Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

Different Countries, Different Customs

I learned this fact—different countries, different customs—when I arrived in the United States. I made my first faux pas shortly after I landed. As I was introduced to my husband's family and friends I naturally went around the room shaking hands with everyone. I was brought up that way in Germany, but I soon found out that this was not the American custom, which was certainly more relaxed, casual, and friendly. In Europe, it may take years until you called friends and acquaintances by their first name. This is comparable to the French mode of address: in France when you say “you” the formal "vous" is used rather than the informal "tu." That is   used to indicate intimacy. Titles, like professor or doctor, are often omitted here in introductions, and only first names are given. Not so in title-conscious Germany where almost everyone has an honorific title, such as Herr Postmeister (Mr. mailman), Herr Polizeibeamte ( Mr. policeman); wives have to be addressed with the title that their husbands have. In Germany, one did not know very often, when speaking to a married woman, whether the title was given to her in her own right or because she was married to a man with an honorific. I was, surprised to learn that in the United States, in a letter a woman was addressed with her husband's first and last name. I think it is hard enough to give up one's family name, but why give up, in addition, one's given name. it. In Holland [The Netherlands], Spain, and Portugal, as well as in many South American countries, a married woman continues to keep her maiden name hyphenated with her husband's name. [In The Netherlands, Caspari-Rosen indicates that the wife’s maiden name is Rosen and Caspari, the name of her husband].

When I arrived in New York I lived with my parents-in-law for a several months. I am now realize that they were somewhat taken a back, affronted even, when I kept the door to my room closed, whether I was in the apartment or not. Europeans keep their doors closed, probably, to prevent warmth to escape from a room. To my surprise I found that the living room, the dining room, and even the kitchen were often did not have doors. In Germany, windows were closed during the night in winter as well as in summer. I was taught that night air is unhealthy. I experienced the pleasure of open windows at night after I lived in my new country. Window screens are still unknown in many European countries, while we would not think of living without them. If windows were kept open during the day, one avoided a draft, which is called cross-ventilation in America and considered desirable. Not so In Europe. In the hottest season [summer], on public transportation—the bus, trains, and so forth—windows are closed.

These are only a few examples of experiences I encountered when I came to this country. II adopted this way of life enthusiastically except for one thing, I still refuse to give up my first name and to address married women by their husband's name in official and unofficial correspondence.


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