martedì, settembre 13, 2016

Mantras for the land that wasn't quite promised but will do

To hark back to something a cousin-by questionable-marriage said to us several years back, F-word and I indeed spent a good chunk of our lives looking for the Promised Land, and we didn't find it, and that's fine, and we're done looking, and that's fine too. Here is a good place to end up, with all its great schools and reasonably priced groceries and hospitals with low caesarian rates (BTW the German word for caesarian or c-section is "Kaiserschnitt". Isn't that awesome? I need to use "Kaiser Schnitt" as somebody or something's name in some work of fiction at some time). We aren't moving. Or at least, not until we're old, or until we have to.

All the same, once a week or more, I have to employ a specific calming mantra to reconcile me to life here, beyond my typical go-to of "two tears in a bucket, motherfuck it" (thank you, you beautiful woman, and goodbye):

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

The mantra works because it's true. No one likes Germans. There are historical reasons for nobody liking Germans and those historical reasons all come back to the present reasons nobody likes Germans once they spend time with a certain type of German who seems to illustrate those historical reasons, because they do illustrate those historical reasons, and it has to do with a strange relationship to RULES.

And it's something that resonates with me as a Canadian, because Canadians have this reputation for really enjoying doing things by the rules, but almost everybody likes us (even though there are a lot of reasons they shouldn't). And the reason nobody likes Germans is because they really enjoy rules too, but perpetually seem to be using them as a stick to beat the people around them with.

It's on my mind today because usually I only have to pull out the mantra once a week, but just now I've had to do it three times in 24 hours, and in between those times I listened to part of Dan Carlin's "Blueprint for Armageddon" Hardcore History* podcast about the first World War. The bit in question is when he talks about how clueless the German state was about the brutal collective punishment of civilians during the 1914 invasion of Belgium affecting opinion in countries like Britain and the US that hadn't yet involved themselves in the war, and weren't obliged to by treaty. Carlin argues that since the idea of collective punishment was popularly accepted as a reasonable way to wage war within Germany, there was no serious thought given to what the rest of the world was going to think of it. That is, the Germans were obeying the rules, so no problem was envisaged.

Which would be fine - except rules are NOT. FUCKING. UNIVERSAL. They're applied as the powerful choose to apply them, and that means sometimes rules are transparently instruments of oppression. And you don't make something okay to everyone by making a rule about it. The Roma and Jewish genocides of the second world war were by the rules. The way the German political and business establishment has been choking the life out of Greece for the last several years is by the rules. Murder is "against the rules", and credit being extended with zero risk to the creditor is also "against the rules", but when the rules are enforced by the powerful - in these cases, the Germans - they can cherry-pick, and still feel like the are OBEYING THE MOTHERFUCKING RULES SO WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

Anyways, nobody has been oppressing me that badly. I just have a bad cold and a massive, massive pregnant belly with all the attendant physical and mental discomforts, so the little things that happen get magnified and I need to pull out my mantra to calm down. In this case, the trifecta of "people like you are the reason nobody likes Germans" was:

a) trying to take my lightly-sick son to a local playground to get some fresh air (and myself some peace) but having to turn tail almost immediately, because there was a festival this weekend, complete with weird traditional shorts and oompa music and banners. That meant the playground was festooned with broken beer glasses and bottles. Even the sandboxes. Fuck knows how those pigs managed to break glass in a fucking sandbox.

My neighbourhood, statistically, is one of the most "German" in the city. And the amount of sheer fucking BITCHING I've heard from these true-blue Germans about how filthy Turks, Arabs and Roma people are in their public habits is what makes this particularly frustrating. There are RULES about public comportment, rules that don't apply if you're native German and having a good time, even when it means filling up a fucking PLAYGROUND with jagged glass.

b) taking the bus home late last night from a local hospital, where I plan to hatch the next baby, the driver blew past my requested stop. I'm sort of an absent-minded idiot at the moment, what with being seven months pregnant, so it took ten or fifteen seconds for me to realise what had happened. And then when I started yelling at the driver, he didn't pull over - instead, he continued on at speed for a good half-minute, yelling back at me that I should have reminded him to stop immediately.

If there weren't other people watching my pregnant belly sway around the bus, I'm sure the fucking bastard would have just continued on to where the fucking "rules" said there was another fucking bus stop.

c) this morning, I was biking Godzilla to school. On the route, there's a section of about 60 metres were the bike path disappears, the road narrows, and cars go fast around a roundabout as they anticipate the speed limit being about to rise. And at that point, at least when Godzilla is on the bike with me and I'm massively pregnant, I go on the sidewalk. The fuck I or anyone remotely sensible will do anything else. I've had too many near-misses there, and that strip of road is notorious for near-misses and not-misses not only of bikes but of pedestrians using zebra crossings. I go slow, watch out for pedestrians, and give them a wide berth, up to and including stopping for them, because I'm not an asshole.

This morning, I stopped for a pedestrian who was walking his dogs, to promptly get fucking jawed at from him about how I'm on a footpath. I gesture at the roundabout and start explaining why I'm on the footpath, but he interrupts, saying to me, my three year old on the back of the bike, and my big, pregnant belly, while we're stationary to let him pass - "you're on a footpath, and that's that."

It's one of those times where at the moment I deeply regret not knowing enough German to argue with him, but ultimately saying "okay, you don't want an explanation" and biking away from him was the best thing I could have done. He had the rules on his side, and I had my mantra on mine:

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

People like you are the reason nobody likes Germans.

*It's fun. Conversational, interesting, and I can follow it whilst pregnant and exhausted.