Let me preface this post by pointing out that as of today in Berlin, it is bone-chillingly cold. The last few days have been positively spring-like, but last night took a turn for the worse and snow has been coming down in flurries every few minutes. As of now, snow covers the ground and everything on it, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping.
Since I arrived I have been taking note of many cultural differences between Germany and the US, but I haven’t experienced them firsthand until today. I brought with me two pairs of Embassy-appropriate shoes, and chose to wear the more sensible of the two, a black pair of loafers which unfortunately exposed the top half of my foot. I saw nothing wrong with this, except for the knowledge that my feet would be a little uncomfortable during my walk from the apartment to the train, then from the train to the embassy and back again that afternoon.
However, when I got to the Mexikoplatz S-Bahn station, I noticed some people staring. As they walked past me, they looked down at my feet and frowned. When I got on the train, the people sitting across from me kept their eyes fixated on the tops of my bare feet. One old woman even ‘tsk’d’ at me. Feeling uncomfortable, I looked around. In typical German fashion, everyone was wearing heavy boots with thick socks, and most people were covered from head to toe. As loudly as I screamed silently in my head ‘I work in a climate controlled building! For safety reasons it is physically impossible for any of the windows open! The cold couldn’t get to me if it tried!’, they continued staring.
That afternoon I went to the Nelson Mandela School, a pubic international school, to watch one of the interns give a presentation to a group of first and second graders on Black History Month. During the presentation a few of the girls were looking at me and gesturing. At the end, a much larger group of giggling girls came up to me. “Aren’t your feet cold?” they asked, pointing to my shoes. “Where are your socks?” Another one laughed. Trust children to say the things everyone is thinking but no one will say. Distressed, I explained that these were the shoes I needed to wear to my job, and it wasn’t right to wear socks with them. They looked at me, then looked at one another. “You can’t wear shoes like that in such bad weather here. Didn’t you know where you were going? This is Germany.”
I am so used to back home, where people view the weather as something which should not inhibit their power to dress the way they like. Especially those living in Main Hall, students will wear sandals and light jackets on the worst of days, knowing that after a short walk to the Science Building or Industrial Hall they will be warm again. These hearty German people are more than prepared for the weather, bundled up in sensible jackets, big knitted hats, bulky scarves and puffy gloves.
They also have no problems expressing their opinions, whether they be positive or negative. Old people especially seem to have no filter, and yell freely at whoever they choose. Jaywalking, something that happens all the time in America, is a serious societal offense in Germany. One woman with her children shouted at my aunt and I when we started crossing before the light changed, saying that we were being a bad influence on her children and we should know better. At the grocery store customers are expected to bag their own groceries, and if they are not fast enough, they are forced to bear the wrath of the disapproving people behind them. Loud children on trains cause people to openly comment on their bad upbringing. I would equate this behavior to the New York City stressed hurriedness, but rather than always having somewhere to be, Berliners always have something to say.