As of today, we have been in Germany for two full months. We still don't have our furniture or our winter clothes, but regardless, it has been two months.
I have been reflecting a lot on the cultural differences between the United States and Europe - trying to walk that fine line between stereotyping and ignoring the subtleties. One lesson that I am working hard to teach myself is that just because something is foreign does not make it right. This may strike some of you as painfully obvious or basic, but for me it was not.
I think you know what I mean: the allure of the exotic, the drive to be "accepting of other cultures", the desire to blend in in a new culture. I didn't realize it at first, but these three factors were profoundly affecting me in our early days in Germany and, consequently, clouding my judgment.
The three big issues for me as an American mommy raising a family in Europe are: 1)family planning 2)fashion and 3)schooling.
#1 - Germans don't have more than two kids. It is a social taboo. People with three draw stares, I can't even imagine how they would gape at Mary Alice. It is nearly impossible to find any car that seats more than four people somewhat comfortably. I rationalized this at first -- cost of living is higher, gas is expensive, they have smaller homes and less land for their people. Ok, the bottom line is the same, there must be some aggressive unnatural birth control going on in this country for every family to look the same and a certain amount of sacrifice can make large families possible in any culture.
#2 - Germans dress to impress, but this comes with a price tag. They look good all the time, and their kids look great too. I am not talking high quality stuff, I am talking children's dresses with attached purses, toddler boys in leather coats. This resulted in a certain amount of covetousness on my part. I found myself urging my husband to indulge the family in new clothing even though our clothes are perfectly fine. These Euro-families make be at the peak of style, but quality, comfort and cleanliness should remain my key values in clothes selection.
#3 - The idea of sending my 4 yr. old daughter to German "pre-Kinder" was immensely appealing. I mean, after all, Germans invented Kindergarten. She would learn the language, I would meet other German mommies, it would help us assimilate all around. I toyed with this for weeks and weeks. I talked to mothers of preschoolers in English schools and German schools. While I talked, I continued my nascent homeschooling attempts, we took nature walks, we visited Daddy at the dining hall for lunch as a family. Then it hit me, wait a minute, just because those kids and parents and children are speaking a different language does not mean anything else will be different than in a typical North American pre-school. I would still be handing my young impressionable child over to strangers at a really young age, I would still be opening her up to the values of children and families which I do not condone. It would still be interrupting the routine of her younger brother and putting us all in the car for many hours a day instead of at home or out in the beautiful German town nearby. Done, no school, not yet.
In conclusion, I love Germany. This was the right decision for our family at this juncture. We are learning a lot about history and efficiency and courtesy. But our values are our values, no matter where in the world we may be and it is my job to safeguard that foundation for my children.