Bicycle in Germany Without Breaking the Law


In Copenhagen last summer, we tried to rent a bike for Diva and were turned down flat. “It’s against the law,” the guy at the bike shop told me and when I pressed for more information — the Danes, after all, are cycling queens — he said it was forbidden for kids under 6 (or maybe it was 8) to be in the bike lanes. Since no bikes are allowed on the sidewalk, either, the only place a kid might bike is at home, in the driveway or the courtyard. No wonder cargo bikes are so popular and school kids all arrive on Razor scooters.

Back home, in Germany, I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t need to continue trucking around in an old Christania cargo bike. They look sweet and all but pedaling one of those is like riding a stationary bike … unlike Long Duk Dong, I got nowhere, fast, and slowed down a lot of people on the Danish autobahn as a result of my wide-girth and slow-spinning wheels.

For many morning school runs, I pop Diva’s princess helmet on, pull her pink princess bicycle back out of the basement and off we go, cruising down the sidewalks to school, dinging our bells to let everyone know to get out of our way. Although this seems to be par for the course here, a British woman I went out to lunch with a few years back took serious offense to this behavior, cussing out a 6-year-old for being “on the pavement” before diatribing about how truly awful the Germs and their manners were. “Think their kids take precedence over other human beings, do they?” So when a policewoman came to Diva’s Kindergarten a few weeks after we got back from Denmark, I had to ask: can kids ride on the sidewalk in Germany? What are the laws here (because you know, it’s Germany and every damned thing is regulated)?

The answers she gave were really surprising. Here, in brief, and not fact-checked, is what the law says:

1. Kids under the age of 8 MUST bike on the sidewalk.

2. Kids CAN ride on the sidewalk until the age of 10 (which she recommends because of sightline problems for drivers).

3. Parents who follow their children on the sidewalk are breaking the law — even though there is most often a row of cars between the sidewalk and the bike lane (if there is a bike lane), therefore separating kid from mom or dad — and can be fined heftily for it (though she admitted that most police — and every annoying ass old biddy you pass on the way — will just warn you against it).

Not a big deal, right? Excepting that Germany has no mandatory helmet requirements so even Diva’s classmate, a 3-year-old kid of an emergency room nurse at the children’s hospital WHO HAS SEEN THE RESULTS OF BIKE ACCIDENTS FIRSTHAND doesn’t wear a goddamned helmet while not properly strapped into his seat on the back of his mom’s bike (bitch is insane, I swear), seems pretty straightforward. Except:

Kids aged 7 and up are not allowed to be on their parents’ bikes in street traffic anymore. So that cargo bike? Or that extra-special imported-from-Holland bike seat meant to hold kids over 22 kilos? Verboten. (I can’t wait to tell Diva’s dad this — he just dropped over 1000 Euros on a cargo bike to take her to school in but won’t get much use of it soon.)

So legally, when a kid turns 7 and wants to ride a bike, he or she absolutely positively must do it on the sidewalk. And from the ages of 8-10, he or she can still keep his or her wheels on the sidewalk (recommended by the policewoman, who also admitted that after the bike accidents she has seen, she doesn’t even let her kids bike).  That’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to find that law and print it out and laminate it and show it to every old biddy who lectures us to get off the sidewalk for the next four years.


The Sexism of German Bureaucracy

On my first trip to the foreigner’s office nearly ten years ago, I had two visa options:

1. Take a 1-year residency permit limiting my working ability to whatever I had to do to fulfill my Fulbright obligations (teach); or

2. Request a spousal visa that would give me the ability to both work and live in Germany for however long the person filling my application decided it should be good for.

So although I had my application form there in front of me, I didn’t fill it out. I didn’t know which would be the better deal. Before I even had a chance to discuss the differences, the beamter assisting us decided for me: I would be on a spousal visa, full stop. In the long run, this was the better deal but this woman, when she decided for us, didn’t know anything about us or our plans. She didn’t know, for example, that although my ex-husband had a German passport in his possession, he hadn’t lived in Germany since he was 11 months old. Or that he didn’t speak the language. Or that he dreaded being in Germany with every ounce of dread possible and was only supposed to stay for a few months because he couldn’t imagine ever living here. That he only had the passport because three months earlier I had read that German citizenship laws had changed again and he could get one while still maintaining his US citizenship.

For me to get the Fulbright, I had to speak B1-level German and attend culture lessons. I had to read Faust in the original Goethe German, for fuck’s sake, and write a four-page statement of motivation in German. I would have been better off, at least in this meeting with her, standing on my own merits. But since I walked in with a man, she refused to talk to me. Instead, she turned to him and said, “Does your wife need integration classes?”

I said no. She said, “I’m not asking you.” And so I translated for the ex, who looked at me and said, “I don’t know. Do YOU want to take integration classes?”

I said no again, and tried to explain that I was answering because his German wasn’t good enough, and she just stared at me. It wasn’t the first time. In the airport, when a security officer had asked him to boot up his laptop before we got on our connecting flight, they laughed and called him a dumb Turk who couldn’t speak the language (he isn’t Turkish and he didn’t understand the racist bastards, luckily).

“Can he take the integration class?”

“No. He’s already German.”

Somehow, don’t ask me how, the integration classes for me were waived and I got a two-year work and residency permit. When I went back to get it renewed, this time in a different office with a different caseworker, she said, “Your husband has to be here,” and so we had to go back again another day where again, they didn’t speak to me but to him.

I get it, I guess. A spousal visa requires the spouse. You have to give proof that you live together, that you both earn money and pay taxes and love each other and whatnot. That’s not the sexist part. The sexist part comes when you try to get a permanent visa.

Because to get a permanent visa after three years of being here (this varies, btw), I needed to have my husband’s support and he absolutely, vehemently refused to give me it. He said if he signed the paperwork allowing me to stay in Germany without him (as a permanent visa would do), that I would leave him. He might’ve been right, but I’m not the kind of girl to marry for a Green Card. We were clearly having issues, but because he wouldn’t sign the visa paperwork, I had to stay on another two-year visa tied to his passport. I could have left him but it would have been harder to get my visa renewed. They assumed — wrongfully in my case, but not without reason — that the male was the breadwinner and so without his income, I would become a charity case and charity cases do not get permanent visas.

By the time we got to five years, to renew the visa, I again needed his signature but he left the country before I could get that. I went to the foreigner’s office to see what I could do and it was a no-go. Spousal visas can’t be converted to work visas, especially for freelancers. So even though I originally arrived on a visa tied to a grant I’d received and I had worked and paid taxes the entire time since (more than my ex could say), I had to leave the country. And so I did. And then I came back.

My second attempt at the permanent visa was different because this time, I didn’t want my visa tied to my ex. He was still out of the country when I came back and so they tied it, this time, to my daughter. Germans love it when little Germans are raised in the Fatherland and so they made it easier for me to get my visa to stay here and work. Also, I had paid taxes and social services for five years prior, so that was a plus. And then three years later, I could finally apply for my permanent visa.

Here’s the sexist bit: because my divorce had not yet officially been documented (the court had not yet sent the paperwork to the city hall), I had to get written permission from my ex-husband that he was okay with me being in Germany. Wie, bitte?

A woman who works and pays taxes and raises a kid on her own is obligated to get permission from a deadbeat, not-quite-ex-husband about where she lives? Eventually, I got the letter written, though not without a power struggle, but the whole process really had me thinking about all those holiday wives that wash up here… you know, the women from exotic southern locales who show up on a German’s arm after he’s taken a long holiday. Or women who are abused by their spouses. While I get that you don’t want people marrying just for Green Cards, if I’d already proven that I paid taxes and worked and had already filed for divorce and yadda yadda, what in the devil did I need my ex’s permission for?

Turns out, the reforms that were made in custody laws several years ago were the culprit in my case but I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around how this whole thing works. See, when two people are married and they have a kid, that kid is automatically 50/50 mom/dad custody (Sorgerecht). When they get divorced, it’s understood that unless officially decided otherwise, the kid will live with mom and the dad gets visitation (umgangsrecht). To get it officially stated otherwise, the dad has to sue the mom for something called the Aufenthaltsbestimmungsrecht — the right to decide where a kid lives. If the dad doesn’t sue — as my ex didn’t — then there is never any official documentation as to where the kid should live and so I have to, it turns out, with every move I make, have my ex put it in writing that he is understanding of the move. And so it was with the visa. My ex had to agree in writing that he was okay with me living in Germany with our daughter. I got off lucky. I’ve been doing research into The Hague Convention and those custody battles sound terrible. But seriously, Germany, there has got to be a better way to figure this shit out than to have a woman get a man’s permission to do the most normal thing: live somewhere. Seriously, women are their own people.

Celebrity Spotting in Germany (no name dropping)

A couple weeks ago I met a few friends at the pole dancing studio to celebrate being 38. Midway through our two-hour class my friend Beth (not really) showed up, flaunted her dance moves and took a few pictures before slipping on her high heels again and treating us all to some cake. Beth, who I’ve known and adored for years, gets up and leaves after cake and as soon as she’s out of sight, one of the women from the class starts fangirling. “Is that Beth Smith? She was on my favorite soap opera. She’s exactly like her character. Oh, she’s just as charming as I’d imagined she’d be.”

Oh, right. Beth’s an actress. I forgot. Or at least, I didn’t really remember. See, Beth and I became really good friends when she moved into my building a couple years ago and I had no idea who she was. The other neighbors were all super shy about introducing themselves because they knew her from tv, but Diva and I, we just walked right in and were like, What’s with all the construction work going on down here? And… blue? You’re painting your kitchen blue? and Beth giggled and plied us with coffee and suddenly we were friends. She dressed up like the Princess from the Princess and the Pea for Diva’s birthday and she referred me to her very nice therapist after I spent too many nights crying in my G&T while watching Der Bachelor with her and even though she sadly doesn’t live in the flat with the blue kitchen anymore, she keeps giving me front row tickets to her theater shows so I guess you could say we’ve become pretty good friends.

She’s not the first celebrity I’ve known well though I guess she is the most publicly recognizable. Still, when I was talking to fangirl, I thanked her profusely for not asking for an autograph. The one thing I’ve realized from being close to people that some people think of as famous is that they think of themselves — if they are not egomaniacs — as normal people who get paid to do art and so fangirling isn’t very pretty. Being your normal self is.

And in Germany, I realize, that’s a lot easier for me as an immigrant to do than it is for Germans. I have no idea who most of these celebrities are. A couple years back at Carneval, a friend of a friend was fangirling about a dude from Lindenstrasse until she remembered reading in Gala that he was married and he started hitting on her anyway. We were unimpressed. A friend of mine from the gym once spent hours trying to point out all the big personalities working up a sweat there until I told her that unless Til Schweiger walked in, I did not care (this is not as off as you might think — he used to be a member and everybody my age in Cologne remembers when he lived in Ehrenfeld before Ehrenfeld was cool; a girl can dream, right?). Last week, at the kids’ Carneval parade, a dad standing next to me pointed out all the local celebs — a tv moderator, a singer in a band I’ve never heard of — who were marching in the parade and all I could do was shrug. I mean, is it a big deal if someone does something creative for a living? Isn’t it a bigger deal if he or she is nice?

For a moment there, I thought it was just me and my Americanness making me oblivious but when I talked to a friend of mine who’s a photographer in Berlin, a man who has to photograph celebrities all the time, is one of the only approved people to photograph Merkel, and because we’ve worked together at Fashion Week, can point out every model and B-List celebrity in Germany, I realized it’s more a matter of just not giving a fuck. At some point you get old and you rub elbows with the chancellor and whatever, it’s just another day’s work (I rubbed Schroeder’s elbow once when he was chancellor and was darned proud I recognized him there on the steps of the Reichstag as I was dressed in my Love Parade costume but Ms. Merkel, for whom I might even put on a decent shirt, has eluded me, unfortunately).

Wondering if this was an exclusively Ami-in-Deutschland phenomenon, I sent out a Tweet asking for your most memorable celebrity sighting. All the answers that came back were from Brits and Americans referring to British or American celebrities. More than one took place in New York (my sister, who lived there, has dozens of these tales), including, like Natalye, hitting on by a punk rocker in a bar (not from Green Day but close) or Mandi’s “Woah, wait a minute, who was it that just walked by?” Phillip Seymour Hoffman moments.

So is it that I’m the only one running into German celebrities? Or are we as expats just not seeing and recognizing them? I’d like to think it’s the latter — that here in Germany, celebrity is different. German celebrities look different; they look fully normal and lead pretty normal lives. (Except Boris Becker, though someone please explain to me why that dude still sells copies of tabloids. Do women really want to look at him?) But I also realize, this likely has to do with my status as outsider. If I tell a German that my colleague just interviewed Manuel Neuer, people lose their shit. If I tell an American that is not my nephew about said interview, they ask who that is. But I wonder if it would be the same for American celebrities here. Do people in Berlin lose their shit every time Brad and Angie come to town?

So tell me, Germans and non, what’s the deal with celebrity here? Are there just not many? Or are they too local? Too normal looking? Are we as expats just blind to them?

** Caveat: unless it’s Flula, no internet personality counts as a celebrity. I could point out every one of Cologne’s fashion bloggers on the streets but those bitches are begging for attention so they don’t count.

Holidays auf Deutsch, a Christmas Checklist

I have long hated Christmas. When I got to Germany, when the guilt over having to choose where to spend the holidays (my ‘rents of the in-laws, a three hour plane ride away… and if by my parents, which family to see) disappeared, my plan as a young adult was to spend every last week of December in a Muslim country. Though Turkey is nice in December, it’s also teeth-chattering cold. And it was strange to have to reconcile my image of Christmas looking like a wintry wonderland with the images we saw there of dusty streets in empty villages that smelled of burning plastic so I gave up on that after a year. Besides, the next year I was pregnant and giardia + pregnancy isn’t fun so my plans for Tunisia died.

Now that the Diva is here and there’s nothing she likes more than singing silly songs and spraying glitter everywhere, I’m giving up my inner Grinch and embracing Christmas. The only thing cuter than a toddler in a Santa hat trying to sing Jingle Bells is the look on her face when her mom’s friend shows up dressed like Santa. And it’s the only way to be if you live in Germany because this place LIVES for Christmas. Being festive and merry is a must to get through days when the sun sets before 4 and your snot freezes the minute you walk out the front door. While I am still not a Christmas market connoisseur (there are great write-ups of Berlin here and if you’ve blogged about others, let me know so I can link them in), I appreciate them more than in years past. So what have I done this year to get make sure my days are merry and bright?

Xmas Bikes

1. Got my parents to come over to celebrate. Because family is what Christmas is all about, right? And I’m all the wiser now to what’s behind the meltdowns.

2. Bought Diva and I ice skates last year to get her stoked on skating and already took them out for a turn in Berlin (where you can skate for free at the Market on Potsdamer Platz).

3. Went to a Christmas market early on… on a Monday afternoon. Not too cold. Not too full. Not too many grumpy people working. No cheap sweet wine heated with terrible spices. *Dreamy*

4. Wrapped Christmas lights on the balcony and a tiny, real, potted evergreen to put outside the balcony door (since German tradition says we have to decorate on Dec 24, this is a great compromise for Diva, who is as impatient as any child).

5. Hung an Advent calendar to count the days.

6. Visited Diva’s godmother, who taught her the art and meaning of decorating an Advent wreathe… four candles, lots of green, some glittery ribbon and star anise.

7. Baked sugar cookies and cinnamon rolls (the first is German, the second Swedish) and added the requisite three kilos to keep my body warmer during hibernation.

8. Crafted stars and hung them in the window.

9. Helped Diva pick out her special Christmas dinner dress so that we can really treat it like a special occasion.

10. Read the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Over. And over. And over.

11. Saw The Nutcracker ballet in Berlin. A kid’s dream come true, I was so nostalgic for my childhood Christmases with this kitsch-fantastic production. A must.

So how about you? What are you doing to get in the spirit? What German holiday traditions are you adopting?

It’s Not Me, It’s You

I once admitted to my aunt that I felt like I was a misanthrope.

“I just really can’t with people sometimes” I told her, referring to no one in particular at that moment. But it was a feeling I have a lot.

Crying in line at the bakery because the cashier has asked me three times to repeat myself because she can’t understand my accent. Or cursing out the well-meaning ticket collector attempting to explain why the ticket I bought is the wrong one and how I can do better next time I buy it (a cursing which he reminded me was unnecessary since he wasn’t going to fine me).

These feelings, I realize now, come from my own insecurity, an insecurity that exists in all countries and at all times but which has definitely increased since being in Germany. Because in Germany, I get a lot more attention from strangers and the things that I know to be true about how the world works based on my childhood in the States are not the truths in Germany. Sometimes, even after nine years, I am amazed by how different things are here. And by things I mean people. Attitudes. Habits.

I still get annoyed at the bum rush to the cashier who’s opened a new checkout line. I still fucking hate that people can get drunk to puking at the street fairs but I can’t vacuum on a Sunday morning. And I am still unable to handle condescension, which is what I view anyone trying to tell me I am doing something wrong until I realize that really, they’re being helpful and I am the one practicing condescension.

I will never forget the time my mom came home from work and said her boss told her she had to stop being so condescending, to which she replied, “I can’t be condescending because I don’t know what that word means.” This. This is exactly me.

But part of growing up and my attempting to be a great role model for my kid has required that I drop that habit. That I learn to smile and nod and thank people for their help. That I start to accept that in all communications two people are required and pay closer attention to that other person and his or her needs before I tell him or her to fuck right on off.

I forget this a lot but having a kid helps. I have had to learn that temper tantrums are not about me being a terrible, horrible “bloede” mama and not take those words personally. They are about Diva. About her disappointment at not getting another damned princess dress. About her being hungry or tired.

I will admit that I am a horrible communicator. I will admit that I don’t do it right all the time. But it has been a watershed moment to realize that often in these discussions that make me angry or draw me to tears are not entirely my fault and that cursing and crying doesn’t change things.

Whew, glad I got over that already. It’s exhausting to go through life thinking that all these unsmiling, unhappy people are that way because of you. It’s not me. It’s you.

How to Divorce in #Germany

In case you missed it on Twitter, my divorce finally came through. Well, almost.

Like everything in Germany, there was a boatload of paperwork involved and although I got what I thought was the official divorce document from the court (stamped and sealed and signed and all that jazz), the foreigner’s office where I’m trying to renew my visa says I’m still registered as married. It’s a formality, they said, but I have to take this document somewhere and show it to someone and that person will then make it official. But like most of German bureaucracy, the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing (and everyone wants their hands in your life), so just who this someone is and where that somewhere is remains unclear.

It figures. Although I tend to not care about the German state’s way of trying to know and control every movement made by its citizens — I’ve yet to be affected adversely by, say, them knowing my religion — sometimes the bullshit paperwork involved in proving these movements to heartless bureaucrats reaches critical mass. If I showed up in court and got a judge to sign off on the paperwork agreeing to the divorce, why can’t the judge just let the city know and they update my record tout suite? Because: Germany.

So although I started the divorce process over three years ago, the ex and I still officially celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last month.

I wonder what anyone doing genealogy on us in 100 years will think when they see that the divorce hasn’t gone through before his second child arrives… is that child considered a bastard even though it’s technically Germany’s fault he can’t marry the mother? Maybe I need to hang on to the hundreds of pages of paperwork I had to fill out for the divorce hearing so our future ancestors so they can piece together just what the hell happened. Because seriously, I can’t figure it out myself.

In short, this is the legal process we’ve had to go through to get a divorce so far:

1. Move into separate addresses and register those with the city. Easy for me, not so much for him. In the US, where he lived when we split, no one has to register with anyone. In Germany, they didn’t accept his non-residency despite his being non-registered so they just had him listed as “unknown” for the better part of the first year of our split. This is important because technically, you cannot divorce if you are living together. You have to prove that you have lived apart for one year before a marriage is considered irreconcilable. So, for us, we had to wait for one year after he came back to Germany and registered before we could file the split. For anyone else doing this internationally, I’m told by a friend who had this experience that if the dude isn’t in Germany and is technically a “no-show” on their records, you actually can proceed with a divorce after a year but my lawyer advised me to wait, just in case.

2. After the year is up, you can file a request for a divorce hearing. I did this through a lawyer so the process was foreign to me, but here was the kicker of all the ridiculous paperwork I did confirming our assets: all alimony and splitting of belongings is determined based on the date of the divorce filing, not the first date of separation. So dude has a year to move all his funds to places out of reach of his future ex-wife. My lawyer says this is the absolute bullshit of the legal system but since Germany is a feminist country and alimony isn’t *really* considered necessary since men and women have equal rights to work and earn a wage (cough, hack, cough), it is what it is. Thankfully, I never married a millionaire but you better believe if I ever meet up with Til Schweiger or Count von der Geld, I’m either signing a pre-nup or divorcing him in the US.

3. Because I’m a foreigner, the next step was to sit back and wait. And wait. And wait. At some point, the court asked the pension office for files on us and when it came back that there were years missing from our working life, both the ex and I had to fill out reams of forms documenting our jobs/earnings from the time we were 16. Thoroughly. As in, to the month. Do you know how many second jobs I had at college? I don’t even remember them all. The good news is: I now know how many pennies I will get each month from the German pension system should I stay here for a minimum of 15 years and hit retirement. The bad news is: those holes in our Lebenslauf were to be filled by the US Social Security Administration who adamantly refused to hand over any of our records. Because: privacy. Funny that, isn’t it? America respecting our privacy about something. Despite three separate requests from the Deutsche Rentenversicherung to the SSA, those holes just went unverified. We should’ve just told the Germans to ask Facebook for that info since Zuckerberg seems to know everything there is to know about everyone but since my ex was a social media hold-out, it would’ve been lopsided. Instead they did something unheard of in German bureaucracy: they agreed to overlook the unverified years so we could proceed. 18 months later.

4. Finally, almost three years to the day our split should’ve been recognized officially, we sat across from each other in a drab courtroom on the 11th floor of Cologne’s ugliest building and told the judge that we didn’t want to be married anymore and he read some sort of formal document out loud and after five minutes, we were done.

Waited three blasted years for those five minutes. Ugh.

And then the not-so-official official-looking paper came in the mail. Now, to just figure out who needs to see it to recognize the divorce and I’ll be dancing with Beyonce…

How to Raise a PC Kid

Like most parents, I have no idea what I’m doing most days. For most of the last five years, I’ve been feeling my way in the dark. And although I wanted to be one of those hyper-liberal parents who lets her kid just be a kid and doesn’t try to interfere in any way, everyone knows that even non-choices and non-interference are choices. Because we all have these beliefs — morals, if you will — that we intentionally or unwittingly pass on to our kids, either through our actions or through our words. I’m a vegetarian, for example, and although I’d never take a cue from this asshole and tell my daughter about animal cruelty, and I really do let her choose what she wants to eat (within reason) including meat, by not cooking it at home, I’m making her an evening-and-weekend herbivore.

Actions may speak louder than words, but now that Diva’s got an extensive, multi-lingual vocabulary, this playing it by ear parenting technique has gotten a lot easier. She can express herself (recently telling me how delicious the chicken at a birthday party was) so I’m getting to know her wishes better. And when she’s confused about the world? Just ask Mom. Makes my life a lot easier to finally know what in the world is going on in that overactive brain of hers. When you’re dealing with a kid, words are the central key to understanding those actions.

At the same time, it’s gotten a lot tougher to be a completely unprepared parent. Like a couple months ago when she, seemingly unprompted, wanted to know if blood comes out of a vagina when a woman is having a baby. I’ve always believed honesty to be the best policy so I said yes, but I didn’t go further because I could not for the life of me figure out why she was asking this and I didn’t want to scare her off having kids when she still hasn’t hit puberty (which is, of course, when we’ll be YouTubing deliveries to scare her away from the boys). Turns out, there was a very graphic drawing in her “Was ist los im Krankenhaus” Wimmelbuch and she was just fact-checking the illustration. How very pedantic. Her curiosity as to why this happens was not piqued. Thankfully, because I wouldn’t have known how to proceed. By using medical terminology that would just confuse her more? I had a set of books as a kid called “Tell Me Why” that explained all this stuff in a very straightforward manner that was easy to understand, but which seriously led my mom to be like, “Go get your books” every time I had a question. And since I feel like my role here as a parent is to guide my daughter through life, I’d prefer to be using these “teachable moments,” having these conversations with her myself, even about topics I don’t know a damn thing about. So I’ve been trying to prepare myself better, trying to figure out what age-appropriate topics she’s going to be asking about. But still, mostly feeling my way in the dark here.

I totally disagree with guiding my daughter through life by putting ideas and questions into her mind, so I’m taking the “you ask, I’ll answer” tack and not the other way around. She hasn’t asked yet about anything even remotely religious so I am not spending my days explaining the concept of heaven to her whenever we look up at the sky. Instead, we talk facts, like “that’s a cloud,” and “those are stars.” By waiting for her to call the shots on certain topics, however, I recently realized I’ve put her at a distinct disadvantage. You see, a lot of what runs the world are social constructs and if you aren’t directly faced with these constructs, they’re somewhat baffling. They are beyond what a five-year-old can imagine on her own.

Take, for instance, the idea of angels and devils. Thanks to the masses out celebrating Carneval, my daughter now knows what these are supposed to look like — all golden halos or pointy red ears and tail. But the concept? Completely foreign. Some people and/or spiritual creatures are good and some are evil? But why would some choose to not be good? And why do they insist on wearing red stilettos while doing so?

Thanks to books she’s had read to her at school, her imagination is filled with flying unicorns and glitter-sprinkling fairies but in her world everything is happy and shiny and damnit, I aim to keep it that way as long as I possibly can. She doesn’t ask why these unicorns can fly and I am not about to go and put ideas in her head. Just like I’m not going to explain the concept of the devil on anything more than a superficial level.

But here’s where it just got tricky. Thanks again to Karneval, Diva was exposed today to the idea of cowboys and Indians. Not, of course, the true-to-life sort of Native Americans that live on reservations near my parents who do such exotic things like teach at universities and wear blue jeans or Ford F150-driving cattle herders whose shit-kickers are caked in dirt. Nope. She was introduced to fucking Winnetou and Old Shatterhand and needed to know, immediately, why people would put feathers in their hair and PAINT THEIR FACES RED and wear ponchos. Now maybe it’s my Americanism or the fact that our family descends from displaced Cherokees or maybe in part it was the whole Blackface debate that’s been raging in Germany lately, but this just put me over the top. How am I supposed to raise a culturally-aware and sensitive human being when we are surrounded by this nonsense? How do I help her understand that fun is fun, but doing so at others’ expense is not okay?

I decided to take the factual route and explain to her that while she and I were real Indians, even though neither of us had black hair, the people dressed as Indians were insensitive assholes trading in stereotypes and by trying to take the individuality away from a specific ethnic group through othering, they were showing their racist nature. And then I complimented her on her not-gender-neutral choice of Princess costume complete with magic wand and we got off the train feeling like a bunch of Klugscheissers.

But seriously people. How the fuck are we supposed to be raising humanists in a world where these arbitrary divisions based on ethnic heritage are not a thing of the past? How am I supposed to be answering questions about social constructs I don’t even agree with? Help!