It’s been three years since we’d moved to Braunschweig, Germany. Slowly but surely we are doing some well-needed house projects. One thing that needs work is the landscape in our front garden. It is not very big, only a meter or so in dimension, but it has an ugly pine tree that blocks the window and a dead-looking rhododendron desperately in want of fertilizing. I’m no gardener, having only purple thumbs; therefore I needed to consult someone about how to make this area look pretty. I lack the imagination to even come up with a plan because I don’t know the names of many flowers and plants. I marched through many a garden shop trying to get an idea but I always came out feeling overwhelmed. It’s like being a ratty scarecrow walking through a fancy clothing store with no idea of what fashion looks like.
The worst part is that since I don’t know what the names are in English, I certainly have no idea of what the names are in German. I didn’t want to talk to gardening consultant in my local shop for fear of looking stupid. I was afraid I’d mumble a few words and then get lost in a complex conversation.
This is so much part of the stress of living in a country where you are not fully functional in the language.
My German writing skills are still hovering around the third grade level. In fact, I cannot write a decent sentence to save my live without a slew of mistakes. I converse just fine in German, although I do chop the language into bits and pieces putting the verbs in the wrong places. Most Germans have sympathy for anyone trying to learn this tongue twister of a language. They know the grammar is grueling, therefore they are forgiving. I cope well in everyday life but anything that requires specialized vocabulary is stressful and I avoid it.
It is these simple things that when I was living in an English-speaking country I took for granted. Even without having any botanical knowledge, I could express what I think I would want in English. This becomes a stressful task in German. That is why I decided to have a gardening consultation over Skype with a professional gardener in England.
I met Jo Dyer when I took an on-line marketing course for coaches and other small businesses. Her website is called “Really Useful Gardens” and she creates gardens that make your soul sing.
My garden makes me cringe so when I got serious about learning how to re-do my little plot, I sent Jo an email. She immediately understood my dilemma and suggested we do a Skype call. In the meanwhile, I sent over snapshots of my garden and its dimensions as well as photos of gardens in my neighborhood that I liked so she could have a visual of what I was talking about.
I felt so relieved that I could discuss this and make a plan in English. She walked me step by step through the process so I could learn to garden on my own.
We had a Skype consultation about what I would ideally want my garden to be. I was able to look up on the Internet the flowers and plants she recommended as we were Skyping. Next she made a drawing of the garden plan we discussed, including photos of various plants and flowers with all the information of how to plant and maintains them. She even covered removal of the tree and how to make the soil rich again.
Now not only do I have a vision for my front yard but the know-how to maintain it. The money was well spent. I saved hours of looking up plant and flower names in English and then having them translated into German. The stress of just thinking about how I was going to manage flowed away like water from a barren hill.
The Internet, social media and Skype are a godsend to me.
Being able to look up information and do business over the Internet makes living in a country where I am sometimes functionally illiterate tolerable. I admit to using Google translate more than I should. My German writing skills would be much better if I tried to practice writing sentences in German. But when time is of the essence and I have to get a note off to a teacher, I don’t have the patience to consult grammar books or dictionaries.
The drawback can be that my dependence on translating software programs is stopping me from learning valuable language skills that could bring me closer to my community. It’s part of the modern life dilemma being dependent on the Internet. For as long as I have the computer as a tool, I will use it. Without it, this blog is not possible.
Over To You
How has Skype changed your life? Does the Internet play a role in how you do business? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions.
Have you ever experienced this: Someone in your family, a colleague, or a friend announces that he or she is moving far away and possibly to another country for a job promotion or perhaps returning to one’s country after an overseas stint or just moving to be closer to family.
“Great!” you say, feeling somewhat taken back yet wanting to be happy for that person.
“When’s the big move?” you ask trying to be cheerful but in your heart you feel an overwhelming wave of sadness.
Relocating for a new career opportunity or any other reason is exciting, but it comes with a price.
Sometimes that cost is unintentional grief left behind like an empty suitcase that family members and dear friends lug silently.
One of my research participants, Belinda (not her real name), said her husband, Chris, still feels angry that his sister moved from England to New Zealand a few years ago.
“There was a huge void for Chris’s sister when she and her kids departed. The family doesn’t travel, and the parents are too old to make a long flight to New Zealand. They feel hurt that they cannot see grandkids watch them grow and build a relationship with them,” she said.
There are unforeseen consequences—powerful emotions that occur when a close family member moves away.
“Chris’s parents did so much for them, taking care of the grandchild, helping them out financially, that when they moved so far away they felt taken for granted. They were bereft,” she lamented.
Sometimes there is resentment associated with the move. In Belinda’s case, the family put the blame on the son-in-law because he accepted the overseas position. This finger pointing put stress on the family relationship. As a result, he avoids communicating with the in-laws even to this day.
I have a similar story. In 2008, Volkswagen offered my husband, Joerg, a three-year contract to work at VW headquarters in Herndon, VA. We were thrilled to have an opportunity to live and work in the US. The children would attend the German School of Washington D.C. to keep up their German language skills. For us, it was a win-win situation.
I was disappointed to learn that not everyone shared in our happiness, especially my in-laws. I thought it shouldn’t have come as a surprise because we’d moved already four times in seven years. I found out I was wrong.
When we talked about the move it was met with tight mouths and disappointed faces. I was hurt that they didn’t see the benefit in the move for us as a bilingual, bicultural family. The grieving process had started before we even departed.
Even my own mother in California stated her concern. “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing by leaving Germany and moving to crime-ridden America? What about the kids?” she said with a hint of doubt in her voice.
What about my kids, I wanted to scream. They finally get to live in my country, learn English properly, build a bond with my family, and to understand my cultural influences.
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why anyone would question our motives.
The move was so important to us. Joerg was excited about his new job. It was a dream-come-true for me to be living on an expatriate contract in my own country, which meant VW would be picking up the bill for the school and housing. I knew the move would be hard on our then 9-year-old daughter, Jessica, but that’s a topic for another blog. The future benefits would by far outweigh any regret.
Eventually, my in-laws came to terms with our relocation. They even graciously helped me pack. We promised to call and Skype, but I realized there are some things that Skype cannot fix: Our physical presence would be missed dearly.
There is no compensation insurance for the pain and suffering of loved ones who mourn your absence. In today’s world, we have social media to help us stay connected to those far away. Yet it doesn’t replace the intimacy or the real closeness of being in the same room or sitting together face to face.
The only advice I have is to accept that it is hard on both parties and try to be supportive and sensitive to each other’s emotions. Staying angry or sad doesn’t help the situation: it only makes it more painful.
Over To You
Have you ever had to move and felt guilty about it? Or have you ever felt left behind when a loved-one moved away? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions so please leave a comment.
Also, if you have ever been in this situation I offer a 30-minute Skype coaching session to listen to your story. Please fill out a contact form and submit it.
Our summer school holidays came fleetingly this year, feeling more like a long weekend rather than a six-week break. I felt cheated of lazy, hot summer days with nothing to do. It could have been due to the dreary weather that stole away the anticipation of summer or our busy schedule with visitors, but I believe it was partly due to hearing news of terrorism happening here in Europe, like an air of gloom hanging over me in a dark, eerie night.
This year we went to the beautiful beach areas of Normandy and Brittany, France. On France’s national Bastille Day, July 14, we first went to visit the US war cemetery in Omaha Beach, Normandy. This memorial is remarkable and a must-see for anyone living in a free democratic society. We were moved by the history and valor of the allied forces who bravely fought for our freedom. Words cannot describe my feelings of gratitude.
In the evening we went to the charming seaside town of Port-en-Bessin-Huppain to watch the fireworks. I was feeling touched by the fact that we got to learn about the liberation of Europe from the Nazis and celebrate France’s independence on the same day. Little did we know that a horrific terrorist attack was taking place in Nice in the south of France. I only found out the next morning when concerned family and friends texted me to check if we were okay.
A few days later, a 17-year-old refugee wielding an axe rampaged through a train in Germany seriously injuring people. A week later, another 17-year-old boy in Munich opened fire on kids at a McDonald’s killing nine people, then another bombing, and the murder of a priest during a church service in Normandy, France.
This is not the story nor is this the topic I want to write about, but I feel compelled to do so.
Although these events happened far from where we were, they hit me at home right where my heart is. I kept thinking it could have been us. I can hear my mother’s words, “there but for the grace of God go I.” I mourn for the victims’ families as if they were my own.
What is really happening globally? Why do I feel like there are bad vibrations spreading like wildfire?
I see strife in political arenas around the world. First, there is the unprecedented Brexit based on the immigration issues in England. Then a failed coup in Turkey with unresolved issues still pending. The Middle East is a never- ending disaster. And to stir the pot, the US presidential race is getting nastier every day. It is hard to stomach grown, supposedly intelligent people who want to be world leaders and decision makers say mean, ugly things about each other. The hate is palpable: it’s very scary and despicable.
As an American expatriate I feel affected by political strife and terrorism happening on both sides of the pond.
As I mourn for all the victim’s families, I wonder how this can be stopped? How do I react and what can I do?
This might sound trite, but I think prayer is part of the answer. But is it effective? To be honest, I don’t really know. Sometimes I wonder if my prayers are in vain because nothing seems to change. I don’t even know what to say in my prayers because I feel numb with the magnitude of senseless killings, but I pray anyway.
I am seeking not revenge but understanding. I don’t want to build walls. I live in a country where there was once a wall. I don’t want bitterness to erode my heart. I don’t want to be angry with a particular group of people. I don’t want to live in fear, as some politicians would like me to believe that I should.
I am asking for acceptance of differences in all aspects of culture, lifestyle, and religious belief.
But how would a family recover or move on if they were affected by a terrorist attack? Nidhi Chaphekar, an air stewardess from India, is a survivor of the Brussels airport bombing that killed 35 people and injured more than 300. I saw a photo of her taken during the aftermath of the bombing where she is sitting on a bench looking dazed and confused. On August 5, 2016 she gave an interview to BBC news reporter Divya Arya in Mumbai.
Chaphekar said, “We have to live. We have to go on. Life has to move. Go for good. If you can do something better for someone, I think you gain something…..I think, we have to do.”
It is the same sentiment I’ve heard from other survivors of terrorist attacks. They never talk about hating the perpetrators of crime but focus on love in general. Love for the family, love for your neighbor, love to make the world go round.
It’s strange, but the people who are not directly involved in attacks are the ones who scream for vengeance, but seldom do the victims themselves want to avenge any wrongdoing. They seem so shocked by the atrocity that they want to put their energy on the opposite of hate, which is love and tolerance.
As a life coach, I want to focus more on what ties us together as humans than disparity that divides.
So maybe we should heed their advice and move on and put more effort into doing good deeds for others. So it seems that in order to get over a tragedy, the best way is to put attention on helping others, finding love and compassion for yourself, your family, and for others in your community.
Over To You
What are your thoughts about this topic? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Please leave a comment below.
Last weekend I was invited to a neighborhood BBQ. It was a beautiful, warm Saturday evening, which is not always the case in this north German clime. With cold beers in hand, we chatted about the usual end-of-school-year topic: summer holiday destinations.
During this conversation I was surprised to learn that most of the other fellow parents at the BBQ 17-year-olds have chosen not to vacation with them anymore. Party jaunts to Spain with other teens are far more appealing than week-long trips with the parents.
This is the beginning of the end of family excursions. Most of the parents took this as a welcome relief. I didn’t.
Just the thought of planning a vacation without my kids leaves me empty, something akin to going on a road trip and forgetting to pack the bags.
My husband, Joerg, and I still cherish the time we have to travel as a family. I’ve enjoyed learning along side my children and viewing the world from their perspective. We value the opportunities to expose our children to the world of well-known art museums, famous landmarks, musical theater, craggy mountaintops, influential world capitals, and other places where history was made and were wars won and lost.
We’ve taught our children that vacationing isn’t all about Disneyland and amusement parks, although we definitely try to mix the fun into the adventure. For us, traveling is about discovering other cultures and history.
A few years ago we did a city tour of Detroit, MI. As part of the learning experience, decided to show them the run-down, abandoned factories that once made Detroit the richest city in America.
We walked down once wealthy and middle class neighborhoods that now are like ghost towns, decrepit and crime-ridden. The point demonstrated that when industry fails, so does a whole society. This was once America at its best, now at its worse. How can a city recover? Where do the people go?
The lesson conveyed is that we cannot take our lifestyle, as we know it today, for granted.
We have to be aware that every action has an outcome. We are responsible for our environment and even making a decision to buy a foreign or domestically produced car has an effect on many people.
We are raising global children. I feel obliged to educate them in ways textbooks cannot. My children will be the future decision makers of this world. I want to teach them well.
Don’t misread me. Last year we soaked up the sun at a beach resort in Greece for two weeks. Our kids, however, are accustomed to our desire to delve deeper into the cultural treasures that lie beyond the eye of the tourist.
On a scorching hot day on the island of Crete, while most of the Scandinavian tourists baked on the beach, we ventured out to a local winery and olive oil factory. Not surprisingly we were the only visitors. (Who else would stuff their kids in an oven-hot rental car to tour around the island?)
On our tour, we learned that here is at least one olive tree still living that has been around since the days of Jesus Christ. That fact alone was worth roasting in the heat.
Although our kids don’t ask many questions, they’ve learned to act interested.
Do our children get bored and whiney? Yes, it is part of the package. I know that they will appreciate it and we are making life-long memories. I don’t want these days to end any time soon.
I have to be realistic. Next year when our daughter turns 18, she’ll most likely want to do her own thing. I’ll have to accept it, let her expand her wings, and fly the coop.
My intention is to instill a good mix of curiosity, adventure, and education into our family vacations, providing, as it were, a front row seat to the real world. My hope is that it will influence future generations to come.
Have a great summer.
Over To You
Do you have a favorite family holiday memory? Please share it. I’d love to hear your story.
In this blog I am sharing an interview with intercultural specialist Christina Röttgers about her first experience of living in a foreign country.
Christina, a native German, is an associate partner with Itim International, a company that solves intercultural and organizational challenges for businesses. She is a specialist for the development of cultural competence in organizations, teams, and on individual level. She’s been a professional facilitator and consultant in Europe and Asia since 1997. She speaks German, English, French, and Russian.
P: How old were you when you first went abroad and what were you doing at that time?
C: I was 23 years old at the time and studying philosophy, Slavic languages, and east European law. I initially went to Volgograd, Russia to learn to speak Russian fluently. I stayed there for six months and then a few weeks in Moscow.
P: What was your cultural shock?
C: I cannot say that I had a big cultural shock but I didn’t expect it to be very different from Germany yet it was in many ways. I expected the economic difference such as difficulties in buying food and scarcity of products, but I was surprised at the small things that were funny or uncomfortable and very different from home.
P: Can you give an example?
C: The administration was very challenging. I applied for a visa extension and I had no way for getting any information on the status. I didn’t know if I could stay or not. I was told only at the last minute that it got approved.
At a certain point of time, one needed special stamps for simple business procedures such as exchanging money and if the person was not there to issue the stamp or the office was closed, you were out of luck.
At a formal level they didn’t seem to care: they were indifferent.
Also, the ideas about feminism at the time where not progressing at the same level as in Europe. Some of the female students were already married and taking on the role of the housewife. They seemed to have no time or energy to fight for women’s rights.
P: What else surprised you?
C: The public transportation system was not as well organized as in Germany. There were no timetables for the bus. The busses came and went without an official schedule, which made it difficult to make connections.
P: How did these small but significant differences effect you?
C: In a way it made me more relaxed because there was no pressure to hurry. The Russians were good at taking things as they came. They’d say, “Vse budet chorosho” which means everything is going to be okay. It made me wonder how it would all work out but somehow it did.
P: What did you like about the culture?
C: The warmth of the people. Once I was on a bus and I was trying to zip up my bag when an elderly woman warned me to be careful of robbers and bend down helped me with my bag. They are caring and kind people.
Also, the Russians learn many common songs by heart that they can sing anytime, anywhere as a group when joining other friends or at a joint occasion. It’s heart warming. We as Germans don’t have such songs we can sing as a group together.
P: What did you learn about yourself?
C: It taught me about my own values and foreign perspectives and it helped me to understand myself better. The better you know yourself, the better you are at making decisions. This experience added a piece to my identity.
P: It did change your perspective on your own country?
C: It made me appreciate Western society and life more. We have rule of law that we can depend on. I am grateful not to have to struggle for everyday items.
P: What would you change if you had to do it over?
C: Nothing. It was a valuable experience. Based on what I know today, I would be trying to connect even more to many different people.
P: What advice would you give to someone going to live in a foreign country today?
C: It’s important some intercultural training to prepare in a way for managing cultural expectations. Expats often feel alone so I advise to take measures to develop new relationships with friends and colleagues. And I would get a coach.
P: Thank you for your time, Christina. It’s been great talking to you.
If you’d like to contact Christina directly to learn more about Itim contact her at Christina@itim.org.
Over To You
What was your first cultural experience like? I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions.
Have you ever heard that the best way to learn your own language is to teach it to someone else? Well, I can concur. After a seven-year hiatus from teaching, I am back in the classroom.
I have two great classes that I’d like to tell you about. My first class is an intermediate group of nine women about the average age of 70. They’ve been taking the same language class with the same teacher for thirty years.
The second is a beginner class of mixed nationalities with little English proficiency that during the first two lessons, I taught them the ABC song! They have, however, progressed quickly.
I was a bit nervous about making lesson plans and wondering how I was going to keep the classes interesting.
Since becoming a professionally CTI-trained life coach, I have become a more teaching introspective. I like to go past the grammar rules and into the hearts and souls of the students. Some of the conversation topics are geared at finding out what fulfills the students.
It’s more challenging with my beginners due to lack of basic sentence structure and vocabulary. I like to inquire about their lives and cultural backgrounds to bond us as a group.
In regard to the ladies who’ve had the same teacher for 30 years, I was warned that they were relunctant to continue with a new one. On the first day, they eyed me suspiciously, voicing clear dismay of having to change teachers.
Fair enough. I asked only if they would stay for one lesson and then make a final decision.
After general introductions, I asked them to tell me about their dream for their lives. They slightly tilted their heads to the ceiling in deep thought, while ponding what is next for them in the years they have left.
Not surprisingly, the main goal for all of them was to remain healthy enough to continue traveling and spending quality time with their families. We talked about their interests and goals for learning English.
To be sure, my goal was to understand how I could best serve them.
What I discovered thus far is that I am there to facilitate their learning, bringing it to a new dimension. I can challenge them to think beyond the general conversation and into the realm of what makes life interesting and worth living.
I am not the head of the classroom but a part of the group, supporting their language needs.
Today we talked briefly about near death experiences, a subject I’ve read a great deal about. I was able to share stories I’ve read from various authors on the topic and even recommend a few books. Since this group is in their senior years, this conversation had substance and meaning for them.
I challenged my students with the task of writing a gratitude journal for one week.
Not everyone was willing to talk openly about the deeper meaning of life. Yet, after experiencing the process of writing down the simple things in life that bring joy, they’ve come to appreciate the positive effect it has on their daily outlook.
In order for these types of conversations to have an impact, there needs to be trust between the teacher and the students. Trust is built on knowing that the teacher gives input to facilitate the learning, supports their efforts, and acknowledges that mistakes are part of the process.
Our semester is coming to an end in a few weeks. In both classes all the students have registered for the next semester. Some have recruited friends to join us.
It might sound corny, but the it's the best compliment I could’ve received.
Over To You
What do you feel about the student-teacher relationship? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment.
A couple of years ago, I went on a weekend jaunt to London with three girlfriends and my daughter, Jessica. Jessica was a ripe, sassy 14 year old who didn’t care to listen to her mother’s directives (read: nothing’s changed). With her iPhone glued to her hand, she didn’t know heads from tails where we were going nor did she seem to care. I was worried that if we got lost in a crowd, she wouldn’t know where to find me.
Lost And Found
We were switching trains at Paddington Station when four of us were quickly rushed out of the train. We looked back and realized Jessica was not with us. Right then the warning bell rang and the doors slammed shut. Jessica stood there looking startled. My friend, Traudel, screamed out Jessica’s name but it was too late. The train started to move on. I frantically waved my arms to get her attention and yelled for her to transfer back at the next station. Shaking her head in confusion, Jessica looked back mouthing the words “What?”
We all stood in silence for a few seconds before deciding what to do. Traudel fretted that Jessica wouldn’t find her way back. The others were confident Jessica could manage the situation.
Somehow I was glad it had happened. It forced Jessica to be in a situation where she had to pay attention and follow directions. She had to employ skills such as asking questions, listening intently, and map reading. All things she is capable of doing but refused to do when I was around.
She eventually made her way back after missing the next stop and diverging farther along the Tube. The only thing we lost was time. Two of my companions were also mothers who perfectly understood the lesson learned: kids sometimes need to be thrown into situations where they have to figure out plan A, and if that doesn’t work, they even need to make a plan B.
Jessica actually came back a bit shaken yet excited to tell her tale. She was proud of herself; she managed to find the station manager and ask for directions because she had missed the next stop and diverged along the Tube. We all breathed a sigh of relief and continued on our journey. My intuition told me that Jessica just grew an inch taller and became a bit wiser.
The Moral Of The Story
The point is that we need to let our kids make mistakes, get lost, and find their own way home. I remember gripping my children’s hands so tightly when we explored a big city or traveled through a country where we couldn’t speak the language.
It is a parent’s worst nightmare to loose a child in a foreign country. I had to let go and trust that Jessica is truly able to find her way in this world because one day she will leave the nest forever.
What Happened Next
Since then we let her and a girlfriend spend their 16th birthday weekend alone in Berlin, something I would have never done in America. She checked in with me a few times a day to calm my nerves. I didn’t sleep too well that night as I had one eye on the phone in case of an emergency.
Again she returned more experienced and independent: I felt a little sad that I am not in control of her movements anymore. I have to concede that here in Europe she is considered an independent adult, something contrary to my adolescent in California where the legal age is 18.
What I Learned
Jessica’s getting lost on the London underground was a test of her ability to look after herself. Cutting the proverbial umbilical cord with your child and let her find her own way in this world is not easy whether you live abroad or not.
Sometimes we are thrown into the situation by circumstance, but the day will come where you have to accept that your child is big enough to handle the world.
Over To You
Have you ever been lost in a foreign city or had an experience like this? I’d love to hear your story. Please leave a comment below.
If you know someone who might enjoy reading this story, please pass it on. You can always find my blog on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/destinationlifecoach
Living abroad you are bound to make some type of cultural blunder. Some are minor errors and others are major embarrassments. I find it humbling on many levels.
In the beginning, you are trying to figure out the cultural behaviors and norms of your host country. If you are learning the language you will make grammar errors before becoming fluent in the language. Mistakes are bound to happen and communication breakdowns are part of the learning curve.
Having lived abroad for 22 years, I have gained a repertoire of fumbles. Some of my cultural mishaps remain etched in my memory. Here’s one episode from my sojourn in Tokyo that I’d like to share with you.
In Japan, it is customary to take off your shoes at the door entrance at many Japanese establishments. The floors are made out of tatami mats and are kept very clean. In some cases there are slippers provided for the guest to wear. Otherwise, you wear your socks or go bare foot.
In Japanese pubs, known as Izakayas, there are special slippers a person wears to use the toilette. You slip on the slippers before entering the bathroom and remove them immediately after exiting the bathroom.
Years ago, I was at an Izakaya and had to use the ladies room. I walked to the bathroom, slipped on the toilette slippers, utilized the ladies room, and then promptly walked back to the table without removing the toilette slippers. It wasn’t until a few minutes later did I realize my mistake. I quickly went back to return the slippers.
I could see by the waiters' faces they were appalled. The Japanese are generally polite and don’t make public displays of outrage. I immediately acknowledged my slip-up.
I lowered my head in shame, returned the slippers to the restroom, took deep bows to show sincerity, and cowered back to the table. I’m sure my gaffe didn’t endure us foreigners to the pub owners. I tried my best to save face.
Advice For Recovery
Here is want I know: When you make a cultural error whether it’s on a seismic scale or just a misstep, you need to acknowledge it, apologize, and make amends if necessary.
A good example of making amends is a story I can share about a German expat family living in America. One day the German kids ran amok in the neighbor’s garden. The father of the children brought over a bouquet of flowers and apologized to the neighbors.
It turned out the neighbors were also expats from England and lived far away from their children. The kind gesture initiated a dear friendship. The older English couple became surrogate grandparents to the German family’s children. They spent birthdays and special occasions together.
What I Learned
I have leaned that part of the journey of being an expat is cultural faux pas come with the territory and are part of the experience. Through this all, I have become more tolerate and understanding of intercultural differences.
The next time you are in a foreign land and make a cultural boo-boo, don’t be afraid to admit your fault. Most people are forgiving. Your honesty and integrity are at stake.
Over to You
Have you ever made a cultural blooper? How did you recover? Please share your story in with a comment below.
St. Valentine’s Day made its way across the pond. In my youth, I felt the pressure to have some form of validation whether it was bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates to show the world I was loved.
I’m glad I grew up.
Is Love All You Need?
This Valentines Day I did not receive a card, roses, or a dinner invitation. What I received was witnessing my husband, Jörg, extend a loving hand to feed others. His actions warmed my heart.
What Does Valentine's Day In A Refugee Camp Look Like?
Jörg spent this Valentines Day serving lunch to about 100 refugees who are temporarily residing in a school gymnasium. They live in partitioned sections with hardly any privacy. There is no TV, Internet or any type of entertainment. It is quiet dreary. Not exactly the place to be if you want to feel amorous on St. Valentine’s Day.
Is The Word Love The Same In All Cultures?
Is there more to love than just romance? Real love can take on different forms of expression depending on its cultural value.
When it came to describing love, the Greeks had six words to express different variations of love: There is romantic, sexual love; love of a deep friendship; love for playfulness such as bantering with your buddies; love between a long standing relationship; love of humanity; and self love.
How Can One Person Make A Difference?
Jörg expressed his love of mankind by giving dignity to these refugees. Most of the inhabitants were Syrian women and children. He dished out food and helped clean the kitchen in order that these people meet the basic requirements of Maslow’s hierarchy of survival: physiological and safety.
What Do All People Need To Survive?
The physiological needs are food, clothing, air and water. The safety needs are a society free of war, natural disasters, or human abuse. Without these essential needs, a person falls prey to depression, anxiety and even death.
It was a small effort in a sea of a humanitarian crisis.
What Would A Refugee Want For Valentine's Day?
I bet these people would’ve loved spending Valentine’s Day with their families back in Syria. But their home is a war torn wasteland.
I am sure they just wanted someone to give them flowers and tell them the world is a good, safe place.
Do We All Have The Same Basic Feelings?
Humans have an instinctive desire to feel loved, wanted and needed in a community.
Having lived in five different countries, I know what it is like being a foreigner. These people desperately need not only compassion but also acceptance into society.
Taking care of these refugees is an overwhelming task for the volunteers, government, and private organizations that manage the camps. There doesn’t seem to be a real solution at hand on how to integrate them into German society.
What Is The Greatest Gift of All?
Joerg’s spending the day caring for people less fortunate than we are demonstrated a selfless type of love which builds the most important type of love: self-love.
Valentine’s Day is marketed around the world selling us on the ideals of courtly love. In the past, I enjoyed receiving flowers and cards from my family on Valentine’s Day. Today, I am willing to give up my own egotistical needs in order that some one else can have a proper meal and warm bed.
What Is Love?
Love is giving back to the world and making it a safe place.
Over To You
How do you express your love to others? How did you spend your Valentine’s Day? I’d like to hear your what you think. Please leave a comment below.
Recently on a skiing trip in Austria, I was relaxing in the hotel spa cozily wrapped in a bathrobe with book in hand, when a man walked in, disrobed completely, and treaded through the icy cold wading pond. Then, in his full nakedness, he made his way to the cold pool to take a dip.
Next, a middle-aged couple came in and did the same thing. I pretended not to notice them from behind my book, but I was curious about their confidence to fully strip in front of strangers.
Back in the USA people do not bathe naked together publicly. There are separate changing areas and bathrooms for both genders. Most spas require a bathing suit for sanitary reasons. This seems to be the standard attitude towards nudity in the US.
Why are Europeans more relaxed about nudity?
Europeans are far more open and relaxed about nudity and sexuality in general compared to Americans. It is normal to have mixed gender-changing areas in public pools and nude beaches are commonplace around Europe. I think the main problem is that Americans associate nudity with sex, whereas Europeans don’t.
The acceptance of nudity depends on the norms of each society and family. I think it is a common mistake to equate nudism with sex.
What if I am embarrassed?
But what do I do if I’m not 100% comfortable hanging out in the buff with strangers let alone friends and colleagues in the hotel sauna? Do I turn back and check in at the local Holiday Inn? Or do I close my eyes and pretend not to see anyone?
It’s an awkward feeling to be sure. I consider myself open-minded to many lifestyles, yet I don’t fully embrace letting myself all hang out with strangers in a spa. But I am getting used to it.
How would I handle the indiscretion?
For Christmas, I treated my husband to a couple’s aromatherapy bath and massage at a public pool. There is a wonderful array of Jacuzzis and hot and wet saunas where swimsuits are not allowed. We donned bathrobes to cover up and keep warm. Many people were comfortable walking around in the buff. My husband, without abashment, striped off his robe and stepped into the whirlpool.
He said that sometimes he runs into acquaintances and co-workers there. I was not too thrilled to run into anyone I know sporting nothing but my birthday suit. The thought made me blush. I decided to go with the flow and open myself up to the experience. I felt safe being with my husband in any case.
What is holding me back?
Am I too modest? Do I fear that people will notice that I am still struggling to lose the extra weight I gained last year? Or that they will see that the cellulite removal cream I’ve been using for years doesn’t work? Can it be an inhibition from my upbringing which mixed cultural with religious principles? I suspect it is all of the above.
Does anyone really care if I am nude?
No. What I’ve realized is that most people are more concerned with their own relaxation to even bother looking at me.
Why do customs differ regarding nudity?
I don’t come from a culture where it is shameful or forbidden for a woman to wear a bikini in public. Nor would I lose my honor by going bare into the hot tub. The acceptance of public nudity depends on the morals and principles of each society.
Attitudes could even differ from geographical locations within a culture. In East Germany, for example, there are historically plenty of designated nude family camping areas that are freely accepted while predominately Catholic Bavaria is more conservative in nature.
Our norms and mores are taught to us, so if you grew up without a stigma around nudity, then nudity is the norm. It is no different than how a more modest culture, the Middle East for example, might perceive Americans at the beach. They would doubtless question why would we westerners expose so much skin.
What do I want for my children?
Being raised in Europe, my kids are getting a lesson that our bodies are not to be hidden or viewed as sex objects. It is an attitude that I want them to embrace and carry over to the next generation.
Over to you. What is your opinion on this topic? Please leave a comment below. I’d like to hear your thoughts.