Saturday, April 9, 2011

Goethe, and my American shame- my tale of a belated G

"A cleaver man commits no minor blunders." 
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.
Photo Source

My junior year of high school I spent the entire summer in Europe.  I traveled to too many countries to list and was an exchange student in three countries: Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Germany.

My exchange student picture. I am adorable.
I left a shy thing with a group of people I did not know.  I remember the most terrifying part was walking away from my family onto the plane.  I cried once I sat down.  The summer was a whirlwind of cathedrals, old statues, funny languages, and being submerged into multiple cultures.  I walked more then I ever have, and got use to a schedule of midday naps, big lunches and light dinners.  I lost so much was freaking amazing!  Pretty sure I was physically meant to be European.

Living in different homes was such a gift.  I grew up nestled in middle class suburbia with my bipolar sister.  It was amazing to see how others live, to stretch my wings in "normal."

The family that I remember the most was my German one.  I was there for a month.  I attended school but mostly skipped and ate a ton of Italian ice cream. The host mother spoke no English.  The host father and my host bother and sister where the only ones that spoke a little bit of English.  I quickly learned to understand body language, and listen to key words.  I could pick up on stories and what they said without knowing any German.  My German family were great about taking me out and about to see the sites.

Photo Source
On one of my last weekends in Germany the family made a trip to Frankfurt.  I think we hit almost every historical site in town.  I was tired by the time we arrived at Goethe's birthplace.  We we arrived and were about to get tickets to go inside I have to admit my enthusiasm was lacking.  I was 16...and admittedly probably not the most gracious.  There might have been some yawning.  I was always quiet and not one to just wildly enthusiastic about many things. When my host father asked me who Goethe was I was surprised, and well frankly had no idea.  I am pretty sure I made one of those classic teenage facial expressions between a shrug and and a blank look.  Then did my best impression of someone who is quick thinking, "a writer."  I know brilliant. My poor host father looked exacerbated.

He quickly asked, "You do know who William Shakespeare is don't you?" Clearly being sassy but I think genuinely rethinking American public education.

I nodded and said, "To be or not to be guy."  Host dad rolled his eyes and walked away.  We never went into the Goethe house.

That was the only time I have ever felt stupid.  I know he didn't mean to make me doubt my intelligence he was was frustrated. Isn't it strange the things we remember from a lifetime of experiences.  An entire trip and the one moment that stands out to me the most is the one that was negative.  


  1. It sounds like an amazing trip! I enjoyed reading about it. I'm like that sometimes, too...I look back on a great experience and I remember the negative parts of it. I've tried really, really hard to avoid doing that, but I lapse back into it every now and then!


  2. Negative, yes, but oh what a life lesson! Loved your post for G. Well done.

  3. You are so right. A beautiful experience can be mared by one negative event. That family may remember you in a much better light than you remember that moment, but the experience for you is completely different now.

    I often think on the old teacher saying "They will not remember what you said, but how you made them feel." Of course, it is only after a sarcastic remark because I have answered the same question five times before that I remember this statement.

    "To err is human, to forgive is devine". If it helps, I am quite confident that my former teachers laid odds on when I would become the queen of the trailer park.

  4. Nice post. Each country believes its writers/philosophers are the best...and we all have a tendency to remember the bad things as opposed to the good ones!
    Am glad that it gave you a different perspective on life, but I am not sure that there is such a thing as "normality"...

  5. I don't think I knew who he was at that age either and if I did I didn't care.

    Learning really is a life-long process and even at the end there are a million things we haven't learned.