In the past three weeks, Laken has had her first American and German zoo experiences. Honestly, it was fun for me, but I’m thinking she’ll get a lot more out of it when she’s older. I spent a lot of the time trying to coax her to notice extremely large animals that were literally two feet away. I’d say, “Laken, what is that? It’s a polar bear! Look honey!” And she followed my finger no farther than the fence or to the kids standing beside us us.
That baby can pick out crumbs from the carpet, but is oblivious to zebras. Oh, ten month olds.
Anyway, the American and German zoo experiences are not so radically different. I was sort of hoping they were, so that I’d have post fodder.
They have the same animals, give or take, and the habitats are similar. I did notice a bit of integration going on in Germany. They paired some animals together that must not line up on the food chain in a bad way. You’d think I might have written down an example of this. Nope, I did not. I forgot! Next time I go I’ll take a look and update this post.
One difference was that, in the German zoo, I saw storks grazing at the top of many of the park’s trees. They were hanging out in nests as big and dense as SUV tires. Theirs was the only natural habitat in the place (as far up in the air and away from us as possible.) I found them startlingly gigantic—even prehistoric looking—definitely an interesting pick for birds that haul around human babies.
Another thing that set the German zoo apart–the zookeepers in Heidelberg have a contingency plan in place for the tigers. Which is smart!
I’m guessing most zoo-goers are primarily there for the elephants, monkeys, lions and tigers. I’m not trying to dismiss giraffes—they’re certainly in the second string, along with zebras. But, if pressed for time, I’m guessing most of us are going to skip right over the reindeer, meerkats and rodent section to make sure we see “The Big Four.”
But what if any of the “Big Four” aren’t viewable because it’s feeding or grooming time?
This must be a troubling thought for German zookeepers; Germans don’t like problems.
It wasn’t an issue for the Heidelberg-ian elephants and monkeys because their habitats are confined to a one-room area. But the tiger habitat runs both indoors and out.
To solve the problem, they’ve put some stuffed tigers in the indoor portion of the exhibit. That way there’s always a tiger to view, no matter where the actual animals are! I thought it was a nice touch.
The biggest difference I could find between the two zoos is that you can openly drink in the German one. It’s totally fine to wander around with a glass of Riesling or a 40 if you want to go all hard-core. No brown bag necessary.
Germany has some of the least restrictive laws regarding alcohol in the world (which is a little surprising to me in light of other areas where they like to keep order. For example, it’s against the law to make too much noise on Sundays–drilling is strictly forbidden. And, it’s also against the law to tune your piano in the evening.)
There are barely any restrictions on alcohol consumption in public. If you want to break out a bottle of vino in the park, or on a train, or in the passenger seat of the car, or even at work—no one is going to stop you. (Okay, I’m exaggerating when I say at work, but not by much. Up until 2009 it was acceptable for employees in many lines of work to imbibe during the day. Oh, the good life!)
The only time things get serious—and I mean serious–is if you’re caught driving drunk, and that includes your bicycle…or your horse. In Germany, bikes and horses are treated the same as motorized vehicles. If you’re pulled over for driving or cycling or trotting drunk (i.e. with blood levels of 1.6% or more) the German police will fine you thousands of Euros, confiscate your driver’s license, and order what’s called an MPA (Medical Psychological Assessment,) also known as the “Idiot Test.”
I didn’t know about the MPA until writing this post (probably because I’m not sure I ever plan to drive in Germany, let alone be under the influence if I attempt it.) But, out of curiosity I looked up the repercussions of drunk driving/cycling/galloping over here, and thought it was interesting.
The MPA is used to assess whether or not your license should be reissued and is difficult to pass. (As in, somewhere between 50-70% of people flunk the thing in their first try.)
The test has three parts. First, there’s a timed hand-eye coordination test that looks at hearing as well as movement of the hands, eyes, and feet. (Not be a bad idea to enforce on senior citizens of all countries, in my opinion.) Second, you have to be physically examined by a doctor and take a blood test. The ideal is to prove that you’ve been more or less abstinent since the incident. This proof comes in random urine samples and tests of your liver function! Finally, you have to undergo extensive questioning by a psychologist. People opt to take a four month long course to actually prepare for this part of the test.
On one hand, Germans can be so relaxed about alcohol, but if you mess up—they come down hard! Which strikes me as a very good idea. As someone whose father was nearly killed by a drunk state trooper back in the 1970’s, I’m all for the harsh punishments where drunk driving is concerned!
But, overall, I enjoy Germany’s carefree attitude towards drinking. I’m not an alcoholic (and the fact that I have to explicitly write that to assure people probably means that I am, indeed, an alcoholic.) But, I do enjoy the good glass of Rioja or Shiraz…or Riesling…or Cabernet. As long as I’m smart about it, and don’t put myself behind the wheel of a car, why is it a bad thing to drink in public.
I must admit, the only time I’m not so fond of the public drinking is at Oktoberfest.
I realize that as an expat living in Germany for the past fifteen years, I should be the biggest Oktoberfest fan, ever. I should probably have a chain made out of construction paper links hanging from the ceiling and all of that. But, the truth is that I’ve been to it twice. And, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings to never go again (?!)
There’s this hedonistic feel to the whole thing. It’s not a place of yodels and timeless German outfits. The dirndyls have gotten way boobier, and the lederhosen are, well, lederhosen.
By noon you see people stumbling outside the tents, or sitting on the ground with the most sickly pale, retched looks on their faces. Often they’re outright puking (which isn’t fun to watch.)
If they aren’t openly puking on the ground, they’re peeing on the side of buildings.
If they aren’t puking or peeing, they’re on roller coasters that are specifically designed to make people do both of these things as many times in a row as possible.
Imagine the type of ride that lifts you above a fairground and moves you two hundred miles per hour backwards, forwards, upside down, and then spins you maniacally for five minutes straight before shooting you out to the side in a little car. Seventy times in a row. When you’re drunk. These rides have a twisted agenda, I tell you what.
The whole weekend I explored Oktoberfest, all I could think about was how badly I wished I’d brought along a hooded rain jacket, because I had no doubt in my mind that people were getting violently ill up there on the Turnen-und-Tanzen or Schnell-und-Spitze or whatever. I kept imagining partially digested wurst and pommes raining down in front of me.
The first time I went, we were in the Hofbrau tent. Whenever I walked to the bathroom, hands come out of nowhere to grab at my chest or crotch. I spent the day feeling creeped out and like I should be smacking people. But, I could never figure out who I needed to hit!
The following year, a farmer friend of mine got roofied and ended up crushing a gingerbread heart his wife bought him (on purpose.) Then he stumbled around, starting fights with strangers and making inappropriate moves on other women before passing out and waking up the next day with (okay, somewhat conveniently) no memory of the evening.
This is not my idea of fun.
While you’re still picturing drugged farmers and pukers on roller coasters, I should casually slip in that the German carefree attitude even extends to pregnant and nursing women.
Not that I was planning to drink, but when I was pregnant I asked my gynecologist his opinion about the occasional glass of red wine (purely out of curiosity.) He shrugged and said, “My wife drank wine throughout all of her pregnancies. I had no problem with this.”
Actually, several of my friends here were encouraged to relax with a glass of wine in their third trimesters.
As a nursing mother—and I hope I’m not going to get raging hate mails for this—I’ve researched the topic like crazy and came to an informed personal decision that it won’t harm Laken if I have the oddball glass of wine.
I don’t drink more than one, and I always do it straight after a feeding so that at least four hours go by before I nurse her again. I don’t do it every day, and I could launch in to a five thousand word long recap all of the articles I read and researched to try and defend my position on this, but won’t.
(This post was already supposed to be my “short” one of the week—i.e. capped at 750 words and I’m already double that, damn it.)
Anyway, at the Heidelberg zoo, we all decided to take a beer/wine break somewhere in between the flamingos and the monkeys. Todd and I walked up to the kiosk to order our respective Riesling and Export Helles bier, and I retreated into the bloggy daze I’ve been finding myself in constantly, these days, thinking about this post.
My plan was to write about zoos in the States vs. Germany, and alcohol, and how much a midday stop for beverages improves the experience. The kids are happy, the adults are happy and, as far as I know, no one is making drunken joy-leaps into the animal habitats. At least not when we were there.
While Todd ordered our drinks, I brainstormed quirky stories to share.
One of the workers poured my glass of wine. She handed it to Todd, who handed it to me, and then he opened up his wallet to pull out some Euro.
It was only then that I even noticed the two women behind the counter, because they were both staring at me with open horror on their faces.
“It’s for you?” one of them said.
“Yes,” I replied, startled.
She hesitated, but then blurted out, “But, aren’t you still breast-feeding?”
She pointed at Laken, who was passed out on my chest in her Lillebaby carrier.
I was taken so off guard that it took me a second to answer.
“No,” I said.
Both women gave me a raised eyebrow look that clearly said they didn’t believe me. The one who’d asked if I was breast-feeding laughed uncomfortably and said something else in broken German that I couldn’t understand. She was obviously chiding me, though.
I just ducked my head, said goodbye, and walked out with my wine. In the moment, I had no idea what else to do.
This is the first time I’ve experienced any kind of derision about drinking in public, as the mother of a baby or otherwise. It threw me, I’ll admit.
I hate to use this metaphor, because it’s so obvious, but I truly felt like one of the caged animals the whole time I sat outside on a bench, drinking my Riesling. Those two women’s eyes beat out at me from inside the hut.
One even came outside half way through my glass (ostensibly to take out a bag of garbage) and glanced over just long enough to see what I was doing. Then she offered up a little tut-tut of eyeball-level disapproval.
To her, I was that zoo animal doing something inappropriate. I was the male gorilla humping a female in plain daylight. I was the regurgitating hedgehog. I was the dung beetle, doing what dung beetles do.
Now, these women were not German. Based on their accents, clothing, and the expert opinion of my friend who spends large chunks of time there, they were African. She explained to me that many Africans are evangelical, and the idea of having a drink while breast-feeding would be majorly taboo.
As I sat there awkwardly sipping my glass of wine, I thought about the fact that I’d set out to write about the difference of ‘zoo culture’ in America vs. Germany. But, the wine incident and my surprise and intense discomfort stood out to me more than anything else I’d noted down. It just served as a reminder that there are many more than just two barometers of what’s acceptable in culture (be it drinking in public or otherwise.)
Forget the animals; we’re all in the zoo at some point.
All eyes are on us. Just when you think you’re comfortable with how you’re behaving, another set come in for a peek. One person’s researched glass of Riesling is another person’s scratch to the gorilla ball sack.
The only thing that makes us different from the gorilla is that we’re capable of feeling sudden, inexplicable shame.
How about you? Is there a time you felt like you were treated like a zoo animal in heat? Any thoughts on drinking in public? Please tell me about it. I’d love to know your story!