On Halloween we had three trick-or-treaters, which means the holiday is becoming wildly popular here in Germany! (After all, that’s three more trick-or-treaters than we’ve had other years.)
I was curious about when Halloween was introduced to German culture so I looked it up and, according to Der Spiegel, celebrations began in 1991 (reason being, Carnival was canceled due to the Gulf War.) So. it’s only taken about twenty-five years for things to get rolling in our Heidelberg suburb.
Nevertheless, Todd and I were well prepared with three jumbo-sized bags of American candy bought from the commissary on base. After all, you never can be too prepared.
When the trick-or-treaters arrived I opened up, mixing bowl filled of goodies in hand, and the kids dutifully chanted, “Suesses, sonst gibt’s Saures!” which roughly translates to, “Give me something sweet, or else you’ll get something sour!”
In terms of costumes, the kids weren’t really dressed up as anything in particular. They just wore layers of scary. I saw dark eye make-up, torn clothing, fake blood, that type of thing. Let’s just say they were all zombies for the sake of argument. It was the year of zombies. The apocalypse ist angekommen.
As I dropped handfuls of Whoppers, Milky Ways, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Twix in to the children’s bags, I noticed the parents. In all three cases they stood a solid five feet away from the door and off to the side, like they’d prefer to be completely out of view. Their arms were crossed over their chests, and their squirmy smiles said, “I don’t know how I feel about putting my zombie on your porch.”
That is definitely a reason I can see for why Halloween has been slow to catch on over here. Privacy is a fundamental part of German culture. They don’t greet strangers (unless in the woods or at a playground—those two places seem to have introduced a not-so-private clause) and they certainly don’t show up at someone’s house, unannounced. It’s just not done.
There was little of the Halloween atmosphere that I remember from the States—no screaming brigades of giddy children running from one house to another, no eerie music playing out from loud speakers attached to someone’s window, no yard displays of cobwebs and pun-laden graves, no strobe lights.
There were just three children on my porch, dutifully reciting a phrase while their parents (who looked like they were suffering) stood silent in the background.
Although I’m American and comfortable with Halloween protocol, I was able to empathize with these parents. Reason being—I was also in a state of intense discomfort and uncertainty because I’d just posted “The Man Behind the Tree.”
There’s no other way to put it–I genuinely felt like I’d just put my own zombie on your front porch and rang the bell.
Is this too personal, I worried? Is this a story that I truly want to share with colleagues, strangers, my grandma, possibly students? What will the repercussions be? Are people going to think I’m too open/over-sharing/crazy?
The post didn’t take long to write—I did it all in one go, while Laken napped. It almost felt like it had been written a long time ago in my mind, and was just waiting for permission and the keyboard outlet. But, it took me days, quite a few days, to finally ring the metaphorical bell and press “submit.”
When I dropped generous (okay, possibly slightly over the top) handfuls of candy in to the children’s bags, I saw their eyes light up with surprise and pleasure. It’s like they couldn’t quite believe they could ring a stranger’s doorbell, recite a phrase, and walk away rewarded with half a bag of candy. It was like they’d showed up as some type of experiment, not expecting success.
Well, similarly I was (and am) taken aback and in disbelief over the reactions people had to my blog post.
Normally, I share something on Buffalo Schnitzel and also on my Facebook page. I generally don’t get too much of a reaction, and I understand that. Friends of mine also have blogs, and while I DO read them, I don’t always take that second step and leave a comment or react to it.
According to my WordPress dashboard, I get somewhere between 50-75 views, and maybe six comments per post. That’s already enough to put me all in a tizzy, wondering who, exactly, it was that read, and when, and what they thought, and if my writing was too long and rambling for them, and if they smiled at all, and at what parts, etc.
So, the reaction to “The Man Behind the Tree” was unanticipated, to say the very least.
Over this past week, comment after comment has rolled in on my Facebook page, endless waves of love and support. Friends shared the post, and my views climbed up to 900! People I’ve known a long time, and people I hardly know at all wrote me emails sharing their own stories of sexual assault. It opened up dialogues and sharing that never would have happened, otherwise. The whole thing has made me feel closer to people, more understood.
Not to mention–it’s made me feel like I’m getting some closure on a difficult topic.
Yesterday I stepped out to buy a loaf of bread to accompany our tomato soup dinner. I hadn’t even left the front porch, yet, when I decided to check my email. (I swear I’m not making this up to keep my extended metaphor going. I really was on the porch! With a toddler in the house, you grab every solo minute you can to check your email in peace.)
An email had arrived letting me know that I’m going to be featured as an Editor’s Pick on WordPress Discover. Their web site describes it as this:
Discover showcases excellent original content of all types: from personal essays, humor, and poetry, to photography and art. It includes work from the entire WordPress universe, from promising new bloggers to leading publications hosted on WordPress.com VIP. We feature several picks daily — a small sampling among the millions of posts published each day.
Let’s just say that I ran to the bakery, smiling and muttering to myself like the lunatic I sometimes am, and ordered in a shaky yell. “ICH HAETTE GERN EINE BAGUETTE, BITTE!”
After paying, I said, “Schon Abend noch!” with the biggest Hey-Wanna-Be-Friends smile ever and, truly, all it would have taken is one extra word from the cashier engaging me in conversation (no matter how superficial) and my excitement would have caused me to shout out the whole story—from my attack all the way up to this brilliant email about WordPress Discover.
But, she just counted out my change and went on to the customer. It was busy in there, anyway, so it’s probably for the best.
Writing and publishing the post has made me see the value in occasionally putting our zombies on other people’s front porches and ringing the bell. Privacy certainly has its place. (The bakery was probably, I admit, one of those places.) But, opening up to others—even strangers—can help build a human connection that might not have been possible, before.
Some of us have things pent up inside that will never be addressed, or affirmed, or dealt with unless given permission by other voices to engage in conversation.
So. What’s the moral of the story? I’m not going to hesitate to share personal things, anymore, when I feel the need to. It’s who I am. I want to know you, as well, and this is my platform to connect. And, I now realize the ‘bounty ‘is more than I could have expected, on all levels. So, let’s do it! Go ahead–tell me all your secrets! 🙂
And German families? Come to our house next year on Halloween and you’ll get lots of candy! Good, foreign candy! Don’t be shy!
On another note—I spotted this chair in front of our neighbor’s house the day after Halloween. Apparently they were also overly optimistic about how many trick-or-treaters we might have. I didn’t take any leftovers (the diet!) but thought it was a cute gesture.
Next year, when Laken’s old enough to ask for something sweet or else she’ll give ’em something sour, I think we’ll make their place our first stop!