The glitter revolution

0105 The glitter revolution

Living in Germany is great. I’ve talked to quite a few expats in recent times, most of whom confirmed that they have made a conscious choice of living here based on the standard of living, quality of life, benefits for families, social security and so on. There’s plenty to love about this beautiful country. However, one thing strikes many foreigners about Germans. What annoying quality might I be talking about?

Granted, Germans are perceived by most other cultures as rather direct and straightforward. But while this may take some getting used to, it is not always viewed as an altogether bad thing.

One thing, though, that does get pointed out to me time and again in conversations with immigrants (and that I myself find utterly annoying) is that Germans have a penchant for what I call ULOSIPping (unsolicited lecturing of strangers in public). This may occur in any situation, but there are two spheres where it tends to be applied most: traffic and parenting. Anyone staying in this country for more than a week will certainly experience instances of ulosipping. Let me give you two examples from our recent family life.

Situation 1: My English husband is cycling on the pavement with our four-year-old. Everyday occurrence in Cologne, as it has been permitted under the Traffic Code of North Rhine Westphalia (the German state we live in) for quite a while now for parents accompanying young children on bikes to ride on the pavement with them. An elderly couple comes along and the man feels it is his duty as a citizen to step in as Batman’s wing man and right a wrong here. But not only does he yell (like so many do), ‘This is a pavement, not a cycle path!’ – No, while doing this, he extends his arm in front of him across the pavement, so as to force Mr K off his bike. As this came as quite a surprise, my husband had to brake really hard, which made my four-year-old bump into him and fall off her bike.

Situation 2: I am crossing the street with my two children. Because of their height they obviously can’t see above the cars parked on the curb, so they step forward (as they’ve been taught in kindergarten police traffic training) to the edge of the cars so they can see if the road is clear. Zooming past us from behind on the pavement is a middle-aged berserk woman on her bike screaming ‘Get those children off the road! They’re about to get flattened!’ as she cycles across and back on the pavement again on the other side. I was so perplexed that it took me a moment to find my speech. Then I said, ‘Oh yes, by you, it seems like.’

Riding my bike about town a lot, I’m used to getting yelled abuse at, such as ‘The most wicked kamikaze cyclists are mothers without children!’ or ‘It’s not I who has to look out, it’s you!’ Or I get beeped at just because I’m there and cars need to slow down because of me. (Oh, the cheek of me, just being there, breathing!)

Also, strangers in Germany tend to tell parents and/or their children how to behave. When a child loses it at the supermarket, there is always a concerned mother or elderly woman (yes, they tend to be female) around the next corner who knows what’s best and will make sure to let you know. And often insist.

As my English husband points out, in his country, you would think those things but not say them out loud. Of course, not saying what you really think can also go the other way, but seriously, queens: a little less policing would do you full-blooded Teutons good!

I have a suspicion that, for some reason, Germans have a primeval craving to be right – myself included; I’m not entirely free from that either (as Mr K would be hard-pressed to deny). It seems to be in our DNA. I for one have been doing lots of yoga, Pilates and soul-searching and working on this in recent years, and I do find that, in spite of my genetic make-up, I’m gradually getting better at the initially ludicrous idea of loving myself and others.

So, my lovelies: A little more benevolence and warm-heartedness in everyday life would make social interaction so much easier, more pleasant and more joyful for everyone. Why not just break into song or start to tango the next time someone has a go at you? Or buy them a drink or wish them a wonderful day from the bottom of your heart. Imagine we all did this from now on – this is how revolutions get started. Kill them with kindness and feel the love, queens! (I think I’ve been QE’d beyond hope – I like!)

The Pommes Buddha says: When life’s a bitch, just sprinkle some glitter on her!

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Raven mothers

Garden snail reaches for a drop of dew on the grass

The other night I went out with a new German friend who had not long returned after living in the US for several years. When I asked her how she found life in Germany, she said the most difficult thing to do here was being a mother. I was intrigued and asked her to elaborate…

‘Well,’ she said, ‘in the US both my children went to daycare from the age of six months. Daycare closed at 6pm, and that’s when I picked them up. Once a week, our babysitter would pick them up and put them to bed while my husband and I went out. This was perfectly normal. In Germany, the Kita closes at 5:15pm. If I pick up my daughter at 4:45pm, she’s one of the last children there.’

So we established there was a certain undercurrent of ‘expected motherly duty’ in German society that causes mothers to be extremely hard on themselves – and judgemental about one another. In Germany, it is not uncommon for complete strangers to comment on your childrearing practices.

Another German friend living in Belgium reports that, there, it is perfectly common for your child to go to crèche from the age of three months. This seems to be the case in most European countries. According to the public study Familienleitbilder from 2015 on how parenthood and family are perceived in Germany, more than 80% of Germans reckon it is not okay for an 18-month-old child to be in care for more than 6 hours a day.

We Germans seem to be unable to shed our quintessentially patriarchal image of motherhood. We even have a word for ‘underperforming’ mothers: Rabenmütter.

On the other hand, there may also be surprisingly positive aspects about being a parent in Germany, as American mum Sara Zaske writes in TIME magazine. I recommend Tom Hodgkinson’s The Idle Parent for further reading.

Should you ever be tempted to think of yourself as a Rabenmutter, or Rabenvater, I invite you to adopt my four-year-old’s pragmatic view. In an episode of classic cartoon series Biene Maja, a snail, upon urging her young to venture out into the world on their own, was dubbed a Rabenmutter. My daughter cast a skeptical glance at the telly and declared, ‘Das ist keine Rabenmutter, das ist eine Schneckenmutter!’

Next week, learn which classic of film history most Germans don’t know.

The Pommes Buddha says: You’re not a raven mum, you’re a human mum.

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