Louise’s mother thought it would be a good idea to take part in this exchange project. She figured it would be smart to get to know some people in the Country where her daughter might be spending an entire year. Louise knew that a girl named Lina would be coming to her house. The two girls began writing emails back and forth. Lina would write in English and Louise in German. It made for some interesting conversations. Lina’s English was far better than Louise’s German. She had been taking English lessons for the past seven years and Louise for the past two.
They wrote about their families, animals, friends, hobbies and school. Louise found out that Lina plays the piano, has a bird and one older brother. Lina found out that Louise loves to dance, has one older sister, three older step- brothers, 3 dogs and a cat. Both have many friends in school and find school work boring.
Louise did not prepare anything special for Lina’s arrival. She figured she could just play it by ear like she did with most things. Lina arrived off the plane feeling very sick, wanting nothing more than to lie in bed and get well. So instead of eating dinner with the rest of the group, Louise drove Lina home.
‘’You can drive this car? I cannot believe you drive a car with 17 years. Your home is not far from here, yes? I feel very badly.’’ Lina slipped in on the passenger side. Louise noticed that Lina’s face had turned white. Louise wasn’t sure if it was due to the fact that a 17 year old was driving or due to the fact that she was sick. Although she wasn’t sure why driving at the age of 17 would make someone turn white. It had been the way Lina asked that made her question whether or not Lina was scared.
‘’I drive every day to school. I’ve been driving since I was 16 years old. Are you scared to be in the car with me?’’ asked Louise
‘’No, I am not scared. I just do not understand. I am not allowed to drive until I turn 18. It is German law.’’ Lina didn’t sound good, almost like she was losing her voice.
Louise didn’t want to make Lina talk while she was sick, but also felt awkward driving in silence. She had a radio in the car but didn’t want to be rude by turning it on instead of talking to her guest. She also realized, that she did not know, which type of music Lina liked to listen. So she left the radio off and made small talk.
‘’Some kids are allowed a hardship license, which allows them to drive when they are only 14 years old. My mother had one. She was allowed to drive to school, to work and back home. Sometimes she was allowed to drive to the grocery store.’’ Louise glanced over at Lina. She didn’t figure that this was exciting news, so it surprised her when Lina responded.
‘’I think it is a little crazy. Driving is very dangerous. It should not be allowed at such a young age to drive a car. I think even 18 is too young.’’ Louise was shocked to hear someone her own age speak negatively about driving. It was culture to love the freedom of sitting behind the wheel.
Louise had to think for a moment about how to respond. Driving was just something that she did. It never occurred to her to question the logic of law. Wasn’t it allowed for German teens to drink at the age of 16? Louise considered that Americans were allowed to drink alcohol when they turned 21. It would be pretty stupid to be able to drink and drive at the same age. So Germans found drinking earlier better and Americans found driving earlier better. Louise asked herself why this might be but found no immediate answer.
She decided not to further the conversation. She didn’t want to get in a fight about the rights and wrongs when she didn’t understand the reasons for the laws. Every country is different and makes laws for themselves. Who is Louise to question them? Wasn’t it allowed to smoke weed in one of the European countries? People are different; it doesn’t make them good or bad.
Lina didn’t seem to mind the silence. She looked thankful for the chance to rest. Louise let her mind wander.
The day after Lina arrived, it snowed. It was very unusual to get snow in April in the south. Lina stood in front of the window and began to cry. ‘’It can not snow. They said it would not snow in. Not in April.’’ She began shaking. ‘’I have no clothes for cold weather. That is why I got sick in New York. It rained the entire time, and I had no clothes for rain. What am I to do?’’
Louise felt so bad for her. She explained to Lina that it really never snows in April. Her teacher had been correct. This was very strange. But like any snow that ever comes in the south it wouldn’t stick and it would be gone before it started.
If Louise had known then what she knew now, then she would have been able to understand why this was so hard for Lina to comprehend. Louise had been living in Germany for ten years. She knew now that in Germany it almost always snows in April. Sometimes it snows more in April than in the entire winter. And snow in Germany, means days of cold weather and more snow. It means months before summer weather arrives.
Not so in southern USA. But Lina couldn’t believe this. She went into her bedroom sniffling saying, ‘’I want to go home.’’ Louise felt like the worst host sister alive. Why did this snow have to come? But Lina would learn soon enough that her teacher and Louise had been right. It stopped snow raining and the next day was blazing hot. Actually the entire rest of Lina’s stay was blazing hot. So she and Louise both were happy about that.
The German girls at school, there were about 5 of them, seemed to have no trouble with the work. They thought it was silly that the Americans had the same classes every day and that they didn’t take politics, geography and history in separate classes. It was kind of all crammed into one, called history.
They also laughed at the way the French students spoke French with a strong American accent. And found it unbelievable that all of the students were only learning one second language instead of two. They snickered at how easy math was. And mostly they had trouble learning the rules.
The bell rang for a 15 minute break in the morning and a few of the Exchange students sat down in the hallway to eat their bread. None of the Americans thought to eat during this break. They talked, rested, did homework and were just plain happy not to have class. Some girls simply needed the extra time to go their locker or use the restroom. A teacher came out of the science lab just in time to see the girls taking the first bite of their bread. She was not happy about it and told the girls in a low tone that, ‘’Food is to be eaten in the Cafeteria.’’ Poor girls, no one told them about that rule. They just couldn’t understand it either. But to tell you the truth, no other girls were sitting on the floor in the hallway. It just wasn’t done, at least not during school hours. Louise only saw girls sitting on the hallway floor after school when the building was mostly empty. The girls got the hang of all the rules by the end of the first week after which things went smoothly.
But one thing I think Lina never got used to, was the fact that Louie didn’t plan anything. Lina kept wanting to know when she should wake up in the morning, what time she should eat breakfast, and when she needed to leave for school. Louise said school starts at 8:00 not at 7:00 like most high schools because it is a private school and the girls come from all over making it difficult to start early. Louise never really got up at a certain time. She got up earlier if she wasn’t tired and later if she was. She took a long shower if she needed it and a quick shower if she slept in. She ate at the table if she had time and in the car if she didn’t. She drove normal if it wasn’t close to 8:00 and fast if it was. She normally got to school early and did last minute homework so she never worried about being late. Sometimes she would drive to the cute little bagel/muffin café not far from the school and grab a bite to eat. Most days she ate a warm lunch in the Cafeteria and therefore didn’t have to take time making a lunch in the morning.
Lina wanted to bring bread for the 15 minute break in the morning and sometimes a lunch. Louise’s family ate a hot lunch and a hot dinner. It is just the way it was. Louise will never forget the look on her mother’s face, which was surely a reflection of her own confused face, the day the family sat down for dinner and Lina said, ‘’I’ve already eaten a warm meal today. I think I will just eat some bread and butter.’’ She didn’t mean a warm baguette or southern biscuit. She meant cold bread with cold butter. What? Louise thought she might like a salad to go with that cold buttered bread, but no, she was fine, thank you.
So Louise and her family ate their second warm meal of the day. Not really even knowing that it makes a difference if you eat two, three or no warm meals a day as long as you are satisfied. Louise eventually learned that Germans make a big deal over only eating one warm meal a day. And a day is not complete without a warm meal. After being in Germany a while Louise started to get the hang of a typical day according to meals.
After Louise married, she cooked mostly two warm meals a day. Her husband never complained, but her mother-in-Law did. She said her son was getting too fat. But she never really outright said that it was Louise’s fault. She would ask the couple things like, ‘What are you eating these days?’’ and make remarks like, ‘’ I may be fat but I didn’t want the same fate for my children. I made sure to cook healthy for them. And my children were never fat. If I noticed them gaining weight, I would just stop buying sweets.’’
Louise would sort of roll her eyes. Her husband had gained weight, yes, but he was happy. He liked the way Louise cooked, southern American. With time Louise taught herself to cook other types of food. German, Mexican, Indian, Vegetarian, low fat, vegan, raw food recipes and other just plain yummy foods, breads, cakes, soups, pizza you name it. She loved to cook and bake and try new recipes.
Even now she has an idea for a new cookbook. It has been in her head for a few years now. She has been doing research but has not really started writing. She finally has a good camera to take pictures and a garden to grow fresh herbs and veggies. But has yet to start this project. She’s been waiting to finish her first novel. The only person who knows about her cookbook idea is her crazy step-mother who might actually steal the idea. How can she keep this from happening?
Louise took her German friends on a ride downtown one afternoon. They remarked thing such as, ‘’This looks just like in the movies.’’ And ‘’This is so cool, thank you.’’ And ‘’It is awesome that you can drive. But I wish we could go to disco or drink Becks.’’ Well that never happened. Louise wasn’t stupid. She knew the laws and abided by them. Instead of going to the disco and drinking beer she took them to the mall and grocery shopping. They remarked often on how big everything was. Louise didn’t really know why until after living a few years in Germany. She visited her family in the USA and was overwhelmed by the massive selection of item in one store. She had gotten used to the small stores in Germany. Sally, Louise’s mother, likes to call them ‘’mom and pop stores.’’
One thing Louise never forgot was how polite, intelligent and helpful Lina was. She helped cook and clean when visiting Louise’s Grandparents and Stepmothers home. She was what southern teens call a ‘goody two shoes’. Louise later found out helping out is pretty typical German teenage behavior. Of course they know how to party amongst themselves, but are well embedded in society on not outcast as being a no good stupid teenager with nothing but sex and drugs on their mind. Teenagers in Germany are accepted and treated as adults. They may not be able to drive, but have much more freedom than any teenagers Louise ever knew. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but this is one difference that Louise noticed after living in Germany for ten years.
Lina flew back home at the end of the three weeks. It was planned that Louise would visit Lina for three weeks that summer. But before Louise was allowed to go her mother wanted to visit the family where Louise would stay. So she planned a trip for 4 to Germany. Sally, Papi (Louise’s step father), Louise, and her cousin Stacey headed off to Germany just a few weeks prior to her three week exchange.
© Rebekah Schmidt and Ten Years in Germany 2013, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Rebekah Schmidt and Ten Years in Germany with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.