The USA through German Augen

One of the goals of this cross-cultural exchange is to shine light on old issues with the benefit of foreign eyes, and it has been fascinating to watch my German counterparts in the United States write about our social issues from a fresh perspective.

Robin Alexander is a reporter for Die Welt based at the Chicago Tribune. He wrote a piece on “bigger and better” Chicago from the innocent and untempered perspective of his children. Armed with their own journalist visas, his kids make beautiful, simple observations about American life that sometimes counter Robin’s own preconceptions.

“Why are the power lines in the air?” ask my kids. Our European explanation is: The U.S. doesn’t care enough about its infrastructure and therefore didn’t bury all power lines below ground. “You have been wrong,” said my kids days later: “The power lines in the air have a purpose. The beautiful squirrels use them as bridges over the roads to avoid being run over by a car.” (The Chicago Tribune)

Meanwhile, Franziska Holzschuh describes her horror at the state of homelessness in Philadelphia, particularly when it comes to young people, the mentally ill, and veterans.

“Most well-off Americans are used to this situation,” she concludes. “Although they register the distress on the street, they have become accustomed because it is part of daily life. I hope I never will.” (Nürenberger Nachrichten)

These observations are so entrenched in the American psyche that we need a few Germans to remind us we’re not that normal.