Is the German reputation for reserving and hogging sun lounges while holidaying abroad warranted? I lack conclusive firsthand evidence, but everyone says they really do do it - spread their Teutonic towels over every sun lounge within a 1 kilometre radius of the pool, ignoring all strongly worded signs (ACHTUNG!!) advising against this for the sake of resort harmony and international diplomacy - before waddling off to fuel up for a long day of perfectly positioned sun bathing by way of a leisurely buffet breaskfast. Well, whatever. I think, as long as you avoid refernces to hostile territorial takeovers and the like, that it's an excellent national stereotype. Charming, even. Especially for the Germans, who, let's face it; have long been saddled with what I will disceetly label a 'problematic, less than flattering' image.
An exchange, last year.
Sweet-faced German boy, cheerfully exasperated at my line of questioning:
"Oh you Australians, all are wanting to know about zee autobarns! It is zee most famous thing about us!">Protracted, increasingly pointed pause, during which I shuffle my feet, bite my tongue, stifle my smirk and bide my time.
Sweet-faced German boy, sensing which way the wind was blowing:
"Well, maybe zee second most famous thing?">Small smile of resignation from him, rich chortle from me.
I have an intense interest in this business of national identities, so much so that I spent last year in Canberra, at ANU, attempting to do an honours degree on the subject. Well, that was the plan. I did half of the degree before unraveling and spending the next six months when I should have been ironing out and, uh, writing my thesis focused exclusively and obsessively on rugby league. If I'd had a firmer hold on myself and the situation at the time I probably could have parlayed my propensity for league into my thesis. It actually wasn't too far removed from the area I was working in, which was looking at the notion of mateship in representations of Australia's national identity. I could have got gangbangs and team bonding and such forth in there no worries; had I been in full possession of my faculties. As it turned out, I wasn't, so I didn't.
Also, for reasons I could not begin to understand or appreciate, my supervisor was adamant that I change direction entirely and look at John Howard's divisive immigration policies (bitch PLEASE) or something relating to the rise of Bed and Breakfasts as vehicles for urban imagining and new, rural masculinities. To this day I don't know why I didn't think of that myself.
She sketched out a big sprawling plan for me featuring the words 'men in aprons baking scones'. Nonsensical. When I left her office I dropped it straight into a bin outside the building and hoped she would see it. I think that's what they call passive aggression, right? In any case, after that I couldn't summon the enthusiasm to return or the energy to drop out so I did neither and after a few months her 'is everything alright/I demand an explaination' emails dropped off.
It was around this time that a fragment of a Kanye West song began insinuating itself among the dead leaves blowing in my brain with soothing regularity, making me nod in acquiesce and approval:
"Now even though I went to college and dropped out of school quick I always had a PhD; a Pretty huge Dick."
Ditto Canberra (because obviously I am too preoccupied with the disturbing thoughts that this brief consideration of Canberra has called up to give Germany any further consideration). If I was completely self absorbed I'd say that Canberra was intentionally - intentionally - conceived and designed to flood my life with unhappiness.
So, umm *clears throat self-importantly*; I think Canberra was intentionally conceived and designed to flood my life with unhappiness.
Seven or eight months out from leaving and I still can't make sense of the place beyond possessing a basic understanding of it as a city almost entirely devoid of life and soul and spirit, and almost entirely made up of pale, depleted public servant drones. Canberra made me understand exactly how boarding school and New York and I guess adolescence in general felt for Holden Caulfield in A Catcher In The Rye. Complete alienation and quiet incredulity and a creeping, cold fingered dread, basically. Red hunting hat optional.
The streets were always empty. I'm not sure what they are but this has profoundly unhealthy implications. My mind was malfunctioning at the time so I took it to be a sure sign of the coming apocolypse and all I hoped was that it would be fiery.
I still do, actually.