The United States Armed Forces maintain a number of military bases in Germany as a legacy of the Second World War and the Cold War. Today there are far fewer of these installations than there were in the past and the remaining bases are also smaller. Almost as a favour to the local authorities the US happens to maintain a small military facility in the Eiffel, a rural region neighbouring greater Trier. This should not be taken as irony, the Eiffel region is relatively isolated and the local economy grew reliant on the US Armed Forces.
Because the Eiffel is so isolated many Americans working at base commute to Trier for larger shopping trips, entertainment and even to use fitness centres. As a result I, on occasion, am forced to come into contact with them. Generally I avoid them – something easily enough done as they tend to stick with each other almost exclusively. Usually they travel in groups of 2-5, enough to fit into a car. Their dress stands out. They virtually never purchase clothing locally. Instead, they purchase it on base or have it posted to them from the United States. After all, we Europeans are too primitive to have clothing readily available in all price ranges. They also generally avoid purchasing anything but fresh food at local shops. Meats and fresh fruits/vegetables are socially permitted, but only grudgingly and too much culinary experimentation is not seen favourably.
At the same time, it is not uncommon for them to eat lunch in Trier. Generally, they congregate in a limited number of restaurants which are known to cater to them. Strangely enough, one of the more prominent examples is Greek-owned. On occasion, a few of the more open-minded go to restaurants with German-language menus and attempt to communicate in some approximating English with younger waiters and waitresses. It isn’t always easy for Germans to communicate with them. After all, Americans are yet to prove that they are able to communicate to even the most rudimentary extent in English. Still, the Germans do their best to make themselves understood.
Despite my best efforts, however, I have sometimes had the misfortune of having to deal with said people. Last week I had just finished my daily work-out routine. Waiting for the shower, I saw a fairly new, expensive water bottle sitting by the sink. I picked it up and showed it to a man putting clothing in his locker. “Ist das ihre Flasche”? He responded “nein, die kenn’ ich nicht” Two men finished their showers and walked into locker room. I asked them the same question: “ist das ihre Flasche”? Both of them glared at me contemptuously without even a grunt in response. Slightly taken aback, I simply re-placed the water bottle and went in to shower. From the other room I heard one of the terrible two saying to the other in a most grating American accent “bro’, what the f**k was that about”? “Yeah, whatever”. They continued to chat away. They also addressed the other men in American. It then occurred to me that neither one could speak German.
These experiences remind me why I live in Germany. For as gratingly pedantic and bureaucratic as the country is, Germans are surprisingly warm. When Germans surprise others it is generally positive. They tend to be more interesting than many would think at first. Germans are also rarely clannish or cliquish. We may not hold together as well as others, we often lack a sense of greater common purpose but we are also more likely to give people a chance to carve out a niche with time. Slowly, but surely, I am losing my taint and being accepted back into the German fold. Having to deal with Americans hasn’t made me miss Canada’s blessed southern neighbour in the least.