One day soon someone's going to fly a camera mini-drone over an East German nude beach.
Then take a look at the resulting files, delete them, and sell the drone on eBay.
One day soon someone's going to fly a camera mini-drone over an East German nude beach.
Then take a look at the resulting files, delete them, and sell the drone on eBay.
Pew recently studied the views of various EU nationals toward certain minorities. The main results in three graphs:
A few observations:
-- Italians really don't like minorities very much, do they? All the ones I know do, though!
-- Roma (formerly called gypsies) come off worst of all. Even in Germany, which bears the historical guilt of having murdered hundreds of thousands of them, opinion of Roma is evenly split. And this after the EU's much-ballyhooed Decade of Roma Inclusion. The Guardian in 2003 noted:
Statistics on education and employment show how overwhelmingly the odds are stacked against them. In the Czech Republic, 75% of Roma children are educated in schools for people with learning difficulties, and 70% are unemployed (compared with a national rate of 9%). In Hungary, 44% of Roma children are in special schools, while 74% of men and 83% of women are unemployed. In Slovakia, Roma children are 28 times as likely to be sent to a special school than non-Roma; Roma unemployment stands at 80%.
Of course, this being the Guardian, these dismal numbers are attributed solely to discrimination by non-Roma. Now -- mandatory disclaimer -- I am not denying or advocating discrimination against Roma. I am a nice, caring person with properly Advanced and Tolerant views on all important Social Questions, and I also would like to note that I have excellent personal hygiene! I do, however, happen to know a number of people who have worked in/with Roma communities who would violently reject beg to differ from the argument that nothing about Roma culture or values contributes to their problems:
The following day, while chatting with a group of Gypsies in the small Transylvanian village of Dealu Frumos, I get an insight into a side of the Roma that I have been constantly warned about but have not yet encountered. A young man and his friends are telling me about tsigani de casatsi—house Gypsies—"bad ones, who don't work on the land like us but just steal for a living." Without warning, he wrenches my notebook from my hands and shoves me against the car. I am punched in the kidneys, and my arm is twisted behind me. A blade is held to the side of my neck, and suddenly I am surrounded by roaring Gypsies, maybe 30 of them, more appearing every few seconds from the surrounding houses. My translator, Mihai, is punched in the head. "Money! Money! Money!" his tormentors bellow. I am allowed into the car to retrieve my bag, but Mihai is kept outside, a hostage to my ransom. I offer all the money from my wallet, and Mihai pulls free and throws himself into the back seat. As we drive off, we do an inventory of our injuries. Apart from bruises and shock, my main injury is to my hitherto benign image of the Roma as a wronged and misunderstood people.
The average Guardian reader is apparently expected to believe on faith alone that it is per se impossible for a minority group to display any distinct social characteristics, even though they have been breeding largely among themselves for 32 generations. It may be of interest to note that the most recent and reliable study puts the mean IQ of some European Roma populations in the mid-70s. I suppose we can just be glad the pollsters didn't ask these questions in Bulgaria or Romania, countries with huge Roma populations.
-- As I've noted before, this survey tends to undermine the notion of a wave of anti-Semitism sweeping Western Europe. Anti-semitic opinion in Western Europe is largely concentrated among Muslim populations. As this poll shows, the farther south and east you go in Europe, the more mainstream anti-Semitism becomes.
Parke Nicholson joins the chorus of Americans urging Germany to increase military spending intervene more abroad foreign policy. Problem is, Germans don’t want this:
A majority of the German public for the first time favors an “independent approach” from the United States. Yet besides spending more on foreign aid, most prefer to “continue to exercise restraint” in dealing with international crises, and there is a deep ambivalence about the use of military force or sanctions. Although it is true that Germany remains constrained by its past, its recent success may have also instilled in it a sense of complacency.
For example, Germany is often singled out for its meager defense spending. Although Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble recently announced a six percent increase in defense spending over the next five years, much of this will replace aging equipment and infrastructure, and overall spending will remain small relative to the country’s size. More frustrating to American observers, however, is the government’s reluctance to openly discuss security challenges and commit to planning for future contingencies. This is odd given that Germany provided the third-largest contingent of troops in Afghanistan and well over 200,000 soldiers to international peacekeeping missions since 1993….
In the longer term, Germany must recognize that it can no longer simply remain a convening power and rely on the initiative of other “shaping powers,” the European Union, or the United States. It will have to better articulate and publicly defend its foreign interests. Meekly reflecting on its limitations is an excuse to avoid responsibility and take concrete steps when international rules are ignored. If Germany wants to forge a stronger Europe and a peaceful world order, it needs to ignore the hype about its power and think more courageously about how to use it.
At another point in the article, Nicholson states without proof: ‘Nor can Germany truly shape, let alone protect, open markets for its goods without the backbone of U.S. military power.’
Hardly a day goes by without some pundit, usually American, chastising Germany for having a barely-functional military and for staying out of most international conflicts. Usually, the argument boils down to: "We're the only ones who are combating Al-Shabbab in the Horn of Africa and ISIS and the Houthis and the Taliban and al-Nusra and Chinese demands for islands and Russians in the Ukraine and a thousand other global threats and what are the Germans doing to help us? Nada! Germany, you're rich and popular and still have a semblance of a military -- start meddling in dozens of foreign conflicts!"
To which most Germans respond: Why? Germany faces no direct or indirect military threat. Its citizens overwhelmingly oppose sending troops into harm's way in remote places. What on earth would that achieve, other than dragging Germany into conflicts where its interests aren't at stake and making it a target? With no threats at home and no reason to interfere abroad, Germany hardly needs a military at all.
Its leaders prefer not to hector other countries about human-rights issues, especially when that would get in the way of lucrative contracts. The author provides no instance of American military power helping Germany economically, and I can't think of one. And the proof of the pudding is in the eating: Germany's the most popular country in the world, and one of the most prosperous, and much of the credit goes to its low-key foreign policy. Why would it change course?
It gets its name from the tendency of terrified newcomers to recite the pater noster when boarding and disembarking. There are hundreds (g) of these thrilling contraptions all over Germany. Leftists consider them the most 'socialist' of elevators. I have personally enjoyed several of them in the IG Farben building in Frankfurt. They're good clean fun! Elevator goes up, elevator goes down!
So far, the German government is just trying to restrict their use, but I can just imagine there are a bunch of moist-palped, sightless Eurocrats with translucent skin working deep underground in Brussels, cooking up plans to ban them entirely.
Will you join my crusade to keep the Elevators of Death?
Dr. James Thompson, who runs a fine blog on cognitive ability and psychological measurement, sent a questionnaire out to various professors asking them to comment on the teaching environment at their universities. He got this response from the (psuedonymous) Prof. Dr. Schweinsteiger, from an unnamed German university. I haven't seen all of the problems he describes, but that is probably because I'm teaching law, which is a world of its own. Anyway, here is Schweini's rant, almost in full:
Even though in Germany education policy is determined by the federal state, Leberwurst University is a fairly typical German university, and its educational policies and standards are similar to most of the many other German universities that I know.
Before I go into the horrors of Leberwurst education standards, first a bit of background, so the reader knows “where I’m coming from”. In my admittedly layman’s view (I am not an expert on education), the central aim of education is that students acquire certain skills and or knowledge which they did not possess before. In order to achieve this goal, two things need to happen. First, students go to an institution (for instance, a university) where they engage in intensive interactions with qualified experts who will teach them the required new skills and knowledge. Also, in order to facilitate the learning process, the students also do home assignments etc., supervised by the teacher. Secondly, in order to ensure that the students actually have acquired the desired skills and knowledge after the educational experience, the students are tested, for instance by taking verbal or written exams, doing home assignments, writing essays, etc. These tests enable the institution to establish the degree to which the student has become skilled and knowledgeable, usually with the help of a ‘grading system’ that quantifies the level of expertise that the student has reached. Testing students serves the purposes of quality control, both at the student level (universities, and presumably, the students themselves, want to know how competent a particular student has become) and at the university level (universities want to know how effective they are at educating students).
You may perhaps be yawning already, but trite as this all may sound, the German higher education policy does not share these assumptions at all. Generally, the aim is not to change students into more competent and knowledgeable people, but rather to give as many members of the population as possible a certified university education. The difference between educating people and giving people a certificate of education is comparable to the difference between a country increasing its GDP on the one hand, and simply printing more money on the other. This rather odd goal is motivated by the noble political ideology of Chancengleichheit (“equal opportunity”), which is also why our students have to pay nothing at all (as in: zero Euros) for the privilege of receiving a university education. At the end of this essay I will explain why and how the German education policy nevertheless manages to severely obstruct equal opportunity.
In Leberwurst University, the simple education strategy outlined above completely and utterly fails, for the following reasons.
First, it is forbidden for teachers to require their students to be present. I do not mean “mentally present” here; I mean, “physically present at the location where the education actually takes place”, e.g., a classroom or a lecture hall. It is forbidden to record the absence or presence of the students, and it is most certainly forbidden to use presence or absence of students as a criterion for grading, or for deciding who ‘passes’ or ‘fails’. This is not only the policy of the management of Leberwurst University (although it is) but it is also official federal state policy. We even got an official letter from the Federal Ministry of Education that told us that we are not allowed to require students’ presence, as this would violate educational law in that it would restrict the students’ Studierfreiheit (“freedom of study”) and even more serious, it would violate constitutional law because it would restrict the students’Handlungsfreiheit (“freedom of action”). So if we as teachers require students to be educated at a certain location, we are illegally restricting them in their personal freedom. The consequences of this policy are disastrous. First of all, a very large percentage of students actually hardly ever show up in their seminars. Usually they drop by once or twice to get a bit of a taste of what’s going on, and that’s about it. For large lectures this is not much of a problem, because if students really believe they can pass the exam without the lectures, that’s their problem (more on this later). But for small and intensive seminars, where texts are discussed, techniques demonstrated, exercises explained and discussed, etc. etc., it is simply not possible to engage in meaningful educational interactions if the majority of the participants in this interaction is physically not present. Also, the few students that do show up occasionally are usually different ones every week, so it is not possible to build on material that has been covered before, forcing the teachers to make little stand-alone sessions without any cumulative coherence whatsoever. Another interesting consequence is that students sometimes enlist in two or three simultaneous courses, reasoning that if they don’t need to be present, they might just as well be absent at three courses at the same time. Finally, student evaluations of teachers become irrelevant and even absurd, if the students filling in forms about what they thought of the quality of the teaching have never even showed up at the actual teaching.
Now some may argue: why not just do a tough exam at the end of the course, and then the students who weren’t there will simply fail. Fail they will, but there are three reasons why this strategy does not work. First, a large majority of courses do not require a grade. For instance, in the BA program I teach, students will have to complete 25 courses (i.e., seminars, lectures etc.). Of these 25 courses, only four require a grade. The other courses require instead something called aktive Teilnahme (AT), “active participation” which is a very Orwellian name because it neither involves activity nor participation. To get AT, the students have to do something at least vaguely related to the content of the course, usually give a short talk about one of the articles they read, or hand in a summary or protocol. But the thing is: we are not allowed to judge (grade) the quality of the work that is handed in; we are only allowed to assess whether they have done it. The important legal criterion here is whether they have “put in some effort” (which the students can always claim to have done, and we can never disprove it). So if their requirements for AT in Wurstology 101 are “hand in an essay about the contemporary pricing policy of German wurst” and the student hands in a text saying only “I never eat wurst because I’m a vegetarian, so I have no idea”, they have formally complied with the request. And then there is literally nothing the teacher can do to stop this student from getting the AT certificate. Even if the student has otherwise never even been present at the course at all, doesn’t even know the name of the teacher, and everyone knows that the student’s knowledge of Wurstology is absolutely zero.
Second, even for those courses where grading is still allowed, you just can’t get away with failing 95 out of a 100 students. The management will sternly tell you that either your standards are too high, or you are a bad teacher, or both. And if you then tell the management: “no, but they just don’t show up when I teach”, the common reply by the management is “well, then your courses are apparently not attractive and student-friendly enough”. Also, failing students often results in legal procedures initiated by the students (which they very often win) and in any case in having more students to deal with in the next semester, because at Leberwurst, students can repeat courses indefinitely, as often as they like. So there are many strong incentives for teachers to give up their academic standards and just pass everyone at some point in time. The management’s pressure to pass students is to a large degree caused by pressure from the federal state government to lower the quota of students who fail to get a degree, so failing 95% of the students, no matter how justified, will lead to all kinds of (usually financial) negative consequences for the university and the faculty.
Which brings us to the next point: grade inflation. The German grade system is numerical with 1 meaning “excellent”, 2 “good”, 3 “satisfactory” and 4 “sufficient”. But giving someone a 2 or worse often results in either suicidal or legal behavior by the students, so the actual realistic margins are between 1 and 2. Even then, students getting a 1.7 often angrily demand an explanation why they didn’t get a 1.0. So when some funding organization once asked us to give them the list of the 5% best students on the basis of grades, we could not comply, because if a massive majority has an average of 1.0, the best 5% are simply not definable. So we were then asked to “intuitively” identify the best 5% of our students, which we can do, of course, but it obviously defeats the purpose of using a grading system. Even more absurd is the grading system of PhD theses. In our neighboring country The Netherlands for instance, the qualification “Cum Laude” is rather rare and indicates an exceptional performance of the PhD candidate. In Germany, the same qualification “Cum Laude” actually means: “dear candidate, please take your thesis and please discretely take the back exit and never show yourself at this university again, because we are extremely disappointed in your thesis”. We now have “Magna Cum Laude” and the highest, “Summa Cum Laude” for the acceptable and the good thesis respectively. At least, that was the case 15 years ago. Now the Summa is becoming the new norm, and it is seen as an “affront” to give someone anything lower than Summa. Interestingly, many German applicants who only have the default “Cum Laude” are undeservedly seen as geniuses in other countries, where this inflation has not taken place.
It is also not allowed at Leberwurst to require students to have successfully completed course A before one can follow some course B. So we cannot require any foreknowledge for any of our courses, except for the first year in which a few elementary courses have to be completed. This makes it very hard, if not impossible, to go deeper into complicated topics, because there are always some students lacking the necessary background, slowing the entire educational process down to a near-halt.
Generally, the students are very powerful at Leberwurst, and most of them are interesting in doing as little as possible while still getting their certificate as fast as possible. Professors are perceived as authoritarian relics from the past whose only elitist goal is to prevent students from getting the degree they deserve as a birthright. Students are fundamentally against any form of testing for which they can fail, and often have the political power to get to a large degree what they want, because the German educators are very reluctant to compare students and judge them qualitatively. The very idea that there are better students and worse students is strongly discouraged in our current educational ideology.
A good illustration of the mentality of the German student at Leberwurst is the following anecdote. A teacher was very annoyed by the fact that her students didn’t read the texts they were supposed to read. So she said: OK, you know what? Go home, read the text, and we’ll discuss the text next week. Instead of feeling ashamed about not having read the text, the students immediately went to the Dean to complain that the teacher was not fulfilling her legally required 9 hours of teaching per week.
The consequences of this type of educational environment are catastrophic. Leberwurst University is getting a very bad name in German industry (as are German universities generally), the students that leave Leberwurst with a certificate have hardly learned anything, and have acquired a very bad working mentality in the process.
Another thing that we can learn from this German educational “experiment” is that education is a contract between teacher and student. If one of these parties does not fulfill their side of the bargain, no education is taking place. Even the best teacher in the world cannot teach students anything if do not show up and invest some effort. Not only is this student-teacher dynamic very detrimental for the students’ acquisition of knowledge and skills, another not unimportant effect is that it really kills any residual didactical motivation in the teachers. And staying motivated is hard enough already for German professors with their legally minimal teaching load of nine hours per week.
As a final remark, the German educational policy seems to be a classic example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. If everyone can get high grades and a certificate without any form of talent and/or hard work, a smart person from a poor socio-economic background cannot distinguish her or himself from a not-so-smart person from a rich family. So by giving everybody effectively the same high grade or qualification, the end result is that the person from a poor background is deprived of the possibility to let his or her qualifications compensate for the cultural disadvantage. In the end, employers who need to select the best people cannot do so on the basis of grades, and will be tempted to look at less relevant aspects such as accent, manners or clothing style, in other words: indicators of social class.
I've blogged before about social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, especially his writings about 'sacralization' and political discourse. Crudely oversimplified by me, the theory goes: he proposes that much of what we consider someone's political ideology is choices about who is open to criticism or mockery. Humans have a strong tendency to divide ourselves into tribes in many different ways. In politics we define ourselves by sacralizung certain people, groups, values, and institutions. Conservatives identify with family, authority, church, entrepreneurship. Thus, they exempt these institutions from criticism among their own tribe, and rush to their defense when they are attacked by left-liberals. Left-liberals, for their part, have just as strong a desire to find sacred objects or ideas that elevate human life above selfish struggle and identify individuals with a greater cause.
The sacralized groups and objects can change over time; many conservatives no longer think marriage has to be protected from gays anymore, and few seriously think the Pope's ex cathedra pronouncements are infallible. For liberals, the workers were once sacred, but then came the 1960s and 1970s, when a lot of the workers turned out not to have very educated or progressive views about women, minorities, and gays. So left-liberals tended to identify with these historical targets of discrimination. And, as things go, sacralized them. Each member of a particular minority group was considered a living embodiment of social injustice, and liberals worldwide began to identify each other by deep concern over how these groups were treated. These social movements, of course, brought plenty of wholesome social progress which only reactionaries would want to turn back.
But it also brought plenty of excesses, such as mid-1980s gay pride parades, those cavalcades of perversion that, as the Onion put it, set back acceptance of gays by decades. Another part of sacralizing victims is taboo on criticizing the statements or actions of gays, ethnic minorities, women, the disabled, and other designated minority groups.
Which brings us to the German Green Party. Founded in the late 1970s as the Alternative List, it was at first a chaotic but stimulating party for people who felt excluded by the three-party system prevailing in Germany. The early Greens comprised gays, environmental activists, pacifists, vegetarians, and the like, and its platform was green, anti-nuke, pro-gay, and multicultural. In the following decades, the Green party itself and most of its concerns have become completely mainstream, so we can say the 'march through the institutions' worked. In the early 1980s, a widely-despised social group found a home in the Green Party: pedophiles. They analogized themselves to gays: people ostracized by society by their unconventional sexual orientation.
And some (not all!) regional Green Party branches, disastrously, bought the argument. Pedophiles were permitted to join the party and even hold leadership positions. Pro-pedophile groups called the 'Urban Indian Communes' protested Green party political gatherings, insisting (g) that the Party adopt planks advocating the decriminalization of sex between adults and children. Fred Karst, convicted of pedophile offenses several times, started a 'working group' within the Green party called 'Old and Young.' It was an official party organization within the 'Gay Issues' group of the party. The members of the group often organized special trips where men could cavort with boys (my translation):
The working group was a meeting-point for pedohiles, who among other things organized special road trips for young men -- and abused them. The group belonged to the 'Gay Issues' group within the Green Party and was thus an official component of the overall party. "We are ashamed for the institutional failure of our party" says Berlin regional Green Party director Bettina Jarasch. "This blindness to abuse of power still baffles and enrages me."
Things could go so far because of a special characteristic of the Berlin greens. A so-called "minority dogma" guaranteed the "Young and Old" working group far-ranging autonomy and a special rule: opinions which couldn't command majority support could still be propagated for years in the party's name -- including the idea that sexual relationships with children were legitimate.
The last pedophiles were kicked out of the party only in the mid-1990s. The Greens, faced with renewed revelations in 2013, commissioned a political scientist from Göttingen, Franz Walter, to create a report on how pedophiles were allowed to gain so much influence within the party. One of his conclusions in the report (g, pdf) was that of the four main factors contributing to acceptance of pedophiles, two were (1) a tendency to 'affective solidarity' with excluded outsider groups that led the Greens to unconditionally accept their demands and grant them disproportional influence in the party; and (2) a 'strongly anti-repressive' tendency within the party which led members to sympathize indiscriminately with those who faced 'repression' by the state, including pedophiles and imprisoned RAF murderers.
Fortunately the Green Party has finally realized what a horrible mistake the party made, has unequivocally denounced pedophilia, and has promised counseling and compensation to victims. But the startling prospect of a major political party with national representation allowing child molesters to propagandize from within its ranks demonstrates the dangers of exempting marginalized groups from all criticism.
I popped over to Berlin for the weekend and this time stayed in Friedrichshain. Friedrichshain is part of the former East Berlin which was pretty rundown 10 years ago, last time I visited, but is now gentrifying, as the phrase goes. I'd say the process is about 65% complete in Friedrichshain. You still have some hard-rock bars and blotchy, disgruntled East German retirees, but they increasingly look bewildered by what is happening to their Kiez ('hood). What you get instead are:
Did I miss anything?
The novel’s conceit is easily summarized, less easily parsed. In 2011, Hitler awakes (apparently not from uneasy dreams, as Gregor Samsa does) in a field in Berlin. “I remember waking up,” he says. “I was lying on an area of undeveloped land, surrounded by terraces of houses.” He has no memory of his suicide. He has no idea how he’s gotten here. Soon enough he is taken with watching “modern-day television,” but when he finds only cooking shows, he is angered that “Providence had presented the German Volk with this wonderful, magnificent opportunity for propaganda, and it was being squandered on the production of leek rings.”
For the next 250 pages, Vermes walks us through months during which Hitler, resurrected by unexplained means, overcomes every presented obstacle. A newspaper vendor discovers him in uniform and assumes he must be an impersonator playing for dark comedy — the word Galgenhumor belongs, after all, to the Germans — and gives him a bed. Producers from an “Ali G”-style comedy show (hosted by the unimaginatively named “Ali Gagmez”) offer him a spot on the program. His first appearance quickly accrues hundreds of thousands of YouTube views. Soon Hitler gets his own show, website, production studio, even a back-alley beating by right-wingers who assume he’s making fun of himself. Eventually he also has a deal to write about his life. “I’m calling to ask whether you’d like to write a book?” the editor says. “I already have,” Hitler replies. “Two, in fact.”
Let me just admit it: the main reason I posted this is so I could include the illustration by Doug Chayka:
[Hans von Thann (g) ringin' the bell of the Zytgloggenturm in Bern, Switzerland, if ya know what I mean]
I don't mean to give offense, so let me be clear: the word cocks doesn't mean what you're thinking. I only meant to refer to penises. When the BBC wanted to strap big English cocks into big English codpieces on the front of actors playing 16th-century Englishmen, the pussies at American Public Broadcasting Service said: 'not in my America':
The codpieces in the adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall are “definitely too small”, according to a Cambridge academic who has been researching the 16th-century accessory through the literature and paintings of its time.
Victoria Miller, who is due to give a paper on codpieces at a Cambridge University conference on 30 April, concurred with actor Mark Rylance, who plays Thomas Cromwell in the adaptation and who said late last year: “I think the codpieces are just too small. I think that was a directive from our American producers, PBS. They wanted smaller codpieces.”
...“They’re way too small to be accurate – they should be at least double the size. You can kind of see them there, but they aren’t really stuffed, and are easily missed – they’ve really toned them down for a mainstream audience. The codpiece was meant to draw the eye to the general region.”
[h/t JR] Said it before, say it again: national stereotypes don't materialize out of thin air. Here's a photo from the Biblical Creation Museum in Kentucky, where the biggest challenge was, as Faggoty-Ass Faggot put it, how to hide Adam's cock:
Saturday Night Live once aired a skit (can't find the video, or even an image, alas) featuring John Belushi sitting at a bar. The guy next to him goes to the bathroom and comes back out with a noticeably grosser crotch bulging from his tight late-70's jeans, and a girl immediately latches on to him. Belushi tries the same thing with a few handfuls of toilet paper, to no effect. Then Belushi returns to the bathroom and stuffs entire rolls of toilet paper down the front of his pants until there's a bulge the size of a small automobile. He then waddles gingerly back into the bar and is immediately surrounding by fawning honeys.
According to the linked piece on Hans von Thann, Swiss codpieces were usually stuffed for protection of the genitals and contained enough room to store things like coins and keys, since the pocket wasn't invented until 1754. The German Word of the Week, by the way, is the antiquated German term for codpiece, Schamkapsel, or 'shame-capsule'. This joins shamelips, shamehair, shameregion, etc.
Firoozeh Dumas moved from America to Germany and experienced the opinionated world of German customer service at the pharmacy or, as she calls it, the shame shack:
Let’s say you have a borderline embarrassing medical condition. Here’s how it goes down in America: You go to Target, walk past the dollar bins (keep walking, your local landfill thanks you), stroll to the pharmacy located near the free restrooms, pick up your over-the-counter medication, amble toward the registers while deciding which one of the many available cashiers will have the pleasure of ringing up your purchase, and finally pick up a pack of gum or the latest Disney princess Band-Aids. A minute later, the cashier asks, “Did you find everything you needed today?”
I moved to Germany two years ago, and my German friends tell me that they dislike this fake American friendliness. But it’s not fake! If you ever respond to the cashier with, “I did not find the all-in-one solar-paneled suntan spray with built-in fan that doubles as a beer mug,” said cashier will call over a colleague whose sole purpose will then be to find this object in the vast caverns of Target. Granted, maybe both of these employees hate their jobs, but you will never know that by their pleasant behavior. That’s America.
[Now to Berlin] I ... approached the pharmacist. “I am looking for medicine for foot fungus, fusspilz,” I added, in a low voice.
“This is for YOU?” she asked loudly, pointing to me. Her English was fine. Volume control, not so much.
... As soon as I confessed, a second pharmacist popped up, like a jack-in-the-box, from behind the counter. She said something to the first pharmacist, who said something back. It all sounded very judgmental. “What did they say?” I asked my daughter, who is not only my restroom decoy but also my translator.
“You have foot fungus?” the second pharmacist asked. Why was she getting involved? I did not need, or want, two pharmacists.
“Yes,” I said, again.
She then reached for a small box behind the counter.
The first pharmacist said, “You use TWO times,” holding up two fingers. “Every day.”
“Wear socks, then wash socks,” the second one added.
“Wash socks in HOT water,” the first one said.
“But not with other clothes,” No.2 added.
“Separately,” No.1 said.
“More laundry! Lucky me!” I said, trying to be funny, which never works in Germany.
“This is because you have foot fungus,” No.1 reminded me.
“Yes, I do,” I confessed again.
I paid for the ointment, while my daughter selected a lollipop.
As we left the shame shack, I felt a pang of nostalgia for the Target employees whose names I may not remember, but whose earnestness I do. I miss you.
I had minor surgery a couple years ago. Before leaving, a seemingly normal German doctor in his late 50s came by to advise me about wound care at home. I asked him when I could next take a shower. He said: 'Wait 2 days. And don't use soap of any kind.'
'Why not?' I asked.
'Why, do you normally use soap when you shower'?
'Uh, of course.'
'Well, I don't. You shouldn't either. Nobody should. By all means shower, but avoid soap. All that stuff does is clog your pores and stick germs to your body, and it's terrible for the environment. The only reason people use it is the big companies have convinced them by marketing that they need to smell like flowers. Your body is covered in natural oils that have protected it for hundreds of thousands of years when soap never existed. Soap destroys that natural protection layer. Don't use it, ever.'
'But what do you use to avoid stinking like a French whore?'
'Nothing. Just a nice shower of plain water every couple of days.'
He was standing about a meter away from me and never came close enough for me to test his theory.
I still use soap when I shower.