Travel Column: A Farewell

Recent Wittenberg graduate AJ Burt was my tour guide. When I first walked around Wittenberg, I was a scared and confused high school senior — AJ later told me I was “very quiet” that day. If you know me, this is very, very funny.

I came to Wittenberg, and AJ became my friend. I would sometimes cross paths with him while he was giving tours. Walking backwards and talking with his hands, he’d see me and yell, “Emma! What’s your favorite thing about Witt?” I would always tell the scared and confused high schooler that it was the people. Everybody is so just so darn nice.

I think a lot of people have the same answer. I’ve lived in the ultra-nice Midwest nearly my entire life, and the people of Wittenberg are still dazzlingly exotic in their niceness.

I have been living in Wittenberg, Germany. Like our school, it is small and proud, and its people care about their community deeply. But these are not hi-how-are-you Midwesterners. Germans, if you did not know, are known to be very blunt. This past weekend, I was standing in line for food with a friend. He sniffed his nose, and the woman in front of us turned and said he was “like a pig” without a tinge of humor.

This comment was blunt, even by German standards. It was off-putting, and it made me think hard about my experiences with people here. To me, Germans’ bluntness is German honesty. You can see that honesty everywhere — it is in the clear dome of the Reichstag, in the use of fountain pens by school children, and yes, in biting remarks from strangers. Good and bad and gray, Germans are fearlessly forthright.

Maybe it would be better if we were all a bit franker with one another. Today, passive-aggressiveness is grossly commonplace. I can’t count how many times I’ve screenshot a text to send to my friends: “Is she saying what I think she’s saying?” Sub-tweeting is practically an art form. Yesterday, I read a New York Times article that dissected a celebrity’s Instagram caption, weighing whether or not it was a snub toward a pop star.

Let’s be candid, then. I’ll start: calling a stranger a pig is quite rude.

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