Cultural differences are plentiful in Germany, abroad

Once again I am writing from the beloved country of Germany. I enjoyed my last stay here so much, I just had to return while I was still in Europe. A few days ago, I had the privilege of attending Frühlingsfest (Spring Festival) here in Stuttgart. At first, the festival appeared to be just like any other amusement park, complete with roller coasters, bumper cars and lots of horrible food. However, I soon learned there was a difference between this festival and others I have been to when I entered one of the many beer tents. The name is misleading as they are not tents at all, but rather fairly large, one-room buildings where the only thing served is 1-litre mugs of beer. The common practice appears to be to invite a good band, play some good ol’ fashion music and sing loudly while jumping on tables. The interesting aspect is that many of the people jumping on the tables didn’t appear drunk at all, but rather just having a good time and enjoying an old German custom. Unfortunately, or luckily, depending on how you look at it and who you are (Rotary rules prevent exchange students from drinking, even in Germany where the drinking age is 16), we only were able to stay for about 20 minutes due to our unaccommodating bus schedule.

The week before I came back to Germany, I was at another quite famous celebration, Semana Santa (Holy Week). In Christianity, this is the last week of Lent and the week before Easter. This is an internationally celebrated holiday, though most famous in Spain. I was lucky enough to celebrate it in Málaga on the south coast of Spain. It makes for a very spectacular sight with an almost unbelievable amount of spectators. Thousand of people carry giant statues of religious figures on their backs throughout the entire city. This procession lasts many hours and large numbers of people come to see them as they pass and to pray.

Not only have I recently had the distinct pleasure of experiencing many unique cultural celebrations firsthand, but also many cultural differences between the only culture I knew a year ago and those in which I am immersed now. The life of a high school student that I am living now, is very different here than in the United States. I’ve always enjoyed playing sports and being active in school activities including class president last year. Although I have always taken these things for granted, I no longer do by any means. In Germany, Spain and most of Europe, the idea of school sports is basically unheard of. When I tell people of how I used to participate in sports everyday after school, they appear quite shocked. Also, I do not know one other high school student in Europe who has held a part-time job, as many of my friends and I have done. Knowing this you might wonder, what exactly do European students do with all their free time. The answer is simple, they study. They study, not only in the traditional sense, but also nearly all of them go to what is called “academia.” This basically consists of a few hours after class where they go to receive additional help from private tutors and to clarify problems or doubts they might have. This seems to me to be one of the fundamental differences between the United States and Europe. The upbringing of the youth of any culture clearly has significant impact on that culture.

Fortunately for the youth of America, we have one small thing that does not exist in Europe — a school transportation system. Sadly, this is something that, while heard of because of the many American films seen in Europe, is not implemented here. The students have basically three options to get to school. They can either make use of public transportation, catch a ride with their parents or they can walk. The lack of school buses is a more significant difference when coupled with the fact that in most countries the driving age is 18.

I hope you have found this column as interesting to read as I have to live. Happy Frühlingsfest!

Grant Clarridge will appear again the last Friday of next month in the Bremerton Patriot.

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