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Cultural Diversity

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Many people are affected by cultural differences, but if one tries to break the barriers, the attempt is usually received with open arms and graciously. I remember when preparing for my trip to Germany friends asked why I chose Germany. I responded with "why not?" Then I was confronted with reasoning like "look what happened in World War II, you do not know their language," and my favorite, "all there are is Nazi people over there." I looked at them for a second then replied with something to the affect that I have always had a fascination with World War II and especially Adolf Hitler and Germany. It is true that I do not know the language, but English is becoming more and more a universally recognized language, and while it is true there are Nazi types of people there, I'm sure there is an equal amount of "hate" right here in the United States. While this is interesting, it so far simply doesn't respond to the assignment, which is to respond to an essay from Language Awareness. You need to make clear from the start what essay you're responding to.

Not deterred by other's comments, I set off for Germany in November of 2002. This was post 9/11 so I was a bit nervous. The first jaunt was from Cleveland to Toronto where I had my first encounter with traveling outside the United States. Toronto has many Muslim people. As I approached the security gate to get into the area where I was to board the plane, I noticed a Muslim man yelling in Arabic or some other Middle Eastern language to someone across the security gate. By yelling, I mean angrily and forcibly. Being that this was my first international trip and only my 2nd airplane ride in my life, I was already nervous to begin with. Add the fact that it was post 9/11, I was nervous as hell. I thought to myself, "Did World War III break out in the hour that I was in the air to Toronto?" Then I realized that just maybe the person was upset about having to unbuckle his belt or something trying to get through the gate.

I landed safe and sound in Frankfurt which has the largest airport in at least Europe. This is where I had my first cultural shock. I knew I had less than 30 minutes to catch a train where I did not know where it was, nor how to get tickets, let alone try to find a phone card and phone (European pay phones use a calling card with a chip in it, not coins) to call my friend Caitlin to let her know that I arrived safely and to meet me at the train station in 2 hours. I found the train ticket counter, as I was not ready to use the train ticket machine just yet with no problem. As I approached the little kiosk that sold the phone cards, I automatically went up to the window and asked if they sold the phone cards. I was immediately greeted with "Good morning to you too" in a snippety voice. I should have known better as I knew that the Germans were big on using formality and greetings. This is where I actually felt stranded and alone, but not defeated. Driven by thoughts of needing to get to my friend so I can communicate better with her help, I approached Germans more carefully and cautiously. Not wanting to test any train police, I found a seat in the first second class compartment that I found. Unfortunately, it was the smoking section and I do not smoke. I made it to Cologne with ease and found my friend as she was coming down the escalator and I was going up it.

Safe and sound in the reassurance that my friend knows the language and has been living in Germany for four (numbers under 10 must be spelled out) months already, I was ready to start learning all about Germany. I can relate to Barbara Kingsolver when she writes, " I intended to do my very best to respect cultural differences, avoid sensitive topics I might not comprehend, and in short be anything but an Ugly American. When I travel, I like to blend in. I've generally found it helps to be prepared"(573). I had heard horror stories from exchange students that I know about how Americans treated their home country. I did not want to be like that. So I made a promise to myself to treat the people that I meet with the dignity and respect that I would want if they were in my shoes in the United States. I knew there were going to be differences in how things were done in Germany versus the United States, but I would embrace it with open arms.

After walking around Cologne a bit we headed back to the apartment for a nap as I had been awake for just about 30 hours or so. After the nap we head to Caitlin's family friend's apartment which is in the same building. The Reinartzs have lived all over the world. So they new what it was like to be in a new country. They also taught their daughters that they had to learn the language in which they were living. They were not too sure why they had to speak English to a guy they did not know, but was visiting a country where he did not know the language even if it was just a little bit. At one point, one of the girls spoke in German and the mother corrected her saying that she was rude speaking in German in front of someone who did not know it. The girl walked off in a huff, but I think I made it up to her when I had brought a new music CD that she could not get yet in Germany.

The next morning was my first real test of learning how to deal with everyday life in Germany. Caitlin was making a typical German breakfast, but sent me out to get fresh rolls. I was sitting at the table rehearsing what she told me to say and pondering whether or not I could pull it off. After encouragement from Caitlin I ventured down the street to the bakery for the fresh rolls. I waited for my turn and then said, as every American tourist does, "Spreche Sie englisch?" (Do you speak English?) and to which I got "Nien" (no). "Hmm ok; time for plan b" I thought. As I carefully tried to pronounce the new foreign language, I see the smile forming on the lady's face. I did not know how to take it. "Was she laughing at me?" or "Is she happy that I'm trying but slaughtering her language?" I make my point across that I would like 7 rolls. Then came the ultimate test. She says in German "What kind would you like?" (my interpretation as I do not know what she actually said) I look at her with a puzzled look and then she starts to point at various rolls. "Ahh! A choice? This is not fair! This was supposed to be simple! What if Caitlin does not like the one I choose? What if I chose the wrong one, will I mess up breakfast? I kept thinking. Basically I did the eeny meeny miney mo theory. Thanked the lady in German (one of the few



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