I am an immigrant in Berlin. I was born in Mexico, and in the last year I have learned few things about Germany and it’s people. I have to admit that my cultural shock still comes and goes, but everything in a new country seems bearable when you make few friends. So, today I will share about what Germans have taught me in the area of interpersonal relationships, specifically friendship.
I was invited the other day to a birthday party of one of my German friend. The table was beautifully set, the candles had been lit, the food was at the table, and the atmosphere was cozy and set the tone for and intimate night you can only share with close friends.
For the party, she had invited only two friends, I was one of them along with her immediate family which included her children, husband and mother. We had a good evening, ate good food and warm drinks which was perfectly for a snowy evening.
That day when I walked away from that beautiful gathering, everything that I have learned from my German friends in the last year, and the difference between my culture and theirs came to place. I have for a moment clarity.
The first one and more obvious for me are the candles. Germans like to light candles when they eat, either at home, or in the restaurant, or sometimes even to have a drink with a close friend. Perhaps the deemed light gives the room a sense of warmth in this cold country.
In Mexico candles are only lighted when you want to have an extraordinary romantic evening with your partner, but more often at the cathedrals to worship a saint. The candles are find in the stores with pictures of saints, or virgin Mary. Besides Mexico it’s too warm for candles most of the year. So, the first times my friends lighted candles it awoke in me almost immediately a sense of reverence, quietness and beauty, but I also found it kind of strange.
When it comes to meeting with them, most often you have to come together to an agreement on the date and time with anticipation. You can not only show up and say:
– Hey how are you? I was just passing by and wanted to say hi.
In other words, you cannot stop by, unannounced. Perhaps they like to plan the evening with the candle thing and all that, and their minds have to be ready.
In USA where I lived for almost 15 years they have a saying when it comes to friends gathering that goes; “the more the merrier”. I think that such a statement defines very much the birthday parties in Mexico, or even the evenings when you invite your friends to eat, to grill outside, or to socialized.
The difference in Germany I believe, is that they like the “one on one” very much. There is an advantage to this kind of friendships and I think you get to know each other more intimately faster. The Germans value coziness and intimacy, they call it “gemütlich zeit”. They are very altruistic and have a great value for honesty in their relationships. It is my opinion that Germans have fewer friends in their lives but closer friends too, they are loyal and sometimes brutally honest. Because they value productivity and are really hard workers, they tend to limit their meetings with friends to fewer in their year and allow them to exist only at the “perfect time” in their busy lives. “Bei uns alles muss Perfekt sein.”
In contrast in the Latino culture friendship seems to be more spontaneous and inclusive where is very normal you get to know the friends of your friend, their family, and friends of the family. But then again we are not so organized, in our countries as the Germans are. We put a high value in friendship but we have a big problem with honesty. Roberto Carlos described the Latino’s way of seeing friendship perfectly when he sang his hit song “Yo quiero tener un millon de amigos” (I want to have a million friends). We want to have many friends, but do we really know them well?.
So, in the last year I have learned to appreciate the beauty of the difference among cultures and nations, sometimes it is really difficult, it is testing my patience, but I realized you can learn from each other too, and internalize the good things in your own life. Friends leave always a stamp on your heart and from them you can learn tolerance, acceptance and finally arrive at love.
Tonight, for dinner with my children I will light the fire. I am ready for gemütlich time.