A favoured past time of mine, and one I find myself oft-indulging in, is looking back through old photos. Here, Oma and my Schwiegermutter can, at a pinch, provide me with cartons of baby SG, faded wartime photos and cards, and just the other day an absolute jackpot of black and whites from a heady period in 1980 when a commune may or may not have been inhabited, with a pet goat and a lot of knitting.
(As a complete aside, on two separate occasions with two separate families, I have been led through old photos that have heavily featured campingplatz nudity. I would say I must have a sign on my head inviting people to show me evidence of their physical prime, but I just think when one is flipping through German family photos, nudity is statistically more likely to feature than not.)
In a recent photo viewing, I noted a toddler SG on the beach in Mallorca. The sun was shining, it was by all appearances a mild day. Possibly even warm. His Dad was appropriately attired in shorts, basking in the rays. And there, next to him, was small SG in a jumper and, presumably long pants, which I couldn’t see because he was zipped into a Fußsack. On a beach. In Spain.
Germans, it seems – and I say this with plenty of fieldwork under my belt – are petrified of the cold. They are Frigophobians (I had to google it too). I know, I know, I am an Australian saying that. I hate the cold. Us Aussies don’t really know about real cold. Many of us generally under-dress for it when in cold locations, or going through our first real winter somewhere, and inevitably end up getting sick. If you ever see someone wearing thongs in September anywhere in the northern hemisphere, you can guarantee they are from the southern hemisphere. We wear Spring jackets in Winter, until we realise having a different jacket for each season is a thing. We aren’t at one, necessarily, with cold weather. But we aren’t scared of it.
For example, I don’t believe that bare feet will cause death (instant, or slow and painful). Germans do. Bare feet are regarded with the same incredulity as my child was the other day when she was spotted licking a lemon at the markets. (I had bought the lemon, don’t worry, she wasn’t licking a lemon that didn’t belong to us.) ‘ZITRONEN! SHOCK!’ gasped an older lady behind us in the coffee queue. Take that tone of voice, replace Zitronen with BARFUß, and you have the precise reaction to naked feet. Actually, jack up the SHOCK a notch. Add in this tone of ‘you idiot’ that Germans are extremely good at employing. That’s better, that’s more like it. Even when you are in the comfort of your own home. Wearing a tracksuit. Feeling perfectly warm. And don’t even try and jovially suggest you are okay without house shoes when visiting someone. Put the damn things on and pretend your core temperature has risen at least 5 degrees.
Occasionally, my lemon-licking child has been caught at home with bare feet, by visitors. While preparing tea, I have caught the muttered ‘Eiskalt‘ and ‘nackten Füße‘ comments, drifting in from the living room. Once or twice, her feet have been thankfully covered, but her hands – which are permanently in her mouth and thus permanently wet and thus very often chilly – have been cool and she has been once more labelled as freezing and I have been asked if she has more clothes to put on. You see, for a German, a child can never have too many clothes on. Forget that it is a sunny 20 degrees outside. Find the woolen hat, the insulated overalls, the lined shoes and mittens. Kit out the pram in a couple of thick blankets, and top it off with a gigantic pillow that acts as a fabric mountain arching over the swaddled child. Only then, can you wheel the child outside to face the day. Anything less and you will draw at the very least looks, and very often questions regarding the possibility of your child being cold. From complete strangers.
I understand that being cold can lead to getting sick. But if that is the concern, why do shops and restaurants (and people’s homes) get heated to unbearable temperatures, so when you come in from the cold, you are so warm, you sweat like a pig and have no choice but to completely disrobe, only to go back outside in the cold half an hour later, hot and sweaty. That will make you sick! Ensuring your child never sees a drop of sunlight until the age of two, that can make them sick! Loads of things will make you sick, why is The Cold sitting up there on a pedestal before which we all bow, feet be-socked, necks be-pashmined.
So, my question is, where does this come from? It isn’t Russia up here. Ja, it gets cold, sure. And there is a temperature where all bets are off, get me the deer skin and inside-warming liquor. There have been days I have genuinely asked my German Mum friends if it is normal to leave the house with a baby (answer: ja nein.) But there are also temperatures that are theoretically mild but treated like the fingers of death itching to stroke your uncovered square inch of skin and bestow upon you a savage, fatal lurgy. And there are a lot of sweating, swaddled red-faced kids on days it seems a simple jumper would suffice.
Help me out here Germs, unlock this cultural quirk. And what is it with bare feet?
PS: I am bracing myself for the tide of ‘WHY ISN’T YOUR CHILD WEARING SOCKS EVERY SECOND OF EVERY DAY’ comments.