I am starting a special series of interviews with some selected friends who have experiences with both European and American culture. I thought it would be interesting for my readers to get to know these friends and shed some light on the similarities and differences between cultures, countries and life.
Elke is a good friend that grew up in Germany, but now lives near me in Poughkeepsie NY. We have become fast friends and I am sure you be able to tell from her interview…why that is. (hint: it has to do with her favorite place to travel). She will shed some light on the German culture. You may wonder to yourself…gee she looks alot like Elke Sommers, well…that is Elke Sommers. This has been an on-going joke…and now this her punishment for not getting me a picture for the last 3 months. It was either that, or a picture of my Westie, so I hope she is happy with my choice.
MM: Tell me about yourself & your family.
E: My name is Elke and I am 39 years old. Born and raised in Germany, I am the oldest of three children and the only one who decided to move to a different country much to the chagrin of my family and friends. I currently live in Poughkeepsie, NY with my wonderful husband and amazing 13 year old son. My family is my top priority, so I work only part-time for a Homecare Agency. I have a passion for traveling, love to read, be around my friends, cook and bake, have picnics on one of the amazing grounds of our old Mid-Hudson Valley mansions, attend theater and musical productions and most important of all take care of my little family.
MM: Tell us about your childhood.
E: I grew up in a little town called Arzfeld, which is part of the beautiful Eifel region with my parents and younger brother and sister. In our town everyone knew each other and there were plenty of children on our road to play with. My mom was a stay- at-home mom and because of that we grew up with a strong sense of family values and morals. We loved to play outside, in the fields or woods surrounding our home. We walked to our elementary school every day and as we got older took the bus to a neighboring town for Middle/ High School. Our town was small and save enough to be negotiated by foot. We could walk to the post office, shops, doctor offices etc. We had a playground right on our road where we spend numerous hours of the day.
MM: Describe your personality.
E: I am a fun- loving, outgoing person. I consider myself organized and loyal. To be fair I have to mention, that I am reluctant to big changes and have a stubborn, willful streak. People tell me I am sweet, nice and funny..Boy are they in for a surprise. I must like adventure to a certain degree because I am always up to explore new places and look at me I moved across the Atlantic(what was I thinking???)
MM: What is one misconception about your culture?
E: Well where to start? I guess what has been bothering me for a while now is the assumption floating around that all German woman are big. I fit in a size 4 dress and my sister is probably below a 0. My friends are all skinny and I am not sure where this rumor started. We really are not all huge, beer hoisting girls that bust out of their clothes. We come in all sizes (wee, not so wee and friggin huge).
MM: What is the one thing that frustrated/irritated you about living in Germany?
E: At the time I was living there the endless days of rain. I do have to say that has changed though due to global warming or El Nino. Right now I would gladly trade places as far as the weather is concerned.
MM: What are the Germans most known for in your opinion?
E: Good beer and food, cleanliness and most Germans are incredibly industrious.
MM: What has your experience been with Americans? Do German people hate Americans?
E: Most Americans that I have encountered have a very open and friendly mentality. Germans are more reserved and private. I hope I am not stepping on too many toes here but I think Americans can be too boisterous and loud, especially when traveling and seem to lack the thoughtfulness to leave their habits and shorts and sneakers at home when traveling to a European country. That said Germans can be incredibly annoying tourists as well. I have taken vacations with both..and was ready to run the opposite way a couple of times. German people in general love Americans. There are so many US military posts all over Germany that everybody lives and socializes with each other. English is our mandatory second language and apart from some political views or climates there is no resentment toward Americans. You can’t even find a piece of teenager clothing anymore, that does not have some English slogan on it, which does not make sense all the time and often amuses my husband and son, who are trying to figure out what it was meant to say.
MM: What was your initial impression of the US and its people? How is that different from what you expected?
E: I thought everything was very contemporary. It did not seem like things were made to last. Everything appeared to have been put up quickly and I was not too impressed with the trash on the roadside on the way from JFK airport in New York City. Coming from an Old World country this was quite the culture shock. Everything here seemed so different and frankly scary to me. We have so much history and definitely less malls and shopping centers in Germany. I was completely overwhelmed and just wanted to turn around and go home. As far as lifestyles go I was shocked to see how many crazy hours American’s have to work and how fast paced and stressful life over here is. Europe is much more laid back and allows more time to spend with family.
MM: I am proud to be German because…
E: I love my country, it is truly beautiful. So many nice places to visit and incredible history to learn from. We had some dark times in our history and came back, compassionate and humble.
MM: What is your favorite German dish to make? Maybe a signature dish?
E: You will be surprised it is not Sauerkraut. It is Rotkohl(red cabbage)my favorite German vegetable and homemade spaetzle(Bavarian pasta)
MM: What is your favorite German food?
E: I love Sauerbraten and Jaeger schnitzel
MM: What is your favorite American food?
E: Believe it or not I am a sucker for a good hamburger.
MM: Who taught you to cook?
E: I need to give credit to my mom for that. Though she seldom had me at the stove doing the actual cooking I was always in the kitchen around her and observed and memorized.
MM: Who is your favorite historic German person and why?
E: That is a hard one… Have been out of school for too long. I admire Ludwig van Beethoven. He was the most amazing composer and his music still inspires people all around the world.
MM: Favorite Museum?
E: Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C.
MM: Favorite artist?
E: Van Gogh
MM: Favorite music/musician?
E: My favorite 2 men are both very much into music. So I get to listen and enjoy a wide variety of different styles (some I like more then others). I like to listen to Andrea Bocelli and his American counter part Josh Groban .
MM: Favorite movie?
E: I really liked the movie Chocolat and The Notebook.
MM: Favorite book/author?
E: ‘Wish you well’ by David Baldacci. I also am a huge fan of John Steinbeck and Barbara Kingsolver. I love to read and it would take me a while to list them all so I will spare you further details .You have some amazing literature and writers in this country.
MM: Favorite historic monument?
E: It has to be the “World War II” Memorial in Washington D.C. It is very impressive and well designed. I was impressed by most of the monuments in Washington DC and Arlington Cemetery. We had the benefit of enjoying all of this while we were living in Virginia for 8 years.
MM: Favorite restaurant in Germany, why?
E: A little restaurant called “Alte Abtei” in Pruem a town about 20 minutes from my parent’s town. You get very good traditional German dishes there with great presentation and the ambiance is very nice. It is family owned and you can have a good time as a group there or have a romantic dinner for two.
MM: Favorite area of your country?
E: I love Bavaria. The country side is gorgeous, the mountains (Alps) are very impressive and you can visit King Ludwig’s castles (the Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World is modeled after one of them). Another amazing place to visit is Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a walled city about 3 hours outside of Frankfurt dating back to the medieval times.
MM: What is your favorite drink?
E: I like girlie drinks, like Pina Coladas or Fuzzy Navels. But I also treasure a good glass of wine.
MM: If you could have dinner with one person dead or alive who would it be..why?
E: Brad Pitt because he is cute. Just kidding! I would like to talk to Princess Diana of Wales. I think she was a wonderful person and had so much to give.
MM: Which languages do you speak? Which was the hardest to learn?
E: German and English. They are equally hard to learn. German grammar is a nightmare but English can throw you for a loop too. It was a challenge but I love to learn new things.
MM: What are your favorite things to do in your country?
E: Visiting with my family and friends and of course traveling. Remember I am a “nomad” at heart.
MM: How does the German diet compare to the diet of the Americans?
E: We eat a lot of food with gravy’s and sauces. Some of our dishes can be heavy but our lifestyle is more active and we eat our big meals mainly for lunch and have a small dinner. I find our food very well seasoned and our desserts less sweet then Americans. Just like in America we have regional cuisine and some things I like and some I don’t.
MM: What is the biggest stereotype about German people?
E: That Germans are rude, cold and not very welcoming, and it is a far cry from that. Also our diet consists of more then just Sauerkraut.
MM: What is the biggest stereotype that the Germans have about Americans?
E: I guess a widespread conception is that Americans view themselves as better than anyone else in the world and therefore can do whatever pleases them.
MM: What is the biggest similarity between the German & American culture?
E: We are both western cultures so many of our beliefs are similar. The same goes for daily routines and loyalties.
MM: Biggest difference?
E: Family values and work ethics.
MM: If I could change one thing about Germany or German culture what would it be?
E: History. I would love to rewrite history and change some of the world views of Germany and its people to the rest of the world.
MM: If you could travel anywhere, where would it be?
E: I want to go back to Italy. I also am interested in traveling to Thailand. We have traveled extensively in Europe and went to Africa for our honeymoon.
MM: Up to this point, where has your favorite place to travel been?
E: Italy. Hands down!!!!
MM: What culture do you wish to know more about?
MM: Of all my accomplishments, I am proudest of…
E: Being a mom and learning to live comfortably in a new world and fit in.
MM: I think being German is wonderful because…
E: We are proud and industrious people with a strong sense of loyalty and analytical minds.
Thank you Elke for your time and your honest, heartfelt answers! I hope my readers enjoyed getting to know you as much as I have.