I have to admit, when I was an Army wife, I wasn’t all that good at the job. I wasn’t much into joining. I wasn’t much into helping. I certainly wasn’t that much into mingling.
I find that now that I am a contractor’s wife, I’m even less into those things. When Bill and I found out we were coming to Stuttgart, I joined a few Facebook groups, most of which consisted of people in the Stuttgart community. A lot of people in these groups are Americans and quite a few of them are military spouses who embrace the role with much zeal and fervor.
This morning, a woman in one of the Facebook groups was upset because she was trying to get some yard work done yesterday and was ordered to stop by one of her neighbors. Yesterday was a religious holiday, so people weren’t supposed to be doing any yard work. Not being Catholic, the lady wasn’t aware that it was against the rules. Complicating matters was the fact that this particular religious holiday, while significant, isn’t universally celebrated in Germany.
Now, when Bill and I first got to Germany, I happened to chat privately with the poster. She is pretty unhappy in Germany and for good reason. I still happen to like it here, but if I had been through the ordeals she’s been dealing with, I’m sure I’d have a much different attitude. So I understand completely why she was annoyed. She did mention that she would soon be leaving.
I think many Americans are taken aback by how confrontational some Germans are. It’s not uncommon for random Germans to start yelling at us Yanks… or, at least to us, it seems like they are yelling. Add in the fact that there is often a language barrier and things get kind of tricky. Here was this lady minding her own business and trying to get some work done and she gets yelled at by a neighbor. I don’t blame her for being pissed. I would have been, too– even as I understand that rules are rules and it’s best to try to go with the flow as much as possible.
So anyway, we were happily discussing these idiosyncrasies of German style living when you are an American and we were soon joined by a very helpful woman who felt she needed to check us. First, she chastised the original poster for having a bad attitude and insinuated that she was putting off bad vibes. She bragged about how she goes out of her way to win over her German neighbors, elderly people who have nothing better to do than watch her comings and goings. She leaves them treats on holidays and tries to charm them with her elementary German… as if neither I nor the original poster had tried to do those things ourselves (though personally, I don’t think leaving edible treats for people, especially strangers, is all that wise).
Then, further down the thread, when I mentioned that we have a neighbor who has made pointed, passive aggressive comments about my dogs, she suggested that I invest in bark collars for them. She included a story about how a bark collar had worked for her dog and seemed to imply that her solution was the right one for me.
Before I had a chance to respond, another poster said that she thought the anti bark collars were illegal here. She said she had a friend who got caught using them and had to pay a stiff fine. I added that I, too, had heard that they were illegal. The all knower said that the ones that emit a noise and Citronella are not illegal and that I should get them for my dogs. I am not a fan of bark collars, but I’m not going to chastise someone else for using them. I said that I was glad that solution had worked so well for her.
To a normal person, I would think that comment would signify that I had considered her suggestion and was done talking about it. But no, she came back with another suggestion that I buy bark collars for Zane and Arran… the legal kind, mind you, that emit a noise and spray Citronella when dogs bark. And then, to my dismay, she added that she knew that I was a responsible dog owner and wouldn’t let my dogs get loose, even if I did use the illegal kind. That way, the authorities wouldn’t know that I was breaking the law and my neighbors would be happy. In other words, in order to appease my cranky neighbor, I should be willing to break the law and use dog training devices that I disagree with.
Aside from that, I didn’t appreciate her patronizing comment about how she knows I’m a responsible dog owner. The fact is, she doesn’t know me from Adam. Actually, Bill and I are very responsible dog owners. Zane did get out one time since we’ve been here due to a delivery man not closing our front door after he brought us our washing machine. It was an isolated incident and I immediately went out to retrieve him and was successful in less than an hour. Accidents can happen to anyone. I wouldn’t assume that because my dog got out one time or that I have a neighbor who bitches about them barking that I’m irresponsible. But evidently, that’s what this person thought of me after reading a couple of posts.
So I thought about it for a moment and wrote, “What a wonderful world it would be if some people would wear bark collars.” Then I signed off, because Bill and I needed to go shopping.
I haven’t gone back to read the responses, but I did notice that I got several “likes”… I am not going to read the comments that followed mine because I’m already irritated enough and I think I made my point. There’s no need to add more fuel to the fire.
First off, I don’t need “schooling” by someone in the community about how to live in Germany and get along with others. This is my second time here and my fourth time living abroad. Moreover, I’m 42 years old and a former Peace Corps Volunteer. Let me tell you, it’s pretty impossible to come out of an experience like the Peace Corps and not have it drilled into your head that you need to be culturally sensitive, open-minded, and considerate to host country nationals.
Secondly, I am literally with my dogs about 90% of the time. The only time I’m not with them is on the weekends, when Bill and I run errands. We are seldom gone for longer than four hours at a time. When we leave town, we put our dogs in a hunde hotel rather than hire dog sitters. Then they aren’t home at all.
I know their barking is not outside what the law allows. They do bark if someone rings the doorbell or they see a cat or a stranger, but they never bark for more than a minute. And on the rare occasions that we leave them alone in the house, we take them for a long walk to wear them out before we leave, lower the shades, and give them Kongs filled with peanut butter. We never hear them making noise when we come home and, in fact, since we started giving them Kongs, they don’t bark when we leave, either. They are too busy enjoying their treats.
I am not going to use a device on my dogs that is basically akin to a gag. Dogs communicate by barking and my dogs, while occasionally loud, do not bark excessively. How do I know? Because I am with them all the time and I don’t want to hear excessive barking either. I wouldn’t force a child to wear an anti-crying collar to appease my neighbors. I won’t do that to my dogs, either. I think what we have is a cranky neighbor who just wants to complain and isn’t brave enough to have a conversation with us. Not yelling or chastising, you understand, but a respectful conversation. If I had a dog who barked longer than a minute, maybe I might think about using an anti bark collar, but my dogs truly don’t bark that much.
Thirdly, while I am all for maintaining a good attitude and being a good citizen, I think that Americans have the right to expect similarly respectful behavior in return. I try very hard not to annoy or inconvenience anyone. I think I should expect similar consideration. I know they won’t always deliver, but I still think as a fellow human being, they can show me some respect and I’m not wrong or culturally insensitive to express dismay when I don’t get it.
And again, I don’t need a busybody fellow American telling me how I should behave or chastising me for being annoyed or irritated when I run into or want to talk about certain situations. I have the right to feel any way I want to. If you want to try to explain to me why something seems odd or annoying, that’s fine; but please don’t tell me I’m wrong to feel or react a certain way. It’s not your place, especially since we don’t know each other. I wouldn’t do it to you. And really, how was I supposed to respond to her holier than thou “advice”? Say “thank you Ma’am, may I have more?” I think not.
In any case, that’s one thing I have noticed about some expat Americans. They want to be “helpers” and offer unsolicited advice to people they think need to be set straight. My thought is that we should try to treat people like adults and show them all respect. It’s a two way street. If you want respect from me, act respectable. I’ll do my best to behave respectably, too.
Fortunately, it’s still beautiful here…