In all the years I’ve lived in Germany, probably the time when I felt the most acutely abroad … and by that I mean I felt like I’d been transmat-beamed to a different universe… was when I had a small baby. There is nothing childrearing, you’d think, for bringing people together in a shared experience common to all humankind.
There’s nothing like having a baby for highlighting the cultural differences between nations.
Compare, for instance, what happens when your child has a cold. In the UK, you’d carry on pretty much as normal, but as a concession to the situation, might carry a couple of extra packets of tissues with you in a futile attempt to stem (or at least spread around) the tidal wave of snot which will be flowing steadily down your toddler’s upper lip.
In Germany you will package your child up in a snow-suit, scarf, hat, mittens and a furry lining to the pushchair and hot-foot it to the Apotheke. After handing over the best part of your annual salary, you will return triumphantly with assorted packets of malodorous chest-rubs, a herbal tea known as Erkältungstee (which your child will instantly regurgitate and refuse to touch again)… and a mysterious device which enables you to extract the snot from your offspring’s nose.
On the advice of the Apotheker, you will also have purchased a rectal thermometer and will be monitoring your child’s temperature hourly… in a manner which would probably have social services at the door in Blighty.
If you attempt to send your child to kindergarten or school in the state of having a sniffle, you will immediately be phoned and told to come immediately and collect the invalid – who in the meantime is being held in isolation. If the teacher is a stickler, your sick child may not be allowed to return without having been cleared to do so by a paediatrician.
Needless to say, there is no German word for to soldier on….