My friend Ilka, who is German, asked me recently if there was another way in English to say “you’re welcome” after someone says thank you. “It just sounds strange to me,” she said. And, I agreed the German all-purpose “Bitte” is nicer in most situations. So, I thought about it for a moment, and came up with these substitutes: Sure, Anytime, My pleasure, etc.
But then Ilka said, “And what about I love you? Americans use that in such a casual way.” For example, she said “I would never tell a friend that I love her. That would just be bizarre.” I mentioned that I have a handful of girlfriends that I love and sometimes we tell each other that very thing. “You know,” I said, “it’s not looooooove, smoochy smoochy, blech. It’s just a strong friendship love.” Ilka sent a resigned gaze at me and countered: “My parents and I don’t even tell each other I love you.” Then it was my turn for disbelief. “Really?! Is that normal in Germany?” “Yes, it is. In families, we all know we love each other. We don’t have to say it,” Ilka responded.
So, yes, I agree “love” is not a casual concept to throw around but just as I started thinking no Germans ever say I love you, Ilka mentioned a couple important things: “The love that is spoken about is only romantic love and there are many types.” She then went on to tell me there’s an expression for each level of love from the initial stages of puppy love (Ich habe dich gerne) , to commitment (Ich liebe dich), and on down the line.
Now, onto the kisses. Everyone knows that in Europe the double-kiss-on-the cheeks greeting can be common among friends but it’s usually female to female, or female to male. With my friend Gabi, it is three cheek kisses because she is Swiss. In America, the most affectionate of friends will give each other a hug and maybe a kiss on one cheek. Other Americans guard their personal space and prefer a wave, nod, handshake, fistbump, etc. And, of course, If any Americans ever attempt the double kiss while on American soil, they are labeled as pretentious Eurotrash.
I figure, when in Rome, do as the Romans, so I am fine with the double kiss greeting, particularly with good friends that I don’t see regularly. But among my closest group of American friends we’ve come to an informal agreement. It all started when our friend Renee asked “Do we all have to practically make out every time we see each other?” That is vintage Renee (I love her–ha ha). So, no, we don’t. Although some of us are still more huggy-kissy than others.
There is one more greeting that I see here that always fascinates me. Every morning when I bring Jack to the kindergarten, we are usually sprinting from the car to the building at 8:54 and 43 seconds. The doors to the kindergarten lock precisely at 8:55 and I’ve already had the pleasure of being locked out and literally begging for the door to be unlocked. (A city manager happened to be there and just shook his head at me and walked away. Don’t worry, I eventually got in after ringing the bell 4 more times and going through the charade again and again.) Anyway, I’ve mentioned before there are several Korean families at the kindergarten. They all wear Western style clothing (and my friend Eum Zee is seriously chic). When they see each other in the morning, they stop in their tracks and bow at the waist. Even though it’s not in American DNA to bow to anyone, it is a serene snapshot to keep in my head while the rest of us dash by each other calling “Morgen.”