Here’s the deal: much as I enjoy living in Germany and have settled into my new life here, albeit endless upheavals and adjustments, I draw the line to certain things that are part and parcel of German life and culture. I am a Frog who can adapt to any country and situation, and have happily done so in the past, whether it was washing my face in a village pond with water buffalos in Bangladesh, jumping out of an airplane in Thailand, hiking around Spain alone, or even sitting on a dirty pavement in the middle of a crowded market in India to drink tea. I am open to a lot of things and if it is new and unfamiliar I will give it a go. OK, maybe not bungee jumping… however, there are two things that I refuse to do in Germany: basteln (arts and crafts) and Marmelade Kochen (make jam).
If there is one word in German that instills absolute horror in me, sending cold chills into the deepest marrow of my bones it is “basteln” (to tinker, do arts and crafts, make things). Germans are passionate about their basteln moments, a skill instilled in them from the moment they are conceived – just like football. Being a child in a German school or a parent of one, means that you are literally married to a glue gun for the next ten years of your life. It also means collecting things around the house that I automatically throw away – toilet paper rolls, conkers, acorns, corks, bottle caps, can tabs, popsicle sticks, pine cones, good heavens the list is endless. Some mothers have cabinets full of these bastel elements, what I consider to be the stuff of nightmares. When my daughter was in pre-school the teacher called in all the parents for a mandatory basteln evening shortly before Christmas. We arrived, were assigned to our little tables and chairs, and each had a basket of items to work with and were expected to construct a gingerbread house for our children. No child was to go without one. Grrrrrrrr.
At home, while raising my own daughter, I shoved crayons and paper in her hands instead of glue and popsicle sticks. Much as I love her, there was absolutely no way I was going to sit and do arts and crafts with her at home. Not when I could teach her to play in the sand, jump into puddles in the rain, and tell stories. Basteln was not going to happen on my watch!
Why do I hate it so much? As you might have guessed, because I had to do so much of it as a child that I eventually hated it with such a passion. For the first five years of my elementary life I attended a Catholic all-girls school in Mexico. The nuns made us do all sorts of arts and crafts for every blasted occasion, especially for Christmas and Mother’s Day. I was always an honor student all the way through High School but the one time I received failing marks was for arts and crafts in Grade 4. My mother, may she rest in peace, was livid and my father could not grapple with the idea that I aced Math and Science but failed in a stupid arts and crafts class. As my dear friend likes to say “Waaaarrrum??” (whhhhhyyyyy? or my version would be “why the hell should I?”)
Later on in Middle School my mother had a group of friends who did nothing but arts and crafts or cooking when they got together. OMG. The absolute horror scenario. It was then that I discovered that I actually inherited this passionate dislike for crafts from my mother! I had such a good laugh, and suddenly understood why she pushed me into sports, painting and dance lessons instead. Imagine my horror when I discovered bastel circles, groups, afternoons, fairs, shops in just about every German community all over the world, and any self-respecting German housewife is expected to bastel decorations (for Christmas, Advent, Easter, and other obscure occasions) and gifts. Okay, I can understand DIY jobs for the house, and I don’t consider those tasks to fall under the category of cut-and-paste, but I don’t harbor an iota of sympathy for basteln!!!
There have been times in my life where I truly believe that Germans are born with two extra genes – the F-gene (football) and the B-gene (basteln), although after all these years I will add an M-gene to that. My father worked for Del Monte Foods most of his life and strawberry jam was part of my childhood. He brought the high standard of the company home, and my mother was not allowed to buy anything substandard. So in my eyes, jam making was something Daddy was responsible for and never Mommy, I don’t think she even knew how to do it, and it happened outside of the house. Decades later, I discovered the European passion for homemade jams and marmalades, and it made perfect sense considering the seasons and availability of fruits. From my father’s high standards I was inducted into my mother-in-law’s even higher standards for homemade jams and even my father bowed to that. I still refused to learn it however, because I witnessed the horrors or boxes of fruit being carted home to be processed. It is something you cannot start one day and continue the next because the fruit rots and that would be a waste of money.
Everywhere I look in Europe women are making their own jams, and still I refuse. Don’t get me wrong, I know perfectly well how to make it but I am a stubborn Frog with a Diva attitude and you will not catch me making jam in this lifetime. I’ll never forget one afternoon when my father-in-law walked into the kitchen and handed over a pail of fruit and told me to make jam out of it. I was livid! The assumption that every German woman / housewife is expected to be able to make jam was beyond me (it still is), but it is probably no better than expecting every Asian to be able to cook rice.