Sunday, October 6, 2013

What The Critical Mom Hates About Germany

Yesterday, my daughter and I went to Galeria Kaufhof, a large department store, to buy some gift paper with which to wrap my husband's birthday presents.  We picked up some ingredients for his cake, too.  And we didn't have to wait long for the saleslady, who, with the German efficiency I love, took my credit card immediately and packed away our items carefully.
Then she did that thing that I hate, and I rarely see it coming.  Addressing my nine-year-old daughter, she smiled a sappy, sentimental grin that German salespeople--and especially old ladies who lived through the war--get, and announced, "Und das ist für Dich!" ("And this is for you!") and she handed my daughter a pack of gummi bears.  It's usually gummi bears, although sometimes it's "Traubenzucker," which is artificially colored and flavored dextrose, and which they sometimes imagine is "healthy."  They sometimes have "bio" or what they deem organic gummi bears.  Fortunately my daughter does not like gummi bears anyway.  
Does it ever occur to these folks that the mother may not want her kid to have sugar or candy?  Unless, of course, I give it to them because it is their birthday, or my husband's birthday, or mine.  And then I bake a cake, or a tart, and at least that's got a few healthy ingredients in it--not just sugar.  Sometimes I just wave those salesladies away with "Nein, danke," and they look astonished.  Then shocked.  They give the child who has been denied the sweets a shake of the head and a commiserating look, as if to say, "I'm sorry your mommy is so mean."  Then they make that disapproving clicking noise with their tongues, and then I am The American Lunatic Who Tortures Her Children By Refusing Them Candy, Which Is Their Birthright.  The poor, poor children, think the old ladies--those old ladies who used to press chocolate bars into the hands of my then six-month old son as we stood at the local busstop in Bavaria.  If I took it away they looked as though they might be about to call the cops on me, or maybe the local child protection agency.
All this may have started with the teutonic custom of the "Schultüte," or  "school cone."  There is no English equivalent for this nefarious term.  The "Schultüte" is a big cardboard cone filled with candy and toys that is given every German-speaking schoolchild (and, I believe, some Scandinavian ones too) on the first day of school, to "sweeten" what the Germans consider the torments, if not the rigors of school.  Nowadays teachers plead with parents to include fewer sweets and more colored pencils, but their cry often falls on deaf ears, probably because those teachers don't believe it themselves.  They're the ones bringing in cake and ice cream on their birthdays, and since every kid gets to bring sweets on his or her birthday, that's a lot of sugar on your child's teeth.
So I make them brush, and I growl a lot, and I pack whole-grain bread sandwiches in their schoolbags, and I wish the other parents had done what we did with the ole "Schultüte"--fill it up with DVDS, stickers, toys, and one or two teeny little packs of those gummi bears the salesladies gave us . . . the rest of them, oh ye un-reformable German people, have gone straight into the trash!

15 comments:

  1. Found your blog through the Baker's Dozen. You made me smile. I just had a terrible day and your humor about Germany was refreshing. Blessings to you.

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  2. Thanks so much! Hope you have a better day tomorrow!

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  3. The grannies have confused sweetness with goodness. I understand your emotions in response. It's hard to face social judgment about standing up for your values, but then if you crumple to the geezer ladies pushing sugar, you betray yourself, your good sense and your knowledge. The grannies are practicing what I think of as bullying cuckoo-clock niceness, or love poison.... The alter-cockers (is that just Yiddish, or also German?) genuinely pretend to believe that the sweet=good (and ignore the larger picture, which THEY HAVE HEARD ABOUT, namely the emerging science that shows the dangers of sugar consumption). And then I somehow start wondering how this ties into WWII anger... It's a small-picture sweetness they were denied as children, while it was impossible to ignore and to comprehend the larger horror of that period: Sweets were treats during the War, but who knows what, in the larger sense, their parents were doing for good or ill, that provided a daily danger of death... To what extent does this small gesture tie into the larger horror? Beauty ain't truth. Sweet does not equal good.... They are giving your kids what they would have wanted then. In a way, it's pathetic, in a way crackpot mean. And societal... YUCK.

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  4. Honestly? Germans = sugar crazy? Please. It's all over the place, but I've never seen it as bad as here (US, Mississippi to be exact, but Utah wasn't any different.)

    Since when is assuming kids like candy a "German" thing? Sorry, I'm not buying it. There are plenty of people -- 'Teutonic' no less -- who share your views on giving candy to kids. Germans, like any other group of people, come in all shapes and sizes. You may want to hang out with less conservative folks, -- make friends with some Waldorf parents, for example. Or, a slightly smaller step, shop at a Reformhaus. You'll meet interesting people. Broaden your horizons. Not everyone in that blasted country is conservative, Catholic, and a Hausfrau (though chances of that increase the further south you move...). Last time I checked, I was still "German" -- and I'm none of those things.

    Btw, if you really want to shock that sales lady at Galeria, encourage your daughter to say, "No, thanks" with a smile. You may want to have your camera ready for this one. :D

    Cutting my rant short -- I just feel pretty strongly about generalizations, and "hate" is a pretty strong word. Love & peace from Mississippi, A.

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  5. OK!! The Deep South is just as bad! I didn't say this was exclusively a German problem. I just said it's one thing I can't stand about Germany. It is also something I hate about the Deep South (and I do know whereof I speak . . . half my family originated there, in the Junk Food Capitol of the Universe, as in Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

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    1. Yikes, Honey BooBoo! Did you grow up with sweet tea by any chance? Wow, folks here are NOT kidding when they call it that. It tastes like it must be equal parts tea and sugar. :)

      I'm sorry I kind of went off on you there -- I've been feeling a bit under the weather, what with breaking a phone, a tooth and my pescatarian diet, all in unrelated incidents, and then not getting much sleep thanks to neighbors having an argument in the wee hours that culminated in her screaming, banging her fist against the door, and finally breaking several windows. Sometimes I am really tempted by the Mars One project. :)

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  6. Fortunately I escaped the sweet tea! But my relatives, the sixty-three first cousins, in their Faulknerian world .. . .woo wooo

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  7. If you think they eat a lot of sugar in Germany, you've never been to the US! However, I think your real problem is some deep-seated resentment against the Germans that has turned you bitter. Since you are bitter, you probably don't have many friends there, which makes you even more resentful. A more appropriate response to an unwanted gift to your child might be: "Sorry, we don't eat refined sugar, but thank you!" Nein danke - aber es ist sehr nett von Ihnen. That's all it takes.

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    1. I was born and raised in the U.S.A. and lived there until I was 41. I've seen plenty of sugar intake, though admittedly not in my particular area, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where everybody's either Vegan or Eat Your Whole Grains. When I go down South I'm at the mercy of my sugar-shocked relatives, most of whom are overweight and have high blood pressure. Same deal when we go down to the German South, where my Bavarian relatives offer coffee and cake--and plenty of diabetes. When we choose to visit our relatives, we choose to eat their food.
      But in the U.S. A. I've never seen clerks or salespeople handing our kids candy at the pharmacy or in a department store, and I've never seen in any part of the U.S. old ladies pressing chocolate bars into the hands of children at bus stops or in other public places. It is not the custom there for strangers to hand out candy to children they do not know.
      So that's a real cultural difference. But If you've spotted the practice in the U.S.A. then DO TELL! I am interested.
      Another thing--but I don't mind this one--the butcher hands out slices of "Gelbwurst" to our kids whenever we're in Bavaria. That seems harmless enough.
      But just imagine if we were Muslim . . .
      The sales ladies don't ask, you see.

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  8. P.S. Dear Anonymous: Try my recipes! You might enjoy them more than my observations of German clerks and salespeople.

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  9. I came here after seeing your comment on the NYTimes responding to the Slaves of the Internet op-ed, ready to click on some ads on your behalf. And there are no ads to be found! So even though I can't pay you for your writing, I can pay in my gratitude for your posts that I read. I lived in Germany for about a year and your writing took me right back. This post in particular made me smile. Viel Glueck and viel Spass!

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  10. Thanks. I don't know what happened to the ads. They seem to be hear as I write! Hmmmm. Thanks for reading!

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  12. News Flash: we just bought cookie tins at Galeria Kaufhof, and just as I was steeling myself to turn down the cash register candy, they offered apples instead. My daughter got an apple. Thank you, Galeria Kaufhof! Hope this is the beginning of a trend elsewhere . . . maybe the local pharmacy will follow suit.

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