Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Don't piss off Oma

I was thinking of An American in Achen's post about life in Germany last night. I wanted to add one more thing to her list. There are rules of social etiquette in Germany. Chances are that you will not know anything about them when you get here, and then when you violate them, Germans will look at you like you were raised by a pack of wolves.

Important German Social Etiquette Rule: When you enter a room (including a room of family!) you must go around the room and shake hands with EVERYBODY, starting with the most senior person in the room (oldest) and all the women.

I violate this rule all the time!

Another trip down memory lane . . . Bad Zwischenahn, Spring 2003.

It was Easter. The German and I had been together for about 4 months and we had already talked about marriage (yes, things moved quickly between us). I knew all of his family and had even met his extended family including the matriarch, Oma (Grandma). This women is tiny, but she wasn't afraid of the Red Army in East Prussia and she isn't afraid of this American. She is a very imposing person for someone so small.

I had been invited to Oma's for Easter Brunch. This was a big deal. My first meeting with the family did not go so well. They were a little suspect of me because the German broke up with his girlfriend (a good German girl) before we got together. I was determined to impress.

When we got to the house, I shook a few hands and was immediately paralyzed by fear. Then I started to stand off to the side. I felt very awkward and had no clue what to say. It doesn't help that some of them speak Plattdeutsch with each other (Lower German, a dialect spoken in northern Germany which is actually closer to Dutch and English than German).

In my self-conscious state, I forgot to shake Oma's hand. She sort of glared at me and did not say much. The German explained to me latter what I had done wrong. I don't know why, but eventually she warmed-up to me, and now I consider her my own Oma.

I don't get the handshaking thing with family. When I see my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandpa in Michigan, I give them a hug. I would never shake their hand. In fact, I am sure my Uncle Curt would make fun of me for the rest of my life if I did. If I shook my mother's hand? She would ask me if I was angry with her and then ask me if I was on crack.

I have started my greetings with Oma with a hug, like I would with my own family. It has brought us closer together. I am one of the few people who does that and I think that she enjoys it.

So dear, Germany bound traveler, remember to shake when entering a room. Oh, and try not to bring up George W. It can also lead to uncomfortable situations.


Anonymous said...

Every kid needs an Oma, and I know that you are quite short on them, so be nice to the German's Oma.


Just another American Expat said...

When I piss off Oma , she cries. After making me feel like a cold hearted American bastard she asks me to go get logs for the oven, mow the grass, and fix something that’s broken. Oma isn’t stupid.

P.S. Thanks for the plug

Just another American Expat said...

P.S.S. (Is there such a thing?) Anyway, I added you to my blogroll. I know, I’m slow. Age I guess. ;-)

Dixie said...

It took me a while to get used to the handshaking thing. It's a little more automatic with me than it used to be.

You know, if you go to a party and it's too difficult to get to folks seated at a table to shake their hands you can rap on the table and say hello.

christina said...

My husband's Oma, who passed away in 1999, was a sweetheart and really quite forgiving about all the mistakes I made. It's my delightful (NOT!) father-in-law who has a fit about stuff like that. He used to get cheesed off if our kids didn't shake hands with him. Geez.

Clarity said...

I'm an American also living in Germany and it took me a while to get used to the handshaking rule too!

I like your blog, I also loved all the links you shared in your previous entry of other bloggers living abroad. It will be interesting to go through and check out! Just thought I'd say "hi!", let you know I was here and going through your archives:). Take care!

Claire said...

Hi ya Grandpa! I do love my German Oma. She is a pretty amazing woman. I have noticed that most German Oma's are not stupid. In fact they are very clever, especially at getting people to do things. I think that is how they survived the war!

Dixie brought up the tricky "table shake!" Who knew that these ettiqute rules could be so tricky!

Christina, sorry to hear about the weird in-laws. I sympathize. Actually my mother and father-in-law are pretty cool, but bother-in-law is . . . odd. Hence the trip to New York.

Clarity, welcome! I just looked at your blog. Oh my God! Those pictures are fabulous! I look at something and just see a "thing," a sock. You make it art. I carry around my camera hoping to be inspired. It never happens. I wish it would and I will carry my camera until it does! I hope your Eric gets his visa. But enjoy the time you have now, here. You will not get it back later.

Haddock said...

The handshaking thing is a bit wierd, but most of my German family do the hugging thing as well. This is strange for me as the English dont really do the handshake thing or the huggy thing :)

I now do both! :)

Lisa said...

Hi Claire :) So true about the greeting thing. Here in the west it's required of everyone, every time you go into a space where more than two people are congregated you must greet everyone together. When you leave you must announce it and say goodbye to all. I. Do. Not. Get. This! Who are these people? Why are they interested in my coming and going? So yeah, I get the wolf look a lot. If I had to not shake hands in addition to not announcing my intentions to the world I wonder if they'd hang me for being terminally socially inept...
Anyway, it's nice to meet you, and I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog and seeing how you and "the German" got together. :) 'til later
ps - my apologies for blabbering in your comments. I get carried away when talking about a "thing", and this is a definite "thing". *eek*