January 21, 2009 Edition

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Living overseas offers
opportunity for comparisons

Bernard Duckworth
Guest Columnist

The Times Dispatch has given me the opportunity to write about my experiences in Europe ~ especially in Germany.

First a short introduction: I grew up in Black Rock and graduated from BRHS in 1957. Following my graduation, I joined the army and was sent to Heidelberg, Germany, where I served in a NATO headquarters for three years.

After my discharge, I attended the University of Oregon in Eugene. In 1970, I returned to Germany. My plan was to learn German for a year or so and return to the United States to either work in an import and export business or establish my own company.

For many reasons I kept putting off my return; one of which was that I had established a family, found gainful employment and was more or less integrated into German society.

***

Over the years, however, the differences between life in the United States and Germany became more and more apparent ~ some of which I see positively and others that still exasperate me. It is about these differences that I will write from time to time.

As I have visited Black Rock and other places in the United States many times over the years, I am not comparing Germany of the present with Black Rock of the 50s, and my observations are not meant to criticize but to inform.

***

My first topic is Christmas, as the season is still fresh in everyone's minds. The Christmas season begins here with the first advent, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Wreaths with four candles are in just about every home and businesses and one candle is lit every Sunday until all four are burning.

On the first of December, children get advent calendars with season themes and 24 windows to open. Behind each window there is a small piece of chocolate and usually a sentence about the meaning of Christmas.

On Dec. 6, Saint Nicholas brings small presents and puts them into everyone's shoes. In the past, the Christ Child brought the presents on Christmas Eve, but Santa Claus has taken over this task during last few the years. He brings the presents at various times and puts them under the tree, where they remain until the evening of Dec. 24. After a big meal, they are opened.

***

The especially striking difference is that on Dec. 24 all stores close at 2 p.m., and a silence settles in that is unbelievable. There are almost no cars on the road, no people in the streets and no Christmas parties.

On the 25th most people sleep late and then attend church ~ for many the only time during the year.

In Germany, the 26th of December is also a holiday and people visit friends or family. But here too, as in the United States, many people use the Christmas vacation to escape to warmer areas or to the ski slopes.

The Christmas season ends on Jan. 6, which is also a holiday.

Bernard Duckworth, a native of Black Rock and member of the BRHS Class of 1957, served in the U.S. Army from 1958-1961. He is as an independent consultant and has been living in Europe since 1970. He and his wife have three children.

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