Frankly ... integrated
Of seasons and contrasting cultures
Coping with the stress and challenges of Covid-19 and responding to seasonal changes bring out the starkest contrasts in human behavioural patterns and cultural practices. An observation by the Kenyan writer Dominic Otiang'a.
By Dominic Otiang'a
Summer is here and with it, the travels, swimsuits, busy beer gardens, grilling parties and sadly, more unanswered corona questions on everyone's lips.
While others spend their summer like a ritual - visiting the same spot for similar activities year in, year out, say Mallorca, The North Sea, or Antalya, others prefer to try out newfangled activities every year. Just something new. But the Coronavirus and the travel warnings for certain destinations mean that a lot must change in our holiday plans. I mean, (In the context of the 100-year-old German folksong 'Veronika, der Lenz ist da') even the German Asparagus will not grow for Veronika in Thailand and other similar destinations.
“I need progress ...”But not all changes can be attributed to COVID-19: when a couple from different cultural and economic backgrounds were planning their holiday, I could hear one suggesting camping somewhere in South Tirol, the other rejecting the idea saying “Camping! I've been camping my entire life. Now I have a real job and I prefer to sleep in a real house. I can't spend money to live my past life. I need Progress in life!”
Talking of progress, I bet there is no standard way of enjoying summer. It depends on one's life experiences, culture, personality, age, and so on.
Back to the rootsStill on progress and summer: The summer outfit can sometimes attract attention or rekindle memories, depending on one's background. One of Germany's youngest politicians, Kevin Kühnert, SPD's youth leader, showed up for a function wearing a pair of short trousers, and Twitter was lit. Some people condemned it as too casual. Well, for some like myself, a pair of short trousers was my official outfit in primary school. Donning on long pants meant I had grown up. Progress? In such an environment and background, 32 degrees did not deter adult men from wearing their tuxedo or teenagers from their Gideon boots. Maybe it was all about freedom from the school uniform.
Different times, different attitudesWhat else for summer, stay topless and show off that amazing tattoo? Why not? But not for my Sudanese friend who rejected the idea, claiming that “No! My grandparents had tattoos all over. Not for me. I don't want anything to do with tattoos, whether different or similar. I feel modern!”
For some that cannot take the heat, nudity is the way to go. There are designated areas for public nudity; the free body culture (FKK) areas are such a shock to some visitors in Germany. So, recently, when a photo of a naked German man running after an animal in a public park went round on social media, it reminded me of my conversation with a US-American scholar who assumed I was shocked to see such public display because of where I come from. He said: “I can understand. About 150 years ago this would have been strange in parts of America too.”
I responded: “About 150 years ago this would have been perfectly normal in parts of Kenya.”
Weekend and sunshineIn the heat of summer, some tend to uplift their spirit when a heavy backpack weighs them down as they move from city to city. Exploring the limits of their freedom and whatever they do out there, the Lord above, in the words of a famous German song composer Charles Amberg, “turns a blind eye, for He grants us happiness, weekend and sunshine.”
For others, the thrill of summer comes from the sound of their swanky motorbikes, on the speed-limitless motorways and down the country roads flanked by vineyards and green mountainous landscapes.
A barbecue at the park or home and visiting friends or relatives is enough for those whose cultures recognise no such thing as holiday in Mallorca or some island beaches.
Whatever your preference, happy holidays!
On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly …” column series is written by Dominic Otiang’a, Aya Jaff, Maximilian Buddenbohm and Margarita Tsomou. Dominic Otiang'a writes about his life in Germany: what strikes him, what is strange, where did he get interesting insights?