Thursday, November 27, 2014
Saturday, November 22, 2014
I was born Pamela Ann Muehlhoff. (The Sparschu of 'Angspar' comes from my step father when my name was legally changed at age 9). American first and middle names with a very German last name. My father Fred was born in Detroit to German immigrants . He was definitely an all American guy with American friends who married a born and bred Michigan girl whose state lineage went back to 1837. Fred's parents immigrated to the US over one hundred years later, just before both their sons were born. My mother's parents were the fun, doting grand parents. I was less thrilled to visit my German grandparents who seemed much more serious and taciturn. With my father's early death to cancer at 34 the gulf between myself and my grandparents became wider. It wasn't that we disliked each other, we just didn't understand each other.
Travel and the wonderful things that go with it (language, culture, history, photography, gardening, entertaining and my personal favorite, feeling if even just for a little while a citizen of the world) are not only how I make my living but are my personal passions. I have always felt travel helped to make me a more well rounded person. Today, for the first time, I realized it is also a mirror to see your self reflected. Thanks to Ella Horning and St. Clair High School, I can hold a basic conversation with Spanish and Italian speakers. I can also read French and fake speak a little (all three being Romance languages). What I cannot do is, read or speak German.
Sure I know I couple of choice German words. To horrify my father's mother I would saucily say dumkoff or even scheiss. Knowing I was traveling to Germany this week, I brushed up on my basics"Thank you, good morning, good afternoon'. And that was the entire extent of it. This morning as I stepped on the elevator of my Munich hotel, a young German woman got on the next floor. I said 'Guten Morgen' and she nodded. As we stepped off the elevator she turned to me and asked (what I later found out in English) where was the breakfast room. I quickly stammered, I am sorry I don't speak German. She looked a little taken a back re asked her question in English I answered and that was the end of that. Except it wasn't for me.
"Could you tell we were American before you picked us up" I asked a Dublin cab driver once. He said 'I guessed English, Canadian or American' he admitted. Of all the places I've visited, I never thought I might be mistaken for someone else. No one has ever confused me for: French, Spanish, Mexican or Italian. I love those cultures and am very happy to visit them, but they aren't mine. After my encounter with the woman in the elevator I scanned every crowd. Now Munich is a very cosmopolitan city and there are people from all over the world. But there were also people who looked like me looked like my grandparents and even looked like Fred Muehlhoff.
I promise the next blog posting will be more of my waxing poetic about the current European city I am in and less of Alex Haley's Roots. But while I am in Germany the next few days I am sure I will still look for glimpses of Pam, too.