Down with Jammern. Drunk on D.C.

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Washington, D.C. is where I was born. My hometown. A most beautiful city. Warm from April through October. Hot and sticky in the summer. Lush, aromatic gardens, permeated by the song of the cicadas all night. People have this special walk in DC, an elegant, gliding thing. It’s funny to hear my brother Larry say that Washington has become a “harder” place since we were kids, and that he is dreaming of moving to Savannah, because coming here from Munich for me means sliding into a lower gear and settling down into a more relaxed, friendly attitude. But that’s the outside view, of course, the habitus. Wearing your inner stress connected to deadlines and pressure and “I have to… I have to…” like a cloak is just not cool. But my German friends and students misread Americans as covering something up. When I hear “overflächlich” – superficial – out of the mouth of Germans it makes me so mad.

You see, when I come here the subtext of everyday life in Germany, complaining, what the Germans call “Jammern”, is switched off. Life is harder in the US, you know, and you have to get on with it. Jammering won’t get you anything. Get things done and then go on and have a good time.

I think this might have been a note to myself.


3 Responses

  1. I think you offer an excellent translation of DC for those bound in German culture. I have made this place my hometown, but my other adoptive home is southern Germany.

  2. Hi Anne, I like your view on “Jammer” a typical german past time. I have lived in Canada for 22 years now, 3 years in DC – where we met in school and the rest of my life in different parts of Germany. Germans often will or can not get on with it – but still make it somehow, slower, once they overcome. They grief about the past, can not see opportunities as fast as North Americans, are stuck in a rut albeit ‘JAMMERTAL’ maybe they care more? Here in North America it’s all faster moving – getting on with it – relentlessly. Often the need for a buck is driving the need to move on. Maybe that is where the German perception of “oberflaechlich” or superficial comes into play.
    Now the question, why is life harder in the US? does it have to do with less social programs, no public healthcare?

  3. Welcome, Mark – I’d say that’s a good combination!

    So good to find you through Liz, Sven 🙂
    Why is life harder? As you say, you have to earn a living, and there’s clearly less of a safety net when things go wrong. There may be non-profit agencies that jump in with legal and administrative advice, but the responsibility is more firmly on your own shoulders. As a result, you’re more dependent on the help of family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.

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