I was born in America shortly after my parents arrived from Germany. When your parents are German you don’t grow up like the other kids in your neighborhood. There are loads of things that make you stand out. Like having a lot of extra stamps in your passport (and HAVING a passport), the ability to juggle Brötchen and Wurst on the street from an early age, and always having a sweater along because “Mann weiß nie ob es kalt wird”.
I’m sure a lot of you will recognize these traits…
Things You Know When your Parents are German
It’s All about the Windows
Windows are a constant topic of conversation. They need to be open to get “Frische Luft” (fresh air). But they need to be closed because “es Zieht” (there’s a draft). By the way, “es Zieht” is a major health issue….you could catch a cold. But if the air is “Muffig” (stuffy) there are other diseases to be caught. (And then there is the whole “are the windows clean enough argument…..” apparently dirty windows are the first step on the slippery slope to slovenly lifestyle… the horror.)
You Grew up With Scary Fairy Tales and Cautionary Stories
Bed time stories for German kids are Grimm’s Fairy Tales without the Disney white wash (the Wolf ATE Little Red Riding Hood!), Stuwwelpeter Stories (the man with the scissors who cuts off the thumb suckers thumbs!) ,Max und Moritz (ground into flour, and eaten by geese) and all of their cautionary tales about good and bad behavior.
And then there was Hoppe Hoppe Reiter… What’s so bad about that? It’s a fun children’s rhyme sung when bouncing a kid on your knees (and for the record, my kids loved it too…) You tell me..
Hoppe Hoppe Reiter Hop Hop Rider
Hoppe, hoppe, Reiter Hop Hop Rider
Wenn er fällt, dann schreit er If he falls, he will cry
Fällt er in den Graben If he falls in a ditch
Fressen ihn die Raben The Ravens will eat him
Fällt er in den Sumpf If he falls in the swamp
Macht der Reiter plumps! The rider will go Splash!
(Nice… sweet and fun… and Ravens picking at your bones….)
And don’t forget Maikaefer Flieg
Maikaefer Flieg Ladybug Fly Away
Maikaefer flieg, Maybug (doodlebug) fly away,
Dein Vater ist im Krieg Your father is in the war
Deine Mutter ist im Pommerland Your mother is in Pommerania
im Pommerland ist abgebrant…. Pommerania has been burned to the ground
Maikaefer flieg Maybug (doodlebug) fly away
(I was terrified for years because of that sweet ditty.)
You have Coffee and Cake on Sunday
Cake isn’t just for birthdays! Every Sunday the table would be set with a fresh tablecloth and the “good dishes” from the Schrank… then we would have coffee and cake. If more people were invited, there would be two, and maybe even three delicious cakes to choose from. But why choose? You could have a “kleines Stuckchen” of each… Apfel Kuchen (Apple Cake), Kaesesahne Torte, Mocha Torte, FrankfurterKranz, und Pflaumen Kuchen. Coffee and fresh REAL whipped cream complete the picture.
“Hast du dich gut eingekremt?” (“Did you do a good job rubbing on your lotion?”) was a constant in our home. Creams against the sun, creams against the cold, creams against the dryness…. And these were THICK German Creams (Nivea, Penaten Creme, Atrix) loaded with lanolin that no amount of rubbing could really make vanish. Especially in the summer, I always had schmears of white on my face and arms. German moms and Omas are crazy about having Gute Haut (good skin).
You Celebrate on Christmas Eve
While all of your American friends had to wait for Christmas Morning, you and your family got to open presents on Christmas EVE! Lights, candles, tinsel and magic! Although, as I got older, I found that the working/dating world was less than appreciative of the idea that Christmas Eve was sacred. No, I won’t work in the retail store until 9PM on Christmas Eve… no, I won’t go shopping with you after dinner on Christmas Eve. I’m home, with Family. Presents have long been purchased, wrapped and tucked under the tree. It’s time for singing.
You go to German School on Saturday
Saturday morning meant German School. Not Cartoons, not sport… 3 hours of German instruction. Grammar, spelling, reading, and lots of singing. Granted, I wasn’t alone. I had lots of friends in German School. On the other hand… my regular everyday friends could not understand why I couldn’t sleep over Friday nights…. or take part in normal Saturday morning activities. Looking back, I’m thankful I did it… at the time, it was torture. School on SATURDAY!
You have Long-Distance Grandparents
Visiting my Oma and Opa meant a 10 hour plane trip on a Charter Airline like Condor. We’d get to the airport 3 hours early to try and gets seats together, but other Germans got there 4 hours early… so we’d be out of luck. It also included 9 time zone changes and having to reset my brain to all German language all the time. This meant that my family was always far away. While friends here had cousins, Aunts and Uncles and extended relatives come for birthday parties and holidays… we had long distance phone calls, letters and occasional visits. I know, lots of kids live far from their extended family… it just felt like that ocean between us made it even farther…
There is a Seldom-Used “Good” Living Room
“Das Gute Zimmer” (the good room) was reserved for Adults and Special Occasions. We kids were not invited! This room was always kept clean (exceptionally clean… as opposed to merely spotless) and ready for visitors. The Schrank (Wall Unit) with the good dishes lived there. Flowers were always on the table. When my family finally got a color TV, that’s where it went… extended negotiations were required if we wanted to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas Special in color. Ironically, I still feel like a visitor when I sit in that room…
You know who THIS Guy Is
Heino, whose baritone voice made the Schlager Musik Superstar one of the most successful German Musicians EVER. Yet, you won’t hear him on American Radio. (Unless you tune in to a German American Station). You will, however, hear him on my parent’s record player… He and Freddy Quinn were front and center when it was time for my parents to party. (I still have a soft spot for Schlager.)
You ate Aufschnitt for Breakfast
Frosted Flakes, Trix and Lucky Charms never made an appearance on our Fruhstuck’s Tisch (breakfast table). Brot, Aufschnitt and Marmalade (Bread, Cold Cuts and jam) were breakfast foods in our home. On weekends, a boiled egg, or maybe Eierkuchen (german pancakes). Cold cereal might be a snack for after school… but it was never a meal. Oh… and the Aufschnitt (cold cuts) was always presented nicely on a Fleisch Platte with a special fork … jam was put in a special jar... and napkins were pretty… and the eggs came in Eierbecher ( special egg cups.)
Wonder Bread was a Mystery
Soft, squishy Wonder Bread was never a sandwich option. The Germans always find a Butcher and Baker somewhere within 100 miles of the house… and then stock up (the freezer in the Garage was always full of bread). In the school lunchroom I stood out. Other kids had PB &J… I had Mettwurst, Teewurst, Deutschen Salami, Gelbwurst and on really good days… Schinken… on my brown (or black) crusted rye bread wrapped in waxed paper. Mom called American sandwich bread “toast bread”… and treated it accordingly.
Meals in General had Lots of Rules
Holding your fork in your left hand, and the knife in the right… eating most everything with knife and fork. Hands on the table, not under. Start when dad starts… finish when dad finishes. Scary foods like Schmaltz, Leberwurst, Fleisch Salat, and Pickled Herring… and god help the child who didn’t clean their plate!
Everything is Ironed
Everything. … and that crease in my jeans was embarrassing. Germans iron (my Mom even has an industrial strength iron… and she loves to use it). Not just on Tablecloths and shirts. Dish Towels, Sheets, Handkerchiefs and blue Jeans …I remember watching my aunt iron undershirts. I still don’t like to iron… but I have a horrible fear of wrinkled shirts..
You might be Called a Nazi
My parents had an accent, I went to German School… so I got called a Nazi on the school playground. To me, Nazis were the bad guys in movies, (or the stupid ones in Hogan’s Heros) I had no idea why I was given that label. Turns out, I wasn’t alone. Thanks to Hollywood, most kids in my German school had the same problem. Now the movies have new bad guys…. I can empathize with those kids. It’s lousy to be labeled.
You are Always Prepared for Emergencies
There is a running joke in my family that I can take over a small country with the contents of my purse. It may be true… I am ready to cut fruit, open a beer bottle, sew on a button, read a novel, play a game, take notes on an important meeting, have a snack, clean hands and faces, and pay cash for what I need… and carry it home in an extra shopping bag that I have in my purse. To this day I always grab a jacket as I’m walking out the door…. even when I go to the beach (Ok, in Northern California, you often need jackets at the beach. Still… ) All this comes from my mother… who was always at the ready for any eventuality!
You Always Bring Flowers when you Visit Someone
My parents had beautiful roses growing in the year… and whenever we went visiting, my father would cut a bouquet, and mom would wrap it up in pretty tissue, to give to the hostess. And it was seldom that Germans would visit us without a nice Blumenstrauss (Bouquet of Flowers). There were always fresh flowers in the house. I still love fresh flowers… I just don’t have my father’s green thumb, so I have to buy them.
You KNOW Good Chocolate
One of the best parts of being German in America… knowing what Good Chocolate tastes like. We would get care packages from German relatives loaded with delicious treats. Or we would fill our suitcases (to overflowing) with loads of Milka, Toblerone, Lindt, Merci, and other treats that were impossible to find in the US. I still prefer a Ritter Sport over Hersheys any day.
Danke Mama und Papa….