Sunday, January 25, 2009

When cultural differences become apparent

Cultural differences are funny things. Everything goes along in a relatively normal fashion, and then they spring up out of nowhere. Things like pop costing more than wine in grocery stores are different, but not at the level they actually provoke any thought. Differences like that are easily accepted. Really, though Germany has been different, it hasn't felt terribly different than the US, at least culturally speaking.

Today, though, there was a moment that made me fully realize that I was in fact in a culture beside my own. We went to the Narrenumzug, a carnival/parade of sorts in the town of Umkirch ( It is a Fastnacht (, which is a pre-Lenten carnival of sorts. Not quite Mardi Gras, however, since it's purpose is to scare away winter. As a result, everyone is heavily costumed, etc.

However, the difference came in with the conduct at the Narrenumzug. It involved a lot of grabbing children and running away with them from their families and trying to make them cry, for one. One guy threw a staff in the air and hit a kid on the head. Another disconcerting aspect was the weird overtone of sexual harassment. There were girls that were grabbed and dragged into the street and thrown onto mattresses and had confetti shoved down their shirts and pants and had their lower backs stamps. Others were wrapped in saran wrap, spun in front of the entire crowd, and the like. Typically, these were girls in the age range of 14-20, and much older men taking part in the actions. This would NEVER go over in the United States. Vulcans can't even dot people on the face anymore at parades, and yet here, it was completely ordinary to be throwing girls on mattresses in the middle of the street and shoving things down their shirts. Essentially, the experience seemed to be like why people watch a horror film: the reactions and moments of terror were part of the experience, and none who grew up with it were bothered in the least. Nonetheless, it was radically different than what would be acceptable in the United States, so it was a very eye-opening experience.

Before I get onto the other fun pictures, as promised, I have solved my camera dilemma. So you can see a couple pictures of my room and nearby:

The view out my window when it is actually sunny (which is almost never):

The ridiculous version of blinds I have: It's a metal square with weird holes on it that is on a track outside the window. I need to reach outside and pull it loudly across to open and shut it. It looks like a nuclear blast shield:

My room; not the most exciting room in the world. But it functions, I suppose:

Yesterday, we took a German class field trip to Heidelberg ( Heidelberg is an older city that escaped damage in the World Wars, so it has plenty of old buildings intact. Notably, it was important in the Holy Roman Empire. Notably now, it has an illegal non-franchise Hard Rock Cafe. There was an impressive palace/castle above the town, which is now basically in ruins, but it remains imposing. That day also involved my first near-missed tram due to still developing concepts of inconsistent train schedules on the Verkehrs AG. You figure out the official acronym for our public transportation yourself, you twelve year old boys. Anyway, I got a phone call at 716 informing me that the last tram I could make and be on time was in two minutes, so various important things were forgotten. I made it on time. And we ended up waiting for the people from the 748 tram anyway. Oh well.

Other than that, survived the first week of intensive classes. I have my first test in both on Wednesday, right before leaving for Estonia in the morning, so the next couple days will be busy with that. On Tuesday, I'm going to my first soccer game with the local team, SC Freiburg ( It is undoubtedly the best way to prepare for my exams the next day. Finally, I booked my spring break - we will be vacationing in Nice ( over Easter Weekend. It promises to be warmer and sunnier than Germany.

I'll try to put up an update before I leave for the week on Thursday morning, but if not, I'll give you all an update when I'm back from my first field study.


  1. Wow. That sounds like one hell of a parade/festival. Creepy.

    Also, love the blinds, the room, and the name of the public transit.

    Sounds like quite the adventure.

  2. I love your descriptions! The horror film analogy seems especially apt.