Wednesday, March 19, 2014

And finally, how my late beagle Flea helped break down barriers in Germany...

We lost our beagle, Flea, in November 2009, right after we moved back to the States from Germany.  While we lived in Germany, Flea ended up being both a hinderance and a help to us.  Most of the adults didn't like him because he was really loud and obnoxious.  Kids loved him, though, and he did help break the ice between us and our German neighbors.

Flea, canine ambassador, helps us break cultural barriers in Germany!

Sep 12, 2008 (Updated May 9, 2012)

The Bottom Line If you live in a German neighborhood, it's good to have dogs.

It's hard to believe that on September 17, 2008, my husband Bill and I will have been living near Stuttgart, Germany for an entire year. The time has gone by fast and, after just a little bit of a culture shock and six weeks spent in a hotel, I find that I actually really love living here.

Bill and I have been very lucky since we arrived in Germany. First off, we didn't get stuck living in a stairwell apartment on any of the local military installations. Bill is an Army officer and, as such, is subject to strict rules regarding housing. The biggest rule is that if there is housing available on a military installation, the servicemember must accept it unless he or she has a very compelling reason not to. As it turned out, when we first arrived in Germany, a lot of the housing was being renovated or was otherwise occupied. That meant that we were allowed to live in German housing on the economy. We ended up finding a huge house in a charming little town about twenty miles south of Stuttgart. The area is beautiful and authentic. Better yet, we have quiet and privacy.

A lot of people prefer the stairwell apartments on post because they are convenient. After all, people who live in those quarters are surrounded by their fellow Americans. Work, school, and shopping are closeby and the area is certainly secure, since armed guards man the entrances. If Bill and I had children, perhaps living on post would have been worthwhile for us. However, living off post and out in the country has turned out to be great... mainly because after ten months, I'm finally starting to get to know and like my German neighbors!

Even though Bill and I first moved into our house in November 2007, it's only been very recently that we've started talking with our next door neighbors. Their household consists of an older couple and their daughter, her husband, and their adorable little two year old boy. When we first moved into our house, I immediately sensed that the family patriarch next door didn't trust us. He seemed to gaze at our unkempt lawn with contempt, while his lawn and garden were kept pristine. Once, when my dogs were barking at him through the window, I saw him yelling back at them... of course, I couldn't hear what he was saying because he was in his glass enclosed patio area. Even if I could hear him, I wouldn't have been able to understand him. But his facial expressions and body language said a lot.

Ironically, it was our dogs that eventually got us talking to each other. My older dog, Flea, is a beagle who sort of behaves like a little canine ambassador. He loves children of all ages and is especially enchanted by little ones. The little boy next door, an adorable tyke with blond curls, is certainly worthy of enchantment. Every time we took Flea outside and he heard the little boy, Flea would start to whine. The little boy seemed equally intrigued by Flea and MacGregor (my other beagle). He would stand at the edge of his lawn and gaze at the dogs as if he longed to pet them.

One day, Flea saw the boy and let out a pained, eager yelp, which made the boy's parents laugh. Bill took the dogs to the edge of the lawn and starting using his very basic German skills. It turned out the younger couple spoke some English. They chatted for a bit while Flea eyed the two year old, who shyly backed away. But it wasn't long before the boy finally started to pet Flea, who was as gentle as a lamb.

After that, I noticed the family was a lot friendlier. We would trade "Guten Morgens" in the mornings and wave cordially. Flea would continue to fret whenever the boy was outside, amusing everybody.
One day a few weeks ago, the boy's mother stood at the edge of our yards with a small bucket and asked me in German if we liked raspberries. Apparently, they'd had a bumper crop! With that invitation, Flea dragged me over to where she was standing, eager to visit with her little boy, who was hiding behind her. She apologized for her English skills, which I thought were pretty darn good. We ended up chatting for awhile and she confessed that her son had developed a fascination for dogs.

A couple of weeks later, when Flea demanded to have a chat with the toddler next door, the boy's mother said that she and her husband had bought the boy a toy dog. He had named it Flea and slept with it every night! Also, the boy had taken to using the word English word "dog" instead of the German word, "hund". We both had a big laugh when I asked her if she knew what the word "flea" means in English. I soon found myself describing what a flea is and telling her that Flea's rescuer had been the one to name him! Her little boy presented me with a little branch full of cherry tomatoes he'd helped his dad grow in their green house. The boy's mom said she hoped they were sweet enough.

The other night, Bill was working late and I found myself chatting with the neighbors again. The family patriarch had joined us. I was a little worried about how he would react to Flea and MacGregor being nearby, since they had seemed to annoy him when we first moved in. But when Flea went up to him, he seemed happy to give him lots of attention. Apparently, he'd had dogs as a boy, though he was not familiar with beagles... for which I finally learned the German word. I haven't seen many beagles in Germany and have actually been stopped a couple of times by neighbors who have asked me if Flea and MacGregor are beagles. I get the feeling they aren't common here, though people seem to think they're pretty cute. On the other hand, I'm not sure that many Germans understand that beagles bay when they get on a scent. I've gotten a lot of surprised and annoyed looks at times...

Since we've been in Germany, my dogs have helped me break the ice with my German neighbors all around. I also get the feeling that they provide some entertainment for the local children. A couple of months ago, we were victims of repeated "ding dong ditching". A local prankster would ring our doorbell in the early evening, then run away. Of course, it would get the dogs going, which I'm sure was the purpose for the prank. We ended up disconnecting all of our doorbells. In a way, that's not a bad thing. Most of the people who ring our doorbell nowadays are people trying to sell something... including religion.

It's true that getting our dogs to Germany and taking care of them here has been, in some ways, a challenge. And goodness knows we'd be able to travel more if we didn't have our dogs to consider. On the other hand, I doubt I'd be getting to know the neighbors if it weren't for Flea and his affection for kids. I think having our dogs is going to really enrich this whole international experience for us. And MacGregor, as shy as he can be, is even getting in on the act!


MacGregor is looking at the camera while Flea looks off to the side...

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