Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Teeth of a Nation

Things around here have improved somewhat. My host family (or landlords, or whatever) have warmed up to me a bit, and there is now one resident of my village who greets me enthusiastically whenever he sees me. His name is Ajax. He´s a German Shepherd. The only human resident of my dorf who says `Guten Tag´to me on a consistent basis (other than the people I live with, I mean) is a teenage girl named Jenny who is actually one of my students. But one feels a lot better than none!

Things at school are going better too. I´m having a lot of fun with the kids (especially the younger ones) and they seem to like me. One of my eighth grade girls gave me a little present today-- information about the Sorbian theatre company in Bautzen!

The television in my room still doesn´t work, but the landlords are working on that. For now I watch the news in the kitchen while I cook my Mittagessen (hot midday meal-- the main meal of the day in Germany). It´s not quite the same without Peter Jennings, but I´m learning to live with that.

While watching the news the other day, I heard that it looks like Mount St. Helens is about to erupt again... Special greetings to my German prof, ID, who had her high school graduation cancelled when it blew its top the first time! (All 26 members of her graduating class were bitterly disappointed.)

Someone once told me that `You can tell who´s an Ossi (East German) as soon as they open their mouth.` Strange dialects that use the word ´nie` instead of `nicht`aside, this has nothing to do with the accent... It´s their teeth. East Germans over about 40 almost uniformly have terrible teeth. This isn´t due to inadequacies of the Communist health care system (which actually was pretty good), but rather to difficulties in importing fluoride, which led to poor-quality toothpaste. Which led to teeth that are sometimes (to quote Frank McCourt, who was actually talking about a kid in Ireland, but oh well) `white. And black. And green.`

I said they almost uniformly have terrible teeth, because there are exceptions.

I wonder a lot about the exceptions. They could have just had their teeth fixed up after the Wende (German for Reunification), but I have another theory.

I think it has to do with the Stasi (former East German secret police).

I gave a report on the Stasi in German class once, so I know that lots of people snitched on their neighbors for small favors and Western goods. Possibly including toothpaste... I can just imagine the conversations that must have taken place.

`Listen, I´ll tell you the names of everybody in my village who´s been making derogatory jokes about the Socialist Unity Party, but only if you hook me up with some West German toothpaste. The good kind, with fluoride, tartar-control, and whitening power...`

(Note: This is really not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds. 1 in 40 East Germans were Stasi informants! This means that even in a dinky little dorf like the one I live in, around 3 people cooperated with the secret police at some time in their lives!)


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Just think, it money gets tight, you can always sell your toothpaste. I know what you should ask for in a care package from home!


8:53 PM  
Blogger christina said...

i'm glad your host family has warmed up. that would be hard living with people who aren't very welcoming.

2:25 AM  
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10:41 AM  

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