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!