Moodswing - Fabulous broken-ness

Kicked to the curb in German class, but still standing proud

Yesterday was Fuck-America-in-the-Ass Day in German class, in case you care. And you might care, actually. It might matter to you to see how well we fare post-9-11, popularity-wise, in the eyes of a stratified example plucked from the Euro-compost that pretty much compiles my class.
First, let me explain that I'm here in Munich because I have to study German to maintain my status as a foreign-language interpreter. Second, I've been here too long. I miss Atlanta. I miss sweet potatoes, sitcom reruns, dented cars and coffee that doesn't classify as roughage. I even miss trash. Atlanta has great trash heaps. In fact, my friends Grant and Daniel practically furnished their entire homes by foraging through trash piles on the side of the road (this is before Grant's chrome-and-Formica phase and Daniel's rich-and-successful-artist phase).

I remember a dilapidated pie chest Grant dragged home from the road one day, and I'd made the mistake of asking him if he planned to replace the broken wire mesh along the front. He looked at me like I'd all of a sudden, before his eyes, transformed into a big pool of crawling rat drool. "Why replace the broken mesh?" he gasped, shock and disgust abounding. "The broken-ness is what makes it so fabulous."

Since then I've become quite taken with fabulous broken-ness. When Grant and Daniel transcended from their trash-heap phase, most of their lovely junk ended up in my place. But there is no such thing as fabulous broken-ness in Germany. If something here breaks, they immediately surround it with flares and bark at people to stay back until it's either fixed or removed from sight. To be fair, though, I can think of a couple of major exceptions, like the massive broken spire of a stone church bombed by us in WWII, which stands in the middle of one of the most popular squares in Berlin and is made even more majestic by its monumental scars. So I'll grant them that. But basic imperfections? Forget it.

So stupidly I thought I'd share some kind of kinship with my classmates in this regard, as none of them are German, they're just here because, like me, they need to know how to speak German words. I am one of two Americans in my particular study group, which is offered by a language school located in the middle of Munich not far from the Hofbrau Haus, a big beer hall where Hitler used to give speeches inspiring the utter duty in Deutsche people to murder millions of innocents.

This Hofbrau Haus is a tourist attraction now, by the way, with a cute little "oompah" band and costumed waitresses with brawny Popeye arms from years of lugging, five to a fist, mugs of beer as big as barrels. To further anesthetize the past of this place, there is a gift store selling key chains and cheap beer steins.

I'm always a little uncomfortable with the cultivated revelry at the Hofbrau Haus, given its history. Not that this place should go out of business just because immense evil once occurred within its walls, I'm just queasy about making such a celebration of it. I wonder whether Europe might one day festively enshrine the Internet cafes used by the terrorists to plan the attack on us, or something, not that we should take that personally or anything.

Which brings me back to my class. My fellow students are Japanese, Italian, Slovenian, Czech and Spanish. "Don't take this personally," one told me in her halting German, "but Americans are loud, fat, ugly and ..." here she flipped out her dictionary to look up the right words, " ... yes, Americans accept no responsibility."

At that, the teacher made sure the rest of the class understood the word "responsibility" by offering it in another context. "Parents have responsibility," she said, prompting another student to exclaim, "Yes, America should be better parents to the rest of the world!" at which the teacher nodded sagely. Other words our class learned yesterday in relation to America were "conceited," "arrogant," "greedy" and "meddling," though one Italian did concede he envied our "patriotism," adding that Italians were only patriotic to their soccer team.

At each insult, the teacher remained irritatingly docile, like a counselor calmly mediating a bickering married couple. "How do you answer that, Hollis?" she'd say, as if I needed to answer anything.

But I tried anyway, pointing out that they can't expect us to be their "parents" and not "meddle" in their affairs ... or better, maybe they should just fucking grow up and move out of the house, but the teacher decided to interrupt, mistakenly encapsulating my argument as the "don't-hate-us-because-we're-beautiful" defense, owing to my fondness for the word "envy."

This, of course, prompted an epidemic of eye-rolling among the rest of the class. "We don't envy you," another student proclaimed, "we feel sorry for you." You are broken, he explained, due to the terrorist attacks. "Yes, broken," the other students nodded, smiling sweetly, making me think that, in all, they like America better after the attacks. I stopped arguing, because what's the alternative? To be worse after the attacks? So maybe we will be better broken, after all. Maybe our broken-ness will be what makes us so fabulous. Hollis Gillespie's commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered." To hear the latest, go to www.hollisgillespie.com.