare at people and imagine stories about them? I’ll give it a go and see how I can incorporate both the cultures. I will say, however, that cashier is going down.