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Alien in America

Driving Cars With 15

frankensteinI have three stepsons. Great kids. I love them. One of them is 17 and the twins will become 15 next week. And now it will happen again: The twins are old enough to start learning how to drive a car.

It was kind of a challenge for me when my oldest stepson reached that age. He actually took some classes in a driving school (this is not mandatory here). After taking the written test, which was pretty easy, he said,he got his permit to drive the car but always had to be accompanied by an adult who had to be a family member. After doing that for a certain amount of hours he could do the driving test at age 16 and, if he passed, have his own driver’s license.

It still happens sometimes that I sit in my car while I am waiting at an intersection for the lights to turn green again, that I look over to the car waiting next to me. And there I see a boy sitting behind a steering wheel which seems to be much too large for his baby face. Boys who are 16 can look so different. Some of them look like 20, some like 12.

When I was new in this country I was all arrogant about letting kids drive that early. How could they do that? How could they think that kids at this age were reliable and mature enough to drive a car? Wasn’t that too dangerous? But after a while I understood. In most parts of this country there is no public transportation. There are school busses, but that’s it. Families rely on their cars. Without cars they wouldn’t have jobs and the kids couldn’t do all their activities and meet their friends. Life would be impossible without cars. But because there are no other means of transportation it is also a tough job for adults to organize their kids’ life. Usually you need several family members and friends to make that possible. It is a huge relief for parents when their kids start driving themselves to school and baseball practice.

As soon as my oldest step son was 16 and had his own driver’s license he could help chauffeuring his brothers to all of their activities. Andrew, who had played the taxi driver for his kids since they were born, was suddenly unemployed. A fact he really liked (but he also missed the long drives because they gave him an opportunity to spend time with his teenage sons).

I don’t know the statistics. Are there more accidents in America than in Europe because of the young age of the drivers? It doesn’t seem to look like it here, in Maine.

The Wild, Wild East Coast

Waffen1One day, it might have been during my third or fourth visit to Maine before I moved to the US, I went to Walmart to get my groceries. I don’t like Walmart much. It’s huge and you really get everything you need there, but that is exactly why I don’t like it. If you need groceries, hair spray, and batteries you have to cross the store twice which means a hike of at least a kilometer. Walking a kilometer outdoors is a piece of cake and it’s nice. Walking in Walmart in artificial light, accompanied by elevator music with lots of other customers who are, of course, always in your way is not what I call fun.

Anyway. That day I was looking for an item and reached a corner in the store which was totally new to me. I was in the camping area and suddenly stared at shelves filled with all kinds of weapons. At first I thought they were a fake. They couldn’t be real, could they? The store where I got my bananas and stockings couldn’t also sell weapons, right?

But no, I was wrong. These weapons were all real. I saw a customer discussing the qualities of a certain gun with an employee. It was exactly how I had seen it on American TV shows. But none of these scenes played in Walmart; they were in gun shops.

I was shocked. I knew about the laws here. I knew that guns are part of the American way of how they understand their freedom. The right to carry a gun is part of the Constitution and a most sacred law for many Americans. Adults are allowed to carry a gun in order to defend themselves and their families.

This is a funny concept for someone like me who grew up in a country where only policemen and hunters are allowed to have guns. Living in a city like Berlin didn’t give me a lot of chances to see hunters. But even policemen seem to hide their weapons normally. They probably don’t want to offend citizens.

Luckily I live in Maine, one of the states in the US with the lowest crime rates. Some people don’t lock their doors, not even their cars. Everyone feels very safe and I’ve never seen people carrying guns. My husband says this is the perfect place to raise children. Most weapons here are sold to hunters because hunting is a big thing here in Maine. Many people make their living from it. Some rely on it as a food source.

But I usually avoid the weapons area at Walmart. And whenever I see signs like the one pictured here from the entrance door of a health care center, I don’t know whether to laugh or frown. It’s like living in the Wild, Wild West. Only on the East Coast.

A Miracle: Here I am Catholic again

jesus I was baptized Roman Catholic. That was a condition my grandmother made when my mother married a Protestant. My grandmother was born and raised in Poland, a very Catholic country. The turmoil of World War II brought her and her children to Germany. Although I have never seen her practicing this religion, she was determined that her grandchildren should be raised in the same religion in which she was raised.. I got all the necessary holy sacraments: communion and confirmation, and I visited Sunday school. As a child I prayed every evening and believed every word I learned about God.

Growing up I got more and more critical about all religions, but especially about the Catholics. I read a lot of books about the Crusades and the present politics of the church. The older I got the less I liked what I learned. I was 29 when I decided to leave the Catholic Church. I was paying taxes monthly to an organization which stood for a moral I just could not agree with anymore. This was not the god I wanted to deal with and I didn’t want to support Catholic politics with my taxes. I filled out some papers and was officially excluded from the Catholic religion. But the priest who gave me the papers to sign made absolutely clear that I was not part of the church anymore. I wasn’t excommunicated, but I wasn’t Catholic either. I officially had no religion in Germany anymore.

And then I moved to the US.

Coincidently my husband is also Catholic. His parents are loyal and practicing Catholics and he still knows the words of every prayer and song in the mass. One day I asked him how much in taxes he pays to the church. He looked at me as if I was nuts. “Taxes to the church? What are you talking about?”

It turns out that nobody pays taxes to the church here. Those practicing their religion donate money voluntarily. But even if they would stop donating money they wouldn’t get kicked out of the church. They are members as long as they want to be.

And I learned that I could become a member of a church anytime if I want to. In this country I am Catholic again. I was so used to thinking of myself of having no religion that I was a little startled when I heard that.

I am still not interested in practicing this religion but it is part of my history and my family. There is no reason to deny that. And I don’t know why, but I somehow like how Americans seem to be so much more open about their religion. They seem to be so much more welcoming. Even the Catholics look more attractive to me here. Isn’t that funny?