My recent trips back to Germany has made me question some of the cultural and social norms that I was raised with growing up in the U.S. In order to best illustrate the culture shock of visiting a different country, one that is considered highly modern yet different from the U.S., I wrote an account of my observations in Germany. I wrote this account in the style of Ibn Fadlan, a famous Muslim traveler who accompanied missions to Russia and Scandinavia and wrote about the customs of the people he encountered. His accounts illustrate the foreignness and strangeness of viewing a different culture through the lens of one’s own. Such travels and accounts bring about a new perspective for people as they question their culture and customs by comparing and seeing others. I hoped to capture the aspects of a strange land and make sense of it through writing my accounts in prose that reflects Ibn Fadlan’s, one of curiosity, fascination, and a little disgust. I have attached a sample excerpt that best epitomizes Fadlan’s prose and style:
“When one of them falls ill, they erect a tent away from them and cast him into it, giving him some bread and water. They do not come near him or speak to him, indeed they have no contact with him for the duration of his illness, especially if he is socially inferior or is a slave. If he recovers and gets back to his feet, he rejoins them. If he dies, they bury him, though if he was a slave they leave him there as food for the dogs and the birds.”
I arrived in Germany having flown from the U.S. to visit my parents and having come, I began to walk around and observe this foreign land. The Germanic settlements are an interesting breed. Their roads are tiny and narrow, with little room for actual cars as they favor smaller vehicles. They instead prefer to walk, their sidewalks almost twice the size of many back home. The streets are clean but hurt the feet and are uncomfortable to walk; many of them are old with stones instead of solid blocks. Bakeries are a common sight with one seemingly at every corner. The smell of bread drifts through the air early in the morning as the sun rises.
The Germans eat hearty food as they accompany their meals with strong beer and lots of bread. Every man has a large pint of beer or fizzy drink as they eat their fried meats daintily with their fork and knives. The concept of free water is foreign here as they refuse to serve it and if asked, they give a liquid which cannot be called water, but rather a bubbly fizz. The drink leaves the throat parched but they drink it with their salty food, satisfied. A credit card is foreign to them as they often refuse to accept it, asking for paper instead. I was told it was common for them to carry hundreds of euros at a time, a product of their previous economic depressions.
On Small Talk
The Germans keep to themselves and their friends, never willing to open up or talk to outsiders. They constantly watch with no shame, staring directly at strangers. If they catch strangers staring back, they continue to look until they are satisfied and resume to their daily lives.
The Germans often huddle together, breathing next to each other like they are a pack of shepherds. The savages have no idea of personal space, often standing too close with no respect for others. No more than two or three feet separate them as they converse. Their tongue, a strange mix of harsh and long sounds that make even their women sound masculine.
The Germans have no sense of decency or shame. I walked into their bath house only to look in horror of their shameless behavior. They strip in segregated sections before going into a shared common area, without any clothing. They bathe in public houses of cleaning with vast stone tubs of water, fully naked, mixing with males and females. They share the same large bathing pools with their bare bodies in sight, exposed to children and the opposite sex. I was told by an American who had lived in Germany for a while that this strange custom of nudity is common throughout the strange land as unlike Americans, they don’t associate nudeness with sexuality. He said, “Americans at home are religious prudes as they shame nudity whereas Germans see it as a normal way part of life.” This filthy attitude of indecency is found outside the bathhouses and in public. Billboards and advertisements with almost naked cartoon figures are found throughout the city. They seem blind, walking past without a glance.