Sunday, September 13, 2009

Treffen mit neuen Freunden

[ Meeting with new friends ]

On Saturday I checked my facebook and had some new friend requests and messages, and true to their promises, the students that I had met at the Deutsch Französisches Gymnasium sent me invitations to hang out with them downtown in the evening. A little bit before 7, I walked down to Johannes Kirsche, a central meeting point downtown, and met a few of the students waiting.

We first just walked around town, checking out different shops, hanging out, and later got some ice cream. As the evening went on, more and more of the students were joining the group, and once we had a pretty decent sized group of 10 of us, we all went to a local shisha bar ( the name for Hookah here in Germany ) and spent the rest of the evening there.

The place was packed, and seemed to be the spot to be on this particular Saturday night, and I was enjoying the feeling of being around a typical hangout for people my age here in the city. I had a lot to talk about with the new friends I had made, especially because many of them were going on the class trip to the states in three weeks exploring New York City, Washington DC, and finally a two week homestay in Pennsylvania.

At first the conversations were light, about fun stuff to expect in New York and DC, what the high school would be like in Pennsylvania [ will it be like American Pie? or Mean Girls? ] or what clothes will be popular or cheap, like American Eagle or maybe Abercrombie?

It was what the conversations evolved into that surprised me about the teens and their thoughts about going to the states, and how that turned into deeper conversation. One of the students in the class is Moroccan and was very straight forward with his concerns of what it would be like being of Arabic decent in the states, and what the stereotypes are. This was something a little awkward to adress, but something that does exist in some parts of America, mainly airports, but ultimately something that I felt he had nothing to worry about.

Since many of the students speak French, or are even of French background, we discussed the riots in France, mainly in 2005, but in also in current years that have dealt with unemployment rates and the surplus of foreigners living within the country. [ coincidentally one customer at the shisha bar was Arabic and wearing a T-shirt that said "Algerian invasion" and it was a map of France with the Algerian flag within the borders.] On subject of these conflicts with minority groups, the connections that my German colleagues had made were their previous knowledge of minority groups in the states, mainly the Mexican and African American communities.

I was impressed that the German teens were so interested in the issues, and I had to inform them that it is difficult to directly compare North African/Arab populations in France and the Turkish minority population in Germany to the relations of minority groups in the states, especially with issues of health care and unemployment. One of the guys mentioned that he had heard of cities in the states being populated by lower class families, while the middle and upper class families fled to the suburbs [ um yes, esentially the past 40 year history of Detroit ]. The issue to note here however, is that the French cities that he had mentioned with the riots were structured almost opposite, and the riots were manly in the small suburbs that had minority populated communities with many lower class/ unemployed families.

One of the biggest differences, in terms of minorities in Europe and the States, is that these "minority" groups were brought to Europe to assist with rebuilding the nations after wars, and now after several decades they are essentially grounded with several generations in Europe. In present day, these "foreigners" are very important to the growth of these nations since Germany has an insufficient birthrate to keep its population growing. I have known this fact for quite some time, that Germany, Japan and Italy have the three lowest birthrates amongst industrialized countries. One thing I hadn't really realized, and that one student pointed out, was that isn't it interesting that these were the axis nations in WW2?

On subject of birthrate, one girl suggested the fact that in Germany, there seems, in her opinion, to be a stigma around women and choosing a career or a child. Being here for only a month and a half, I can't make too many finalized statements, but I will admit that the idea of a "stay at home dad," which may not be typical, but is generally accepted in America, is something I wouldn't venture to find too freely here in Germany. I found it to be very similar in Japan, and I think that the tradition of family roles in these nations are being challenged now, and one repercussion of that is a lower birthrate in these countries.

A few hours sitting around and chatting, and you reflect, and think - wow... we really covered some interesting and surprising topics. The conversations were actually quite refreshing [ is it ironic to use the word refreshing in a Shisha bar inhaling second hand smoke for a few hours? haha], but it was because our conversations were not very accusatory or brought up in expectation of conclusions. They were merely discussion, and unlike some conversations with some adults here in Germany [ which would probably be the same in the states] who tend to have grounded opinions and pre-conceived judgments, especially about foreign countries - as a bunch of teens sitting and chatting, it seemed that we were simply throwing around ideas and thoughts more than arguments and concessions.

There were many new ideas and topics that we discussed from the evening that I would like to pay more attention to now and keep in mind the unique connections that the German teens made, and how those are relevant to really learning about the concerns and thoughts of my generation while I am living here abroad. Most importantly though, I had a great time with some new friends, and we all hope to get together again before I leave SaarbrĂĽcken. I am also very excited to hear from them during their 3 week long excursions to the states which I hope I got them even more excited for!


  1. awesome, hope you'll remember us! ;-)
    but that customer had an algerien flagg on his shirt no lebanese ;-)
    but who cares its the same :-)
    See you soon man!


  2. Keep it up...being open to other ideas/questions/concepts...nothing good comes from judging others ;)

    Maria K.

  3. Sounds amazing Chris, Im so glad you're having a great time and are learning so much and making so many new friends! We miss you here at umich tho :)