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CSL Blog Project, Volume 12: Differences Between Canada and Germany (Feat. Kate Rittner-Werkman)

Differences Between Canada and Germany

by Viktor Qin

Kate Rittner-Werkman

As a child, I was really interested in the history of the Second World War. Luckily, Kate Rittner-Werkman, who was born in Germany but moved to Canada when she was a child, was willing to share her story. Her father was a German soldier during the Second World War, and passed away several years ago. She found a stash of her father’s personal items in his home which inspired her to start writing a book about the whole experience. For my own interest, we conducted a brief interview on a beautiful morning.

V Q: Does German affect your English usage? Like grammar, or the words you use? 

Yes, absolutely. German sentence structure is backwards compared to English. German has a lot of colorful words and you cannot find the same words in English. English is very plain, actually. It was hard in school and I’m still not good at grammar. My mother tongue always wants to take over, so I often put this into my sentence structure, but it has a rhythm to it. When people start reading it, like editors, they are unfamiliar with my writing. After they read more, they understand it has a kind of rhythm, and even is correct.

V Q: Did you feel any culture shock at first when you moved to Canada? If so, how did that feel? And what are the differences between Canadian culture and German culture? 

Yes, I did. Even though I was in kindergarten, I still felt the culture shock. I skipped school when I was in kindergarten. I would go and play in the forest by my house instead because I couldn’t speak English. I really only spoke German, and at that time there was no help, like ESL classes or organizations, there was no bridge. I couldn’t pronounce the word “chicken,” the hard “ch” sound. I had a tough time. My great grandmother would come to visit, and she would feel really upset because we had a wooden house. She said that was really bad because all their houses were brick. People might think there is not much difference between German and Canadian culture, but there is.

Germans know who they are. In Germany people know their history, but it’s not the same in Canada. A German post office in Hamburg celebrated 800 years of mail deliveries and Canada only just celebrated 150 years of being a country. And I have found that Germans are more direct, but Canadians are more polite. If you are in a train station and you don’t know where to go as a tourist, Germans can be a bit rushed because trains always come on time and there are people waiting. Sometimes there are some nice people who will assist you, but mostly people are rushed. And Canada is still building a culture. 

V Q: How is your new book going? Would you like to tell me something about it? Are you planning on writing another book? If so, what is that about? 

Despite some tensions after WWII, now approximately 10% of Canadians identify as German, according to the 2016 census. Kitchener, Ontario hosts the world’s second-largest Oktoberfest celebrations during Thanksgiving, combining German and North American culture. Picture source: Explore Waterloo

I’m struggling with the book because I have a Canadian perspective. Canada was an allied country in WWII and I culturally grew up here. What I learned is that Germans were bad people. But what I now know is when my kids were in Grade 12, they had a debate about who started WWI (was it the fault of Germans?), and who started WWII. They debate everything now. But at that time, there wasn’t a debate; it was all Germany’s fault. I didn’t know my father very well; I only got his film, medals, and pictures when he passed away. I moved here when I was young, but he stayed in Germany. The first time I met him was when I was 20 or 21. I only met with him twice after that. I spent about 2 weeks with him. He built his house on his own, and he kept his house in the German cultural style. He built a cabinet and hid everything. So, when they pulled away the bookshelf they found the cabinet. When they opened it, everything fell out. It is illegal to have those things in Germany, because all soldiers needed to hand everything over to the government. He had been a soldier since he was 19, and he started taking pictures when he was 14. He took a lot of photographs and also filmed at that time. Even now it is illegal to keep anything with the Swastika. You can only keep them for artistic statements. There is a photograph that he took in a town called Regensburg. There are Swastikas everywhere; it’s a really amazing photo. But it might cause trouble. A lot of Germans I know are afraid of going back because they have a picture of their grandfather or great grandfather and there is a Swastika in it, and they don’t want to make trouble. I have encountered resistance to my project. For me, I don’t want the history of this to get lost; it was my father’s journey.

After the interview, we talk more about her and her father’s story. I never thought there would be such a difference between Canadian culture and German culture, and the story from the other side will be so interesting. I’m really looking forward to reading the finished book someday in the future; that will be the most unforgettable experience in my life.

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