..."but they're honest." This was the response of a (non-northern) German when I confessed that I was still trying to understand the norms of the people around here. I 'm not sure whether to find the statement comforting or further perplexing.
Apparently, the folks here in northern Germany are known even among Germans to be quite reserved and quiet. They are not ones to initiate conversation with strangers and they don't tend to "chat." Obviously, there are many people and situations where this stereotype does not fit. But even taken as a generalization it doesn't sound too bad. Let me illustrate with a few examples that I found to be--- awkward.
I went for a bike ride with my friend Maren (not from northern Germany and very outgoing) and we stopped by the house of her former neighbor and friend. We stood in the driveway for ten to fifteen minutes and the friend never acknowledged my presence- not a "Hallo!" or a handshake or a wave. Weird!
Aaron and I showed up last week to help with a sawing/sanding/painting project as a wedding gift for one of his colleagues. We walked up to the group of about seven other co-workers and no one really said anything. For about two hours, the group worked on the project with almost no talking and no laughing. And there was even beer!
The daughter of Aaron's boss comes over to my house every week and we spend about an hour together so she can be exposed to English- we play a game, bake cookies, do a craft project, etc. Her parents never e-mail or call me and even when I see them at various events or around town they never talk to me or ask how things are going. Don't all parents love to talk about their kids?!
Just to keep things in perspective let me say that in most ways, the culture I am experiencing here is the same as what I have been used to in the U.S. It is modern and Western. Body language seems to be similar- people make eye contact with each other as a sign of attention and courtesy, waving means "Hello" and shaking hands is a normal introductory greeting. I realize that these are not things to take for granted everywhere in this world.
So I am not complaining! But I am struggling to be myself while respecting and integrating with the local culture. I know it could be a language barrier but most of the people I interact with speak very good English and also know that I am trying hard to learn German. When I initiate conversation I always speak in German but obviously I can't carry it very far alone.
I don't expect anyone to throw me a party (or even speak English to me) but I'm also not sure what good their honesty does when they don't talk to me anyway! Ha!
I am learning so much.