In addition to the landlord issues, another not so fun thing happened with the kids the other day. The girls have been more likely to go out walking in the neighborhood since we moved here than they ever were at the house in Stuttgart. The only place they ever went in our neighborhood there was to the little shop/gas station down the street to buy packaged ice cream, because that was the only place there was to go. Here at the new place, there are three bakeries, a drug store, a castle with a lovely park and an ice cream shop, all within walking distance of the house so they’re more likely to go out and about a couple of times a week or so.
All was good until the other day when they went on their usual “bakery-then-ice-cream-then-to-the-park” walkabout. Some punk kids shouted anti-American obscenities at them outside the ice cream shop because they heard them speaking English between themselves. Evidently these were fairly young children, but if the children are spouting it, you can surely figure out where they’ve learned it. I realize these are just kids, but it seems this little town has some residents that don’t like Americans so much.
I should note that we’ve been very lucky to have escaped this type of attitude for the 14 years we’ve lived in Germany, but that doesn’t make it feel any nicer. In France, yes, it’s almost a given thing that Americans are not well liked (especially when a bus load of us descended on a restaurant one night during a Paris tour; some French patrons actually left, loudly complaining “Too many stars and stripes in here!” on their way out the door) but I’ve never experienced this is Germany, nor have my children ever been on the receiving end of such anti-American sentiments, at least not so overtly.
The sad thing is that the girls are now a bit uncomfortable about going out and about. I told them what to do if it ever happens again (leave the area quickly, go to a different store and explain the problem to the store clerk, and call me on the cel phone. I will drive to get them with baseball bat in hand; don’t mess with my kids), but they’re probably going to stick close to home for the nonce. The next few times they want ice cream, either ITMan will have to walk with them, or I’ll maybe take them by in the car on the way home from some other outing. It’s not like they’re young, they’re 11 and 16, but they’re not exactly streetwise toughs, my girls. I could probably say in all honesty that they’ve been sheltered from the ugly parts of the world as they’ve grown up, as it should be.
I’ve never really felt unsafe in Germany overall, and I do my best to blend in. Well, except for that car thing. Mustangs are sold in Germany, but not in great numbers so they’re pretty much a giveaway, but at least I do have real German license plates now, as opposed to how it used to be. When we arrived here in 1994, we had plates that were obviously only on American cars; I felt like I was wearing a sign that said “Shoot me, I’m an American” with those. I do always feel like people look at us when we’re in public, especially if we’re at restaurants talking amongst ourselves and can be overheard speaking English.
Sure, ITMan and I aren’t exactly fluent German speakers (far from it), even after living here so long, but we do try. In our defense, we never thought we’d be here this long, and I just don’t want to spend the time to learn more of it than I have. The kids are pretty good at it, with LittleOne near fluent after being in German Kindergarten for two years, and having classes since then. I could tell the kids to speak German even between themselves when they are out without parents, but that still doesn’t address the real issue, I think.
So I’m not too sure what to think about this development here in our little town. Our immediate neighbors have probably all figured out by now that we’re American, though not military, and they seem okay with it. Not that we’ve been asked to the neighborhood barbecue or anything, which is fine too, but at least they’re not throwing eggs at our house or shouting mean things as they drive by. It’s funny; the American community is soooo much larger here in the Heidelberg area than it is in Stuttgart, and yet our first experience like this happens in Heidelberg.
Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that Stuttgart is a larger, more internationalized area, with more large companies that have international employees than Heidelberg. There could be more non-DoD associated Americans in Stuttgart than Americans who are associated with the military, and maybe more Germans in the Heidelberg area just have it in for the American military and DoD associated folks, because there are soooo many of them here. In other words, in Stuttgart, German people wouldn’t automatically assume you are associated with the American military if you speak English; you could be working for DaimlerChrysler, Mercedes, Bosch, etc. and if you don’t know if someone works for the military, why target them with hatred for the American military?
Whatever it is, I’m definitely not feeling good about it all. What’s your view? Have you experienced this type of thing, whether vacationing or living abroad? How would you feel?