I love my country, but I have to admit I miss Germany. I lived there for six years. I’ve been back in California for six months, but all the sunshine and American friendliness didn’t quite make-up for Christmastime in Germany: drinking warm mulled wine outside, the smell of an open grill cooking real bratwurst—made from pork, not those bland, beef tubes we call hot dogs.
Lately, Germany has made it especially hard for me to enjoy being home. Mainly because Germany keeps showing up the U.S. The latest blow? U.S. News Word and Report ranked the country #1 in the world. The U.S. came in 4th.
That’s right, in a strange twist of history, Germany is now the nation to follow, not America. U.S. News even said most people thought Germany was better for entrepreneurship! What? That’s supposed to be our thing.
Here are several other ways Americans could be more German:
1. Vacation and work: the stereotype is that Germans work hard. They do. They also take six * weeks of vacation a year. Everyone does from the CEOs down to the garbagemen. Yet somehow the country still functions. How many weeks do you get? Maybe we Americans can afford to take a few more weeks off.
2. Family support: Germany provides affordable childcare and after-school care on a sliding scale, according to income. Berlin, where I lived, recently made all early childcare/pre-school free for everyone (article here in German). Oh, and there’s three years of maternity and paternity leave, with partial pay! Yet, the German economy still functions. Clearly, we could add a few months of paid parental leave and a year or two of subsidized preschool without breaking America’s bank.
3. Immigration: Yes, there’s been some trouble in Germany over this, but still, the majority of Germans remain welcoming to refugees—nearly a million of whom arrived in 2015. America offered to take in 10,000 Syrians, and people are still screaming about it. According to NYT columnist Roger Cohen, Germany is the new “can-do” nation.
Just read what Chancellor Angela Merkel, a member of the Germany’s center-right party and Time’s person of the year, had to say about immigration earlier this year:
“There is no question that the influx of so many people will still demand more from us. It will take time, effort and money—especially when it comes to the very important task of integrating those who will be remaining here permanently.
Here we want to, and must, learn from the mistakes of the past. Our values, our traditions, our understanding of the law, our language, our rules and regulations — all of these things undergird our society and are the fundamental requirements for the positive and mutually respectful coexistence of all the people in our country. This applies to everyone who wants to live here. Successful immigration, however, benefits a country — economically as well as socially.” (translation from the New York Times)
Can you imagine a center-right politician in the U.S. saying such a thing? (Do we have a center-right politician?) America is a nation of immigrants, and it should act more like one–or in this case more like Germany.
4. National identity: Germans don’t wave the flag much, except when the World Cup is on (which, by the way, they won). Blind nationalism is viewed with suspicion, and check out what Merkel said about that: “It is important, not to follow those who, with coldness or even hate in their hearts, want to claim Germanness solely for themselves and exclude others.”
We should make the same argument about American-ness, especially because again we are a nation of immigrants. We would do well to learn more about our own history. Speaking of…
5. History: Germans have learned from theirs. They have many museums, years of school curriculum, art works, monuments, even “stumble stones” paved into the very sidewalks to remind them of the horrible mistakes of the World War II. Maybe the U.S. should think about some memorials to the Trail of Tears or slavery. The national mall would be a good place to remember such things just as the Holocaust and the abuses of the Stasi are remembered in the German capital of Berlin.
6. Freedom: The Germans raise their kids to be independent, free-thinking, and self-reliant. They let their elementary-age kids walk to school, play in parks, buy things in stores, all without constant adult supervision. They also give them more responsibility—not just in the ability to move around but intellectually.
We should really try this out. I’ve written about this key difference before here and here, and I’m working on a whole book about the topic, stay tuned for more…
America has got a lot going for it: a robust economy, a culture of openness–and one of strengths is that in the U.S., there is always an opportunity to remake yourself. I think we should take that opportunity on a culture-wide basis and become a little more German.
But we have to face it: Germany is doing many things better than us–not just the sausage. (Though I do have to say that it really is much, much better. Are you listening American butchers? Skip the beef, try smoked pork!)
*Corrected 9/16/16. Note: 20 days (4 weeks) of vacation are mandated by law but many Germans now have six weeks to go on holiday (an earlier version had it incorrectly at 5 weeks).
Bundestag courtesy of Herman on Flickr
Christmas market bratwurst grill photo courtesy of Shrinkn Violet on Flickr