Not to insult the general idea or politics here. Not in the least! But there are significant cultural differences, specifically when it comes to religion, that make me believe that I could never have thrived the way I did if I stayed in the US.
1. Abstinence teachings do not exist. Actually, if you were to suppose someone teach abstinence in school, the answers would be “uhm. well. sure. as an alternative maybe. But kids still need to learn about condoms and body functions as well. You can’t leave that out!”. Does that mean we don’t have teen pregnancies over here? Heck no. We do. We have very similar problems! But, at least, none of those kids (especially girls) suffer from religious slut shaming. And even if that’s all that the lack of abstinence teachings accomplish, that’s still something.
2. Religion is something for your private life. Imagine someone on the street would walk up to you and tell you about their sexual kinks and ask you to try them too. That is the equivalent of people trying to impose religion on others here. It’s something that’s perfectly fine, but you keep it to yourself. You don’t encounter people with flyers or tracts or signs here. Nobody is friendly enough to accept them anyway – Germans deny being handed flyers they don’t care about on a regular basis. It wouldn’t make any sense.
3. Abortion clinic crowds. When Germans see pictures of demonstrations in front of abortion clinics, they react highly puzzled. “What’s that all about?” – “Don’t they… like… have jobs?” – “Is that their hobby or something?” It is very hard to make people understand why people in America do that. When they do understand, the reaction is usually something on the lines of calling it bad taste to harass people in a difficult life situation. I once heard of a catholic pastor demonstrating in front of an abortion doctor’s office. As far as I know, he came alone. That made it into the regional news. Just to give you an idea how exotic this is here – it even makes it into the news… Not that Germans don’t demonstrate. They love it. They do it all the time. Which is why you should plan your public transportation really well, because you are likely to catch a day where some flight personnel or some train personnel is off work for a demonstration (Hello German Railroads, we would love to have our trains on time JUST FOR ONCE!).
4. “So, do you plan on getting married soon?”. Germans find it very, very, very weird when people under 25 get married. 25-30 is still a bit unusual, but it doesn’t get you stares. If you were to marry at 18, people would stare at you in wonder and go “why….?”. Actually, getting married is pretty optional these days. Having a child out-of-wedlock gets you much less stares than a wedding before the age of 25.
5. Virginity before marriage? It’s not like people throw stones at you exactly, but that is very, very unusual here. You’d get some curious questions. People probably would understand your reasoning, but most cannot understand why it would be a big deal. And no, not everyone here sleeps around on orgies or has 15 lovers at a time or whatever negative you associate with it. It’#s just… not a big deal. You know? Nobody cares.
6. Sex and the public. Nudity is not something people get worked up over. Nursing in public happens all the time and without covers. You know why? Because people don’t care and don’t bother. Changing babies happens all the time. Because they don’t care, don’t bother. Topless women at the pool happen. People change (aka strip down completely naked) on pools and lakes. You know why? You should by now! I can’t even explain it really. They just… don’t… care…
All of these factors have been a major culture shock for me. At first, it was so hard. Seriously. So hard. Not to feel embarrassed when I sat next to a woman nursing without covers in public. Not to stare at people topless on the lake. Not to feel highly uncomfortable next to the girls in H&M who change in the middle of the shop (the lines for the fitting rooms are SO long!). It took me so long to be cool about it. And what took me even longer was realizing that nobody cared if I did these things.
I remember the first time I tried something on in the middle of H&M. Really, it’s very common here because you have to wait 20 minutes otherwise. I was in a hurry. I really wanted to try the dress. So my friend urged me: Just throw it on! Nobody cares! I let her convince me – nevertheless I prefered to do it in a far off corner. Of course, two girls were looking at the shirts there. One of them bumped into me when I was half undressed. She smiled and said sorry. And went her merry way. And I realized… nobody cares.
All of these things are so far away from everything I knew growing up. I think the fact that this is like a different world, so far away from everything I knew, really helped me. I wasn’t given the choice anymore. In America, you have the choice and the support to be against nursing mothers in public. You have the choice to freak out when you see a nipple on TV – and you WILL find support. Here, the “support” you will find is people shaking their heads and saying “Do you really have nothing else to do but get into other people’s business? If you don’t like it, you know… you’re free to leave the restaurant, or change the channel.” Yup, I think that’s the major point. Snooping around in other people’s business, telling them what to do or not to do, pressuring them with your “One true way” is just out-of-place. Do as you please, as long as others have the choice to look away.
Back at home I would have been very angry about this. I would have started screaming “But what about MY freedom? What about my freedom of speech and my right to be protected of other people’s nipples?!” I understand that now. I understand that this is a different culture, where freedom isn’t defined via being protected of other people’s bodies being naked, where demonstrating in the form some people do in front of abortion clinics isn’t valued as freedom of speech but as harassment (fyi, it is permitted to do it – just nobody feels like it’s an appropriate way to express opinions). Where you can say what you want, but you shouldn’t shove it down people’s throats. Where, when you see something that upsets you (but gives others joy), you just, for once, look away. At the end of the day, this really is a relaxing attitude. Because when you see a nursing mother, it is so much more relaxing to simply look away if it bothers you.
I wouldn’t even say that it is “better” over here. No. That’s comparing apples to oranges. Its different. Different culture, different lifestyle, not better, not worse, just different. This is purely about personal preference in the above issues and the way it’s helped me get away from old beliefs. If I didn’t come from the background I do, I might not even notice, or I might not see it as positive that abstinence is not considered in schools here. I think the best way to see it is in form of phases in life. And right now, for me personally, it is best to be immersed in a world so completely different from the one I knew. Maybe that will change tomorrow, or in 2 years, or in 10. Until then, I will enjoy a different lifestyle, knowing that I, as a rich American-European girl, have the ability to choose a different one whenever I please. And that, suddenly, reminds me that there are much bigger problems in the world than nipples on TV.