We’re All in the Zoo.

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20160317_134232In 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.

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Only one of these animals is real. Can you tell which one? 🙂

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!)

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Lawbreakers

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.

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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.

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An actual Oktoberfest ride.

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.

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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!

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7 thoughts on “We’re All in the Zoo.

  1. Oh my darling, how you make me miss Germany! I would highly recommend the Frankfurt Zoo if you ever get the chance to go. It’s absolutely amazing and I love the fact that you can see hippos and giraffes in these gigantic cages indoors. I know it sounds horrible, but they also get to go outside. It’s an amazing experience. The pumpkin festival in Ludwigsburg, and the wine festivals are amazing. They will ask if you want water in your wine, but I never saw the point in wasting my money on water. Give it to me full strength please! Talking about wine, you need to try Trockenbeerenauslese. Its a very delicious and sweet wine. Nom nom nom.

    The quiet hours killed me when I first moved to Germany…no noise after 10 PM and on Sundays, say whaaat? I’m American and I need shit to be open on Sundays! I got used to it after the first year and made sure to stock up on everything during the week. Mowing was done on random days depending on the weather, but never on a Sunday after the first time when we got yelled at by our non-English speaking neighbor.

    You need to drive! Driving isn’t so much the issue as much as parking is. I miss the autobahn more than anything since returning to the states. I loved the no speed limit zones! I promise you once you start driving you will love it. The driving laws are similar to those in the states for the most part, but they actually zipper and move out of the fast lane for others to pass.

    I loved Germany as much as one can when you can’t figure out what’s a business and what’s a house…or is it both? I hated that part. But I love Europe. I love Cora in France (they have a whole aisle of cheese!), and Ryan Air, and Scotland, and Ice Trains, and Globus. There are probably lots more, but I can’t think of them. Love it while your there, because you’ll miss it when you come back (even though I never thought I would say that).

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s so funny what you said about figuring out what is a business and what’s a house! I literally rang someone’s doorbell, once, thinking I was at…okay, embarrassing to admit it, but a hotel. I know that doesn’t make any sense. It was fifteen years ago, though. Anyway, all these cultural things that you pick up on the way are so fascinating! I totally hear you about missing it once you move away. I’ve been here for a long time, but twice I’ve moved back to the States and really was so homesick for Germany. How long were you here for? As for driving, ugh, I know. I have to do it. I’m going to post about this soon. I’ve just never loved driving…like, my parents had to BLACKMAIL me to get my driver’s license. The idea of being in charge of a large moving machine on the autobahn is terrifying! But, I don’t want to be a mom and unable to do something as basic as…driving. 🙂 Did you live anywhere else during your tour besides Germany?

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  2. The first time I took a bunch of people to the zoo here in Greenville, SC, I was freaked out. They wanted a ton of money! When I went to the National Zoo where I was from in DC, it was free. I THOUGHT ZOOS WERE FREE. We have also experienced that over and over — went to the zoo and all the animals were hiding. Love the idea of the cages where you can always see them.

    I would never say anything to another person in public, forcing my opinion on them in any way. So inappropriate!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely hear you about the opinion thing! I have to say–that’s something I’ve noticed a lot of in Germany. People are not afraid to let you know how they feel. It just took me SO off guard because alcohol is one thing where the attitude is more liberal than anything else. Anyway, free zoos would be nice! 🙂 They are actually expensive given the fact that so often the animals are hiding somewhere! I went to the Cleveland zoo when I was in high school and there must have been something in the air because ALL of the animals were, shall we say, getting busy. It actually got kind of awkward after a while.

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  3. Until now I hadn’t thought of myself as an animal in a zoo but now I’m going to feel that way whenever I’m under observation, especially when I’m observed on a regular basis. Now you’ve got me thinking about how when I pass people in the hall or on the sidewalk we’re animals in a habitat doing what animals do.
    Although I’m very sorry to hear that Oktoberfest brings out the more primal, if not outright reptilian, side of people. Normally I’m not a fan of rollercoasters but I think I’d be more inclined to ride one if I’d had a few relaxing drinks—not enough to throw up, but enough to steady my nerves becaue riding a rollercoaster drunk is like going to a disco on LSD. And the risk of sitting in or being a target of other peoples’ regurgitations would just be icing on the already awful cake.
    Anyway here’s something that comes naturally to me: thinking of this drunk driving test. And, as a bonus, it’s in Germany!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That video clip is perfect!!! I don’t know movies as well as I should. Though, I bet I could find a scene from Dirty Dancing to fit any scenario, any time. 🙂 Too, too funny, though. I just need to figure out what movie that’s from (!?) Gotta love Steve Martin. The test in that clip seems to be an accurate portrayal of what happens if pulled over in Deutschland. Anyway, I’m glad that you’ll now go through your day feeling like a zoo animal. I’m glad to be of service! 🙂 And, I agree–a little buzz before going on a roller coaster would be a good thing. I just can’t believe it when I see people who are literally having trouble standing up…waiting in line to go on one of these things! They’re too dizzy to even stand up straight…and they want to ride one of THOSE? Just crazy. 🙂 Germans crack me up because they are generally so private and reserved. But, put them in a beer tent and they go absolutely wild. Anyway, thanks for the comment! I really enjoy your writing, so I appreciate that you took the time to read my post. We’re off to the Canary Islands tomorrow, so I’m betting my next post has something to do with elderly men in speedos and a ten month old eating sand from a bucket (for starters.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. oh this was great to read!! I like going to the Zoo(s) and Safari (parks). During an European tour, with my mom, we stopped in Viena to visit the Schönnbrunn Palace, I asked the tour guide what’s all the fuss to go see some empty rooms? the lineup was INSANE!! He snorted and when I told him I’m going to enjoy more the famous rose gardens, he tagged along 😉 coincidently we found the Viena ZOO!!! and we went in and had the best time ever! very different than Canadian and Romanian zoo for sure!

    I feel that everyone around the world is jealous of Germany’s no speed limit policy hehe I don’t drink much myself, but I remember Romania didn’t have a strict policy about public drinking. When my step-dad came here and we went to the lake somewhere I told him he could open the beer can in the car and pour it in a red plastic cup and walk with it! I couldn’t have people see us with open alcohol. The confusion on his face was priceless lol

    I never really compared it to an animal in a cage, but the only times I felt highly exposed and violated, was anytime I had to do presentations in school – especially in university (a lot more eyes on me). I felt like people were less focused on what I was talking about and more concerned about a stain on my shirt, or my shoes not matching, or that piece of hair I couldn’t tame that morning.

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