This weekend, I ventured down (so far down) to Munich to join its local Fulbrighters (and some other Fulbrighters, too)(and also Devin, with whom I did not actually go to the ‘Fest, because she was braving Ryan Air at the time, but whom I did see in what will undoubtedly be her future home city) for Oktoberfest. It was an important experience for my education abroad. No, really! I mean, it was primarily a hot mess of a weekend. But it was also the way by which I learned a lot of important things about both German and world at large culture. For example:
Italians (that’s them above, gesticulating) are great: I am just going to start with this, because I just know that, whenever anybody asks me about That Time I Went to Oktoberfest (which people will, you guys! the masses will want to know!), the narrative will wrap around not Germany, but Italia. Basically, it goes like this: We arrived at the tent (which is more like a giant wooden fortress in which one can consume copious amounts of beer, but I digress) very early in order to get a table (without having actually reserved one, because that costs a minimum of sixty euro(!) a person), but nigh on all of the tables were somehow already taken, and people were very unwilling to share, EXCEPT for one table of Italians, which was surrounded by a giant cluster of Italians (aside: apparently the second Oktoberfest weekend, which is what this was, is the one in which all of the Italians arrive), who invited us to sit down and then allowed all of our friends to sit down, too, because we are all friends, and who then somehow spoke to us despite not really knowing English and our not knowing Italian, and who called us bella and took so many pictures with us (if pictures of my youth ever surface, they will be with Italian strangers) and were maybe probably definitely a little too handsy, but that is alright, because they were delightful and energetic and sang the national anthem with us, and I don’t know, you guys, I just wish I were the sort of person who decides to learn Italian and live la dolce vita (no offense, study of Russian legal dissidence).
People really do where Dirndls and Lederhosen: And not just foreign tourists. No. Bavarians themselves come out in fully garbed force for Oktoberfest. And they (for the most part) wear it well.
Germans are not messing around when it comes to beer: At one point, an Italian spilled his beer and knocked down the mug, and a man from Bavaria told me that I should throw the mug at his face. Not because the beer spilt on my shoe (although that did happen), but because it is the best beer in the world, and he was wasting it.
Bavaria is not Germany: ”BRG,” the same German told me. “Bavaria. Rest of Germany.” Also, a cab driver told me he speaks Bayrisch, not Deutsch. So, there’s that.
I understand why the Erasmus kids primarily hang out with other students from their home countries…: I spent a lot of time this past week thinking about the behavioral patterns of Erasmus (that is, European exchange) students, and of how there is this tendency for them, even though it would be so easy to mix and mingle with people from all around Europe, to hang out with kids from their own countries and/or regions, and about why they (not all, but a lot of them) do that when they have this very accessible opportunity for dramatic cultural exchange. And then I spent the weekend with Americans (having been largely deprived of my fellow patriots for a week), and I totally got it. Because there is a level of comfort, yes, but moreover mutual understanding, even about really trivial things, with people from one’s own culture and country that make such a difference in the way in which we communicate and interact.
…but I think that, in the end, I’m glad that I cannot do that this year: Because maybe I will better learn how, if not to break out of that cultural comfort zone, then to slip out of and back into it. That’s the conclusion, anyway, that I came to this weekend, at this German FEST with a bunch of Americans. And Italians.