America idolizes the idea of being the greatest country on earth. We are raised to focus on everything domestic, thus becoming ignorant to what is beyond our borders. I traveled into the heart of Europe, Germany, and received a fresh perspective of how the world is connected.
We arrived in Heidelberg after an agonizingly long flight and a two hour drive with our Explorica tour guide. I was traveling with two German teachers and a handful of German students who, just as I, were excited to see the Country we had dedicated years of our education to.
The culture shock did not take long to set in after we arrived. As a German student you learn not only the language, but all about the culture. I was already aware of the fact that you have to seat yourself at a restaurant and that strangers may take a seat next to you, yet actually experiencing it was downright strange. My friends and I walked into a Turkish restaurant for our very first lunch in Germany and immediately felt awkward as we looked for a place to sit. It was the same feeling you get when you walk into an elevator packed with people and everyone tries not to look at each other, very uncomfortable.
After a waitress came over to help us find a table with enough seating, the confusion continued. We opened up our menus to find that we could understand one to two words in each dish, so ordering became a guessing game. I spent a long while examining the menu to make sure I would choose something I would like and confidently ordered. Five minutes later, the waitress came back to tell me they could not make the dish and suggests another option. Of course, the only thing I understood her say was “It also has chicken.” Not wanting to be annoying or admit to her that I did not know enough German to understand everything she said, I eagerly agreed. The dish, luckily, ended up being amazing and I was glad to have trusted her.
That night when my friends and I entered our hotel room, we decided to go out on the balcony. To enter the balcony, we had to open a swinging glass door. Well, I turned the handle and instead of the door swinging open, the top came out and swung down toward me. We were all shocked and thought the door was broken, quickly closing it so we were not blamed for the damage. Every night we slept at a different hotel because we were constantly on the go and began to realize a pattern with the windows. If you turn the handle one way, the window swings open. If you turn the handle the other direction, the window opens from the top. Later that week, we were told by our tour guide that all windows in Germany are like that. I was astounded that all the windows in one country were made to open the same way, because in America virtually nothing is standard within the whole nation.
Experiencing the cultural differences in Germany helped me to truly understand what life is like in smaller nations. Each country in Europe is comparable to one state within America because of how small and close together they are. This allows each country to be able to make decisions such as standardizing windows. It also explains why Germans are much more independent, choosing their own tables, considering the dense population. I appreciate the differences instead of judging them now that I have lived through it.
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