“Oh look, you gained weight,” MILO exclaimed.
“Excuuuuseeee me?” I gasped in horror, as my eyes narrowed on my mother-in-law.
Now one would think that based on the extreme altering of my facial features that MILO would have recognized this was not a ‘Harlem Hausfrau-friendly’ topic of conversation and it was time to change the subject at hand – fast. MILO appeared not to read me on this – or did she?
“Weight, you gained weight,” she said. “I noticed it immediately in your butt.”
On the eve of my 50th birthday this was hardly celebratory insight.
Despite the fact that in the time leading up to this monumental occasion I had demonstrated a profound lack of concern over the impact of adding chocolate as a major food group to my diet, I really did not see the need for MILO to showcase my self-control issues at that night’s meal. After pouting in the corner and refusing to speak to anyone (yes I know, but there exists certain behaviors I refuse to give-up after serving me so well as a child), MILO coaxed me back into conversation and sought to explain that her comments were not said in malice but just the stating of what she perceived as fact.
Those Who Speak the Truth
If you do a quick google search on German stereotypes, one of the top trending answers is the local populations knack for being wildly direct. Typically this does not fall under the “Why I Love Germans!” header. I actually have to counter that thinking as I have come to understand that what many view as being direct is better classified as just being honest. And while my American ears are by no means accustomed to simply listen, acknowledge acceptance and move on from a “Wow, your butt got bigger” statement – at the end of the day how could I possibly challenge MILO on what I knew in fact to be true.
I remember once when V and I ran into a neighbor we are friendly with who proceeded to outline some medical diagnosis he was recently delivered. I don’t remember the details but it was definitely something to give one pause, despite being nothing within the life-threatening range. For my part, I politely wished him a fast and speedy recovery followed by a series of buzz words coated in positive affirmation. My husband’s commentary on the other hand included warnings about the medication he was prescribed due to a friend’s previous experiences and which following treatment, left him in a compromised state (insert Bug-Eyed Emoji here).
“Are you out of your mind?” I exclaimed, after returning back to our apartment. “Why in God’s name would you tell him that? He does not need to hear that kind of negative information.”
“Honey what is wrong with me telling him this?! It happened and he should know. He appreciated what I said (strangely enough I think he did) and I would want to know!”
“Listen," I said, "I am not exactly sure when or from whom you secured your medical license but your bedside manner could use a bit of work.”
Oberflächlich… (superficial) it’s one of the first words I came to understand is often used by Germans in connection to Americans. Now before all the Americans out there get their panties in a bunch, to be clear, my take-away is not the perception that Germans think Americans only care about things on a surface level , it’s actually the words that we use makes us sound like we do.
Super, fabulous, amazing - some of those words near and dear to many an American heart. Understand however that it is not just the Germans but even those who hail from other parts of Europe who have also taken notice of our need for “dialogue dress-up” - look our reputation precedes us! When asked the question – why do it? – I gotta say I am running a little empty on a legitimate answer and if being completely honest, the fact that the word FABULOUS is in heavy rotation on my personal vocabulary playlist is doing the American Stereotype-Busting-Cause no favors.
In going back to the beginning – MILO – we managed that evening to mend our little rift with the understanding that commentary on the increased size of my butt will never, ever be welcomed conversation. In giving a think on that last encounter, I found it curious that despite her being Swiss by birth, MILO managed the cultural appropriation of one of Germany’s most globally recognized trait. And so in these years I have come to wonder just how many more years of life here before I too decide that honesty is in fact the best policy?
Post Script: Attention Harlem Hausfrau readers! Please note that moving forward I will no longer be posting every week but every other week as I am trying to realize something new on this blog which takes a bit of time to see if I can get it to materialize. Stay tuned.