If you thought France is the only place where people kiss on the cheeks to say hello and goodbye, you’re terribly wrong. They do it EVERYWHERE.
In my first few months I didn’t take part in this weird behaviour. It seemed like an invasion of my privacy to be kissed by people I didn’t know that well, men and women alike. I was known as “the american girl who doesn’t want to be kissed”. Going out, when others joined my group of friends, they’d attempt to kiss me, only to see me duck away from their faces. They smiled at me and said “Right, you’re the American who doesn’t like to be kissed!” Bummer.
But, slowly, I accustomed to this weird social phenomenon. It became more and more normal watching people kiss each other like that. Kiss on the left cheek, kiss on the right cheek. And slowly, I didn’t duck away from people kissing me. I didn’t kiss back, but I let them.
After another while I realized that these kisses had nothing sexual, romantic, flirty or sensual about them. I know that very many conservative christians would be just shocked by it. I was, too. But I made peace with it. While others shake hands, these people kiss on the cheeks. It’s a friendly way to say hello, nothing more, and nothing less.
Anyways, moving on to a different topic. A while ago I posted that I went on a coffee with a friend of a friend, Daniel. I want to tell you a bit about it because I found it really interesting. There isn’t much to say about it other than it was a cup of coffee in the afternoon. But WHAT I was able to learn made me think about it for quite some time.
Daniel was very honest about the rumors he had heard about me. That there was this weird American girl from some sort of cult – is she from that group where the leader married the 12-year-old? Is she Amish? Euros don’t know much about the fundamentalist movement. For them, you’re either Amish or… Amish. Even the concept of rather conservative christianity is something they can’t quite place and imagine. It’s a totally different world for them and they can’t imagine groups like that living in the US.
I told him a lot about the different groups of christianity and christian fundamentalism. While he was interested, he wasn’t quite sure if I was making stuff up. Women submitting to men? Not going to college because you want to be a help-meet? What is that all about? I told him that some of these things are really in the bible – he didn’t believe me and agreed that I would show him the verses in HIS bible. Not mine, because that might be some crazy people bible. I got a good laugh out of that reaction. I thought it was great that someone would actually find it so strange that christianity can be turned into something bad that he wouldn’t believe the things I told him.
On the other hand, he talked a lot about his family. That was really interesting. He comes from a steady, traditional family. His mom is a housewife, but has a small job. The money she makes is just for her personal desires as his dad makes really good money. She wouldn’t have to work, but she likes to work. They’ve been married for a long time and all their 3 kids turned into very smart kids. All of them went to college and his two siblings live in happy long-term relationships. And that’s just plain weird to me, and a whole new experience, because I was taught there are no happy families without God. You can’t have a happy marriage and normal children without Jesus. Life will be an entire living hell if you don’t have faith. Seeing that a good, nice, hardworking group of kids comes from a secular family, that’s something I didn’t believe in.
By european standards, he’s a good christian. The definition of “good christian” differs immensely from the definition used in America. By European views, a “good christian” is a person who believes in God and Jesus. Period. He didn’t read the bible. Not even parts of it. He doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t spread the word, he doesn’t believe in christian values. He doesn’t know a single fact about Jesus other than he was supposedly God’s son, which they think is not true but that’s ok, because you’re still a good christian. It simply means that you believe in God, and that you’re not an asshole. You don’t murder, you don’t steal and you don’t rape. A good christian is a person who believes, but doesn’t apply values. The people we consider conservative christians in America would be considered hard-core fundamentalists here. The fundamentalists… well, as he said, I’m just making those up.
Do you find that weird, too? That they really live in a world where definitions and beliefs are like that? I still can’t grasp how they consider someone who doesn’t know a single thing about christianity and the bible a christian.
After this, I asked some other friends if they were christian, and if they considered Daniel a christian. Most answered “No” when I asked them if they were christian. Out of 10 people I asked, all said no. Some said they believe in “something”, but don’t know what. When the question about Daniel was asked, their answer was “Oh yes, he’s kind of conservative. He even goes to church like four times a year.”
Why is that so?
Americans (especially fundamentalists) are quick to blame it on the supposedly limited religious freedom in Europe. I can promise every single one of them that this is not the case. Absolutely wrong. They have the very same religious freedom Americans have. It’s not 1600 anymore where the king decided what the religion of his people should be. I see religion alive and practices here everywhere, though by small groups. The buddhist center has its local headquarter right next to the universal christian sect. The scientologists (though I personally do NOT consider them a religion) hand out their flyers dressed up in garbage bags everywhere. The catholic nuns are a common picture on the streets. The catholic community does a lot of small pilgrimages with all kinds of pomp and celebrations on their holidays. The jewish community held a memorial a few weeks ago at the train station – all trains were canceled and put on hold to give them the opportunity to do so in safety without worrying about the trains. The muslims, of which there are many in this area, stick to their way of life, and pray wherever they stand when it’s time to pray. The protestants, who aren’t so outgoing generally, hold community festivals with bbqs and invite everyone.
Matter of fact, religion is present everywhere, and it feels a bit like everyone is trying to win the many many “lost sheep” for their side. And yet, it doesn’t do the job. It seems like Europeans are tired of religion and the many harms it caused throughout the last 2000 years.
I really feel like writing more on this but I just can’t really figure out what to add at this point. I will definitely keep investigating and update you on what I found out if you’re interested!