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Alien in America

What? Only German? That’s all?

flagLast week I went out with Andrew and another couple. We met Mike and his girlfriend, Kim, at a restaurant. I knew Mike but met Kim for the first time and we had a good time. After a while she started talking about her ancestors. It turned out that she had a lot of nationalities in her family history. I don’t remember all of them anymore, but the main nationalities were Italian, Irish, French and she also had Native American roots. It appeared that half of Europe and even parts of Africa were united in her blood stream. But that’s not how she formulated it. She started telling me about that by saying, “Hey, did you know that I am Irish, French, Italian and partially Native American? I am European like you”.

Whenever I hear that I have to smile silently. There is hardly one American I have met so far who couldn’t tell me where their ancestors come from (Andrew is one of the exceptions). They are telling me how Italian they are because their great grandparents immigrated to this country a hundred years ago. Today I heard a woman say that her family is so typical German, without ever having been in Germany or knowing Germans, but just because her grandmother was German.

To me, Americans are a contradiction in this respect. They are so proud of their country but also love the idea of being more than just American.

After Kim told me about all the different nationalities in her family history which she thinks aren’t only in her genes but also show in her character (she’s got the typical Italian temperament and can drink like an Irish), she asked me this question: “And what is your nationality?”

I was surprised and hesitated a moment. I thought she knew the answer. I was sure Mike had told her and didn’t she hear my accent? Then I said: “Well, I am German.”

Kim looked at me and waited. I looked back and thought this was a rather awkward moment. What was she waiting for? Then she burst out: “What? Only German? That’s all?”

For Americans, simply being American doesn’t seem to be enough.

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.