Author’s note: As I near the end of my time living in Germany while my wife serves in the United States Army, this is Part III of a three-part series, examining my thoughts and feelings as I prepare to head back to America and leave Germany behind. Part I examined what I will not miss about Germany and can be found here. Part II examined what I will miss about Germany. Part III examines what I’ve learned during my time in Germany.
Let me begin this final piece of the three part series by thanking my hosts these past two years, the German people. Though doubtful this will be read widespread across Germany, I do wish to thank them for being friendly and welcoming hosts.
When I began this three-part series regarding my time in Germany, I immediately struggled with what I knew would be a conundrum in the final piece. How do I speak to an American audience—and a highly patriotic one due to the military influence—and tell them what America could learn from a foreign country without being dismissed at the outset?
To better understand my consternation, it’s best if you understand where I come from and where I am today. As a second generation American on my father’s side, I grew up in a very patriotic household and remain so to this day. Additionally, there is military service on both sides of my family to include my father and my mother’s brother. And now my wife.
From a young age, I heard far too often the tale of the ugly American abroad. We have all heard different versions of the same tale. Maybe it’s the American who refuses to speak the language native to where they are visiting. Maybe it’s the American who wistfully pines for McDonald’s rather than the local cuisine (though where you can go without being near a McDonald’s on this planet is becoming harder to do). Maybe it’s the American who talks loudly about how great America is in a foreign country. And let’s be honest, there is some truth to this perception.
I remember one vivid example that has stayed with me for 17 years. Jules and I were visiting the Greek island of Santorini, sitting down in a restaurant at sunset overlooking the caldera. There was an older couple nearby and when the server approached them, the female customer spoke English without a smile and without pause in a commanding voice. The words flowed from her mouth as if from royalty to a servant. There was absolutely zero hesitation on the part of this woman in thinking, “I am in a foreign country where English is not one of the official languages. Perhaps I should ask if she speaks English before we continue.”
I was flabbergasted.
When you go to another couple’s house for dinner, do you walk in and immediately tell them to bake the chicken rather than grill it? I know the analogy is a little bit off, but isn’t that what you are doing when you go into another country and give the citizens living there no options but to speak as you command them?
That time in Greece was part of a two-week trip my wife and I took to several countries across Europe. Upon arriving in each country, we learned the words and phrases for “hello, please, thank you, cheers,” and “I’m sorry, do you speak English?” See I believe—no, I know—America is the best country on earth. No country offers more freedoms to both her people and the world. No country has created more wealth globally lifting billions out of poverty over the past 250 years across this planet. No country offers more charity, aid, and assistance than America. No country does more to preserve global peace and stability than America.
Because of all this, we as individual Americans must be the best we can be when traveling, or living, internationally so that no nation or international citizen can take away from us the accomplishments our nation has achieved and continues to achieve in this world.
At the time of this writing, my tome of Ronald Reagan quotations is in a crate being transported across the Atlantic Ocean prior to my flight to America, so I cannot give you the exact wording. However, President Reagan made a point about the American people; he said we are a people never content with what we have. We as a people are always trying to do better.
I have tried to do better as an American during my time in Germany. I want the Germans with whom I have interacted to think positively of me so they will think positively of my country. It is human nature to see only the bad in someone whom you do not like just as it is true you will only see the good in those you do like. I want those Germans who have met me and had a positive experience to see a story in the news about America and view it from the perspective of someone who admires America and is grateful for America’s role in this world.
One could argue, “Who cares what opinion polls in Germany say about America?” and to this I agree. Let me be clear. America is our country, made in the image of her citizens and serves her people. Let’s worry about what Americans think of their country before we worry what the citizens of some foreign country think about America. But isn’t it possible when America gains respect and admiration throughout the world, it is Americans who benefit?
How do we benefit? We benefit through many ways, financially, culturally, etc…
But most importantly, we benefit by exporting our ideas and beliefs throughout the world. When we are the best we can be as a country, other countries emulate our nation. This is a very different experience than nearly every other country on earth. When America is lost and unsure of herself, we do not turn to another country to mirror. We are simply lost in the woods, trying to find ourselves. But, for other countries, that is not true. There is a fraction of people in nearly every country on earth wanting to make their country just a little bit more American.
It’s the reason why those protestors in Tiananmen Square in the 1980s constructed a Statute of Liberty before their oppressive regime ran a tank over one of the protestors. Because we exported that idea of freedom. Because we exported the idea that government serves the people, not the other way around.
If the protestors who constructed that Statue of Liberty were running China today rather than the government that is currently imprisoning approximately one million Uyghurs, would you feel safer as an American? Would we need to spend as much as we do on defense because of a growing and threatening China? I argue it is imperative we increase our standing around the world, not so Hollywood celebrities feel better about themselves, but so average Americans are safer and more prosperous.
Going back to that conundrum regarding what I learned as an American living in Germany for two years, there was a list of idiosyncrasies I was prepared to detail in this final piece.
I was going to talk about how America could learn something from Germany, where they have many political parties and those on the opposite end of the spectrum are still able to communicate with each other. How maybe we should take some news stations out of airports, restaurants, and doctor’s offices, because rather than inform us, most news networks seem to be only ratcheting up the division in our country. I was going to talk about the elderly Bavarians you see with walkers out in the middle of a field at least one mile from any car or house and you wonder, how far have they walked?—because exercise and being outdoors is so important to the Bavarian culture. There is so much we can learn from our German allies and friends.
But maybe I’ll save that for another time.
No, I think the most important thing I learned during my time in Germany is that I am a fiercely patriotic American who knows both myself and my country can and should do better so our way of life continues to be the standard bearer for all other nations, so that both they and we benefit.