Thursday, 16 June 2011

oh those Germans

I live, as I have said, about five kilometres from the west bank of the Rhine, which here forms the border between France and Germany, and local people here speak Alsatian, which (whisper it not) is a dialect of German, and so can speak German if they choose to.  Far fewer people in Strasbourg speak Alsatian than do in the villages, but that is the way of cities - people come to them from other places.  You do not hear much north African Arabic in the villages, but you hear plenty in Strasbourg.  That said, when I go into my local bakery on a Saturday or Sunday morning, whenever an elderly person comes in they speak to the staff not in French but in Alsatian, and are answered in that language.  However, I was once in there when a person who seemed to my ears to be a native speaker of German, and who clearly had no French, spoke to the staff in German, and they claimed not to understand, and refused to answer her.  She however was of Chinese or Vietnamese appearance, and I did not like what was said about her after she left, in French, by the staff of the shop.

Cultural differences.  Although I am on sick leave until my broken rib mends (which it is doing successfully, thanks for asking) walking is good for me, and also not difficult to do, so I permitted myself last Monday, a public holiday here, to join others on an outing to the vineyards of Zellenberg, Haut-Rhin, south of here.  Those present were from France (Alsace), France (other), Algeria, Pakistan, England (long-term resident in Germany), Canada (of Armenian descent), Canada (of Scottish descent), USA (southern, allegedly Scottish ancestry), Italy, England (us), England (southern, married to French, elderly), er I think that was it.  We all brought our own picnics, and I was very struck by the different picnics we brought.  All those with Brit heritage (including the Pakistani family) had sandwiches in foil, with salad or fruit (we had ham sandwiches and cherry tomatoes) and maybe something sweet (we had Bakewell slice made by yours truly), drinks being provided by the venue.  This did not include the Brit married to the Algerian, which couple created a Middle Eastern-looking feast, assembled from jars and little boxes, and shared with nobody.  The French had gone to a lot of trouble, and though the invitation was "bring your own lunch", not "pot luck" or "bring to share, they were constantly handing round little dishes of things like hard-boiled eggs and (this was the Alsatians) pretzels (called "bretzel" here).  And, of course, cheese.  Not much in the vegetable line.  Nobody else handed anything round. The Italian brought mozzarella and parma ham, not with the intent of creating an Italian feast (these things are readily available in Strasbourg), but just because that is what she likes to eat.  The north Americans brought what was probably the tastiest stuff.  They had Tupperware boxes.  Oh boy, did they have Tupperware boxes.  Bean salads, potato salad. rolled ham, little sandwiches, more than their number could possibly eat.  They didn't hand it round, they just sort of waved it at people and told them to take some.  Our hosts at the vineyards were blond and plump and cheerful, and not German (Alsatians are terribly offended if you think them German) and not only passionate about the wine they grow but hugely (to me) old-fashioned, in that it was all about the land, which was in the family.  The vineyards were run by two brothers and a sister, and clearly all had married with a view to the land holdings and the future of "le terroir".  One had a totally organic enterprise, the others partly so.  It was good to leave the city for a few hours, and to think about where we are.  Not in France other than politically, and not in Germany.  This has been the reality for Alsace for centuries.

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