From Hitler jokes to overly jealous lovers, there are many things about ‘Murica’ that drive Germans to madness. Berlin writer Max Bringmann has compiled a list of the top seven.
I spent ten months in the US Bible Belt state of Kentucky when I was 17, studying at an All-American high school and living with American host parents – as well as a Slovakian host brother and five worryingly obese cats.
It was an incredible experience, including everything from a typical Kentucky horse race to planning how I would ask out a girl for Senior Prom (I ended up writing a cheesy poem).
But a few things really drove me crazy about America and Americans. When I returned to Germany at the end of the year, I noticed that other exchange students would fret about similar things.
Here are the seven things about the US that irritate us the most:
1. Hitler jokes
When I told my English teacher on the first day of school that I was German, his joking response was: “Ms. Hill in the adjacent room is a Jew, maybe you should go talk to her.”
I was shocked, speechless. Where I’m from, we hardly whisper the name Hitler, like “he-who-must-not-be-named”.
But Kentucky youth had a field day with the history of my country. People routinely raised their arms to a Hitler-salute as I was walking the hallway – something which could be considered a criminal offense back home.
Whenever I’d get into debates with my friends, they would eventually shoot me down, saying ”Well, at least we didn’t exterminate all the Jews.”
2. American patriotism
An American patriot among German patriots. Photo: DPA
I always got a queasy feeling when my American friends fervently sang along with The Star-Spangled Banner at football games – I was already disgusted with the flaunting of the German flag during the World Cup season.
But not only that: the patriotism was often coupled with down-right oblivion about everything beyond US borders. The global blindness mostly showed in history class.
One time, while discussing the Second World War in a US history lesson, a girl in one of the back rows raised her hand and asked: “So is Europe a place in Germany?”
3. Food frenzy
Nothing could have prepared me for the horror of a year without German baking.
Being used to crunchy-crusted, whole wheat bread, American white bread always left a gaping hole in my stomach. Desperate to fill the void, Reese’s and chocolate-covered potato chips quickly became my saviours.
Within six months though, I put on an extra 10kgs (20 pounds). Luckily, I had picked up on the trend of buying extra-large T-shirts form Wallmart to cover up my growing pouch.
4. Where’s the public transport?!
The art of hitch-hiking; Photo: DPA
Ridding Europeans off their public transport is like chopping of their legs.
The only bus I ever took in the US was the school bus from Monday through Friday (which wasn’t built for people over 1.80m/5-foot-9 either).
Supposedly, there were two public transport buses that ran through the town of Frankfort every two hours, but my host parents said they were only used by people who didn’t have jobs.
To this day, I doubt that they actually existed.
Since my Slovakian host brother and I weren’t allowed to drive, we were usually stranded on my host parents’ estate.
Driven to desperation, my host brother once went for a two-kilometre-hike along the highway to get himself a Big Mac menu from the local McDonald’s.
5. Over-protective parents
The parenting style of my German parents had always been laissez-faire. At the age of 16, I was allowed to go clubbing until 6am without letting anyone know.
But not so in the US. My host parents were quick to ground me and would forbid everything that would cause them too much trouble.
My host brother and I had to ask for permission every time we wanted to go out and were only allowed to meet someone they had approved of.
Needless to say drinking alcohol and smoking weren’t permitted either.
To my 17-year-old self, staying with them was the closest it got to prison.
6. Parties, drinking, and grinding
I also realized that not every country’s law allows people to drink from the age of 16.
As a result, many of my American friends simply drank in secret. And when they did, they hit the bottle like there was no tomorrow.
At parties, I would casually have a beer, while my friends turned walleyed within 20 minutes and started tripping and falling after ten shots and a cocktail.
But “grinding” threw me off even more. Grinding is a dance style where girls rub their backsides on boys’ bodies while the boys just stand there trying to look cool.
It’s basically sex on the dance floor with clothes on.
7. Jealous lovers
My ex-girlfriend from Kentucky was a sweet girl, but we had a few intercultural difficulties.
During the months that we were doing long-distance, I once went to a concert in Berlin with one of my best female friends. When my girlfriend found out, all hell broke lose.
We ended up in an intense Skype-fight and it took lots of apologizing and “never again’s” to pick up the pieces.
But I was still lucky. I had lots of Kentucky friends who ended relationships because their partners had “liked” the picture of another girl/boy on Facebook.
Out of heartbreak, one friend of mine bought a gun and posted on Facebook that “unlike my ex, at least this thing doesn’t hit me or tell me to shut up”.
On a positive note…
Overall though, I had great time in the US and against all odds, Kentucky is a good place to live.
As opposed to German schools, American high schools have a vast range of clubs and associations, so I finally had the opportunity to figure out what I liked doing.
Within ten months, I became part of the tennis team, the drama club, the marching band, the drumline, the academic team, the Beta club (another academic institution), and the writing club.
Most of all though, my Stateside experience broke up one of the most adamant stereotypes Germans hold about the people there: that Americans are superficial.
During my time in Kentucky, I got to know some of the most warm-hearted people I’ve ever met and made friends in no time. Almost everyone was exceptionally hospitable and caring and always up for a chat. If there’s one thing I miss about the US, it’s the people.
By Max Bringmann