“Are you listening to me?” my girlfriend asked impatiently.
“Yes, of course I am” I said absent mindedly. It was a needless lie, we both knew I hadn’t, but as everyone knows, love is telling your partner what they want to hear.
“What I was saying” she began “is that you shouldn’t wear a tie on Thursday”.
I looked up from the pasta I had carefully been moving from left to right of the plate for the last five minutes and looked at her quizzically.
“Why not?” I inquired.
What kind of poncy teacher type would I be if I didn’t wear a tie? I shuddered internally at the idea, imagining the terrible ramifications of such an insane decision.
“It’s part of my uniform, you wouldn’t see the postman delivering mail in his pants. Is that what you want darling? For me to be teaching in my pants?” I said, attempting to sound serious.
“As much as the idea of you teaching in your Wolverine y-fronts amuses me, you still shouldn’t wear a tie”. She repeated, before taking a sip of water.
“Why not?” I said, sounding like a petulant child.
“Ohhhhhh…..” I said exhaling. The penny had finally dropped.
Weiberfastnacht, for the uninitiated, is the beginning of the carnival or Fasching period in Germany. That may come as a surprise to residents of Britain or the US, but Brazil doesn’t hold a monopoly on carnival. We may not have samba music here in Bavaria, but we have beer, Haribo and antique wooden masks. The origins of Weiberfastnacht itself is murky, but it’s generally considered to originate in Beuel, a district of the northern city of Bonn. It was within this district that a group of washerwomen rose up against the male dominated carnival. This in turn sparked a general celebration of female dominance that sees women all over Germany take action against perceived symbols of male dominance. In some cities, women’s committees have been known to storm city hall and take power for the day. Although the thought of hundreds of Boadica types rampaging around German cities sounds thrilling, the only real effect it has on me is the aforementioned tie problem. The tie can be seen as one of these symbols of male power and as such may be ritually cut off by any woman who happens to catch me wearing it. Therein lies my problem, should I risk wearing a tie or not?
The answer should be simple; don’t wear a tie. However, I face a problem that I imagine all ex-pats have at some point encountered, namely how much of my new homes cultural events should I adopt? I personally have few traditions that I adhere to. British cultural markers, such as Pancake day, Guy Fawkes night or the Queens birthday were acknowledged when I lived there, but I rarely celebrate them now. With the possible exceptions of Christmas, St.Patrick’s day or pub Saturday, I don’t have any real traditions and the latter I had to invent to placate my latent alcoholism. Although I do uphold small traditions, such as those that surround a wedding, I don’t really care. Therefore, why would I take part in another countries?
The answer is surely simple now; wear a tie and screw the consequences. Yet, this course of action makes me wonder if I should not be integrating more with German culture. Imagine the scenario: I wear a tie and in a particular office I work in the women attempt to cut it off, as per the tradition. What do I say? “Sorry ladies, but I find your Weiberfastnacht trivial and pointless. I don’t intend to take part in any of your celebrations, so please leave me and my cheap C&A tie out of your crude attempts to inject some fun into what would normally be considered a Thursday”. If I were to go down that path, I would have the protection of German law. I could even claim damages should they cut off my tie, as the office is not considered a Fasching location. I could do that, but what kind of humourless, German law spouting tit would I be then?
I have no love for Fasching or Weiberfastnacht, but it is part of the German calendar. Are immigrants in all countries not required to integrate to some extent with their adopted country? I have no problem getting involved in a Volksfest or a Dorffest, but that only requires that I drink large amounts of beer and listen to AC/DC all night. Is that enough? I have no idea what I will do tomorrow, but either way the question of integration is still outstanding. Perhaps I could wear a tie I hate or maybe my cheapest. Who knew wearing a tie would have so much cultural baggage?