Re-appraising one’s traditional ‘values’

Posted on 09.03.2011


I just finished reading Collapse from Jared Diamond, a book I highly recommend to anyone that doesn’t think that global warming is a passing semi-political farce. I’m not writing to summarize the book, just a thought that CAME from the book that has been in the back of my mind for a while now.

Jared spends just about the entire book discussing societies that have failed or almost failed, outlining all of the scientific evidence surrounding each situation, and how that evidence was handled AS the events were happening, pre-collapse.

One of the recurring themes that keeps arising is the inability of the people/cultures involved to understand that they may not be able to carry on their lives as they had in their previous ‘home’ place of residence. An example of this, for the curious, is the Norse that tried to live on Greenland. They eventually failed quite miserably, and were survived by the migratory Inuit who remained there (that time) for another 500 years. The Inuit were not technically local to Greenland, but had come and gone from the area for long enough to know how to survive. However, since the Norse had recently converted to Christianity and were well-known for their bad tempers, they didn’t want to bother with or make friends with the ‘heathen’ Inuits, and instead either killed them or just kept their distance. It was ultimately because they refused to play nice with the Inuit (who were not trying to fight with them and were happy to coexist, even without speaking, on a further north and east part of the land) and learn how to survive in the new and unfamiliar land from them that their settlements in Greenland failed and were abandoned.

There are plenty of other reasons cited in the book for societies failing (or in some cases, succeeding), but the idea of re-evaluating our values to fit better in one’s new place is really something to think about for me, right now.

Although this idea doesn’t only relate to retail and consumerism, that’s what I’m going to write about here. It begins with stiletto heels and ends with my Express shopping card.

When I moved here, I moved with a few really great pairs of shoes, a good majority of them were stilettos. Granted, at this point I was already operating under the idea that with my MS they may not be the best idea for my feet, but I was still holding on. Upon arriving and unpacking, we went shopping for some newer, warmer clothes. I was surprised at the lack of stiletto shoes in the stores. Why all the practical, wider heels? I was confused. How could anyone be fashionable in a chunky square heel?

At that point I wasn’t yet taking German lessons every day. During my first week of the lessons, which began on my birthday, I wanted to dress fashionably and wore my new jeans with a hot pair of stilettos I’d brought with me from the motherland. BIG mistake. Hello, cobblestone, it’s great to meet you. Immediately I understood. And with a heavy heart, I went shoe shopping for more ‘sensible’ heels in order to survive walking the streets of my city. All of my stilettos are gone now, and very few pairs of my show collection now have anything resembling a narrow heel because of our streets.

The Express card: I used to have a card for Ann Taylor, NY&Co, and Target. I got rid of them before coming to Germany. I held out on Express because it’s always been my go-to spot for clothing in a pinch. They have everything, their clothes fit me perfectly (no matter the size) and I get some great prices based on the sales, because I’m a card member on the mailing list.

Over the winter holiday I had to buy new clothes, and went directly to Express and ended up with nearly a new wardrobe. I got a pair of jeans there that I loved so much, I vowed that I would get another pair when they went on sale. That happened and I recently ordered a new pair. They don’t ship internationally, so I had them shipped to Kristi who will ship them to me like the awesome friend that she is:)

But why am I doing this? Why is it so hard for me to give up Express? They don’t have stores here, they don’t make anything super special, and they don’t even ship internationally. So why do I bother? I’ve got the time, why don’t I just try to find jeans here that fit me and I can love the way that I love my express jeans?

The answer is that it’s easy not to. It’s not making my life any easier by getting them shipped, but it’s a way for me to hold on to something American and it’s not terribly difficult. It’s also pretty awesome to be the only girl in Würzburg wearing these jeans. But this needs to stop. Not just for matters of contributing to my own (now) German economy and paying down the last credit card, but also on the matter of assimilation. I’m not assimilating by not buying all of my clothes here. Sure, I buy a LOT of my clothes here, but there is no shortage of denim here in the land of casual. So I should really just take the plunge already.

There are plenty of other things that I could use as examples to illustrate how this idea of re-evaluating our values comes into play in our daily lives, but I chose retail because it’s the easiest route for me to explain what’s happening in my own personal situation. Sure, there are other things going on that warrant the same thought, but I think you get what I mean. Do I need to eat sushi to feel comfortable here? Do I need to frequent English-speaking websites to hold onto my ‘Americanism’? Do I even need to hold onto it? Will it ever leave me?

I’ve met a few Turkish Germans over here. For those of you that are not aware, after the second world war there was a Turkish worker program that brought our Southeastern neighbors over here to work and live, to fill all of the jobs that may have been left or lost by German soldiers before the war began. A lot of families have stayed and made roots here, and are now ‘Germans’ by all standards except their bloodline.

Something that a lot of them have told me is that their family members have held so tightly on to their old way of life, even here in Germany, that they have failed to really assimilate. They are here, they speak and live German, but they have preserved their old ways, religion, home environment, etc. In some cases these things really don’t match with the way of the German people and create a major divide in their communities. It’s an often-discussed issue here in the land where the population is actually decreasing rather than increasing, like most other countries. Some of their values are absolutely out of place and have no practical application here. So why do they hold onto them?

I think we all want to retain the good from our lives, from our past. We want to remember where we came from and the things that we loved. I love Baltimore. I miss the water. Will I move to Hamburg because of it? Most likey not. Will I continue to seek out great seafood because of my history? Bet your ass. Will I allow my life to be altered by that? Absolutely not. But some people do try to fit their lives around what they hold close to them as the great parts of ‘back home’ or ‘our people’. Doing so makes surviving in the new place harder.

It’s important to remember where we came from. But it’s also important to exist successfully in our new locations.

It reminds me a lot of death, actually: as long as my mother is in my memory, she’ll never really be gone. And I guess, as long as Express keeps making awesome clothes, I’ll never really be without great jeans. But it’s time to move away from the security of internet shopping in another country and start doing it over here. Otherwise I’m limiting myself greatly.

What values or ideals are you holding onto from your youth or past that are no longer needed?

Posted in: life