An online magazine article - based on the interview with our American guests
However, as an American in Germany those kinds of daily situations can become a real challenge. On January 14th we had the chance to talk to two Americans living in Germany and ask about whatever topic had left us puzzled in our English lessons. It is not seldom that we can’t understand some priorities and values common in the United States. Erica and Kathleen kindly answered all of our questions patiently and tried their best to explain the American mentality and attitude. We were able to look at the arguments in a new light from an American’s point of view and as they both live in Germany, they understood the reasons for our incomprehension.
Related to the current riots at the capitol we wondered about their first thoughts and reaction the very moment they saw the news. Kathleen told us that she was one of those that didn’t actually expect it to happen. Of course, you’ve noticed the shift in the society but she didn’t want to believe in it as a possible threat and was left in disbelief as she heard the news. Even though Erica already feared that this violent outcome was a possibility, she was shocked too. Then there was disgust, she said. Erica seemed disappointed and angry when she talked about the current US at its breaking point hitting rock bottom on January 6th.
In that context they also mentioned, that they don’t feel represented by the government and don’t really identify with any party. They would always try to take position in the middle, but it wouldn’t work. They wish for more parties with an actual influence in the election and express their doubts about the two-party system.
Later on, when we asked them about the election time specifically, Erica described it as a trail race. You have to jump over obstacles and dodge everything that’s thrown at you. You’d think: “OMG I’m gonna turn in my passport and at the end everyone is exhausted and wondered why they’ve done it” The Election process is long and our two guests explain how many people choose not to get emotionally invested in the primaries. At the end there will be only one Democrat and on Republican, so what’s the point in choosing your favourite when you will vote for one of the two anyway?
Talking about the polarised society, we wanted to know, what it might need to unite the people again. At first, the only response was silence. Not because the network wasn’t working or BBB was crashing but because it was a rather tricky question and we were well aware of it. So we waited patiently and after some seconds had passed Erica made an attempt to answer: First „basic human rights and basic human decency”. Then she talked about the influence of media outlets in the US and the way it divides people. There are many local news and it’s hard to have some perspective. In Germany there are local news as well but you usually also access unbiased information or at least you come across news that try to look at a topic from different angles. Erica explained that there are articles that don’t bother to give sources and refuse to distinguish between opinion and facts. “It’s not called opinion, it’s called analysis”. Kathleen points out the important role of early education and schools, which Erica could only agree on. You pick your neighbourhood and thus the school your children will go to. It affects who you talk to and what ethics are conveyed. The neighbourhoods in the US are more divided than in Germany and it has created different areas with different views. It’s more likely to be stuck in your bubble without any exchange with other opinions and only local news that support you in your own beliefs.
America has always been divided and something that has kept all of them together is the pride to be there together. At least that’s the way our two guests tried to explain the whole concept of patriotism. For a German it’s hard to understand this feeling of identity based on the country you live in. Maybe, Germans haven’t given themselves permission to be patriotic, Erica said, and it’s hard to describe a feeling that you’ve never felt before. In the US you identify as a part of a whole and according to Kathleen you usually don’t experience it as a negative thing. Up until she was around 20 years, she didn’t question it at all. It’s hard to find common ground in such a big and diverse society like the American one and to look at patriotism as a way to unite this divided society is simple.
We continued talking about the American mindset and how it’s connected to current topics. Compared to the riots at the Capitol and the presidential election, gun laws and health care have been less in the focus of public debate lately. They are still pretty interesting topics though, especially because the Germans’ perspective is evident. It’s hard to understand why you would refuse a secure health insurance and it’s even more confusing to look at all the reasons behind the lack of gun control. Kathleen and Erica both told us little anecdotes and added their thoughts on why other Americans might not agree with their opinion.
The conversation carried on and we still had quite a few questions left. But we had already surpassed the time limit we had set before and every now and then you would catch a glimpse on strand of hair lurking next to mommy. Before we all said goodbye, our two guests gave an outlook for the future concerning Biden’s presidency and what’s to come. I am hopeful, Erica said. People can’t deny that those flaws exist but as the problems are exposed, you can start working on them.
(Katharina Thrum. J2)
(Der Text basiert auf einem Interview mit zwei Amerikanerinnen, durchgeführt eine Woche nach dem Sturm auf das Kapitol)