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Europe meets D.C.: WTOP interns share their culture clashes

Saturday - 9/29/2012, 4:40pm  ET

Christine Amdam, of Norway, and Alina Braun, of Germany, are WTOP interns experiencing American culture for the first time. (WTOP/Melvin Chase)
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They traveled 1,230 miles to come to Washington, D.C. -- Christine Amdam flew all the way from Norway and Alina Braun from Germany. This fall, they are studying journalism at American University and working as interns for WTOP. They quickly discovered that Washington and the American culture are very different from their hometowns Oslo and Mannheim and decided to document their experiences. Check each weekend to read about Christine and Alina's "culture clashes."

American Friendliness 24/7

Alina Braun,

"Hey! How are you doing?"

This is the question I hear the most in Washington, and it represents the greatest cultural difference between Germany and America for me. Coming from Mannheim, Germany, I still cannot get quite used to it.

In Germany, nobody you are not friends with would come up to you on the street, say "Hey, how are you doing?" and start chatting. If somebody did that in Germany, we would probably give the person a weird look and ignore him or her. This might sound really mean. However, Germans do not mean to be rude. It is just our culture. We have our friends we meet and chat with, and we don't see the sense in greeting "strangers."

Thus, during my first days here in Washington, I was confused by all the people in stores and on the streets saying "Hey!" to me. It confused me when a waitress introduced herself while waiting on my table at the Hardrock Café. It confused me when my American University professor set up private meetings to really get to know each student. This kind of private introduction with complete strangers in public and official settings like a university was completely new to me.

I honestly like this openness about Americans. I have the feeling that everybody is extremely friendly and tries to be extremely helpful, which is, indeed, not always the case in Germany. However, in some situations, I cannot help but consider some of the American hyper-friendliness as superficial. These greetings and questions are not sincere interest, but more of a cultural thing to do. Or is this just my German perspective?

Alina Braun is an intern at WTOP this fall. She is studying journalism and foreign policy at American University for two semesters. In Germany she is obtaining her master's degree, in which she is majoring in linguistics and minoring in psychology. She works as a freelance journalist for the German public radio station SWR.

Running in D.C.

Christine Amdam,

"Excuse me, excuse me!"

I was standing with my suitcase outside Windsor Park Hotel on Kalorama Road. I had been in the United States for about an hour and had just stepped out of the taxi I took from Dulles International Airport.

"Excuse me, girl."

I think I mumbled "sorry," but the guy couldn't hear it. He was already long gone. He came running up the hill from Dupont Circle in an impressing tempo. He was wearing shorts, but no T-shirt. How is it possible to run in this heat? I could feel sweat drops down my back, and I was standing completely still. The heat here in D.C. was a shock for me after spending the whole summer in Oslo with an average temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. And he is running? I couldn't believe it.

I have always been proud of my hometown Oslo -- the capital of Norway. You can go skiing or run in the forest, only a short metro ride from downtown. We Norwegians are in good shape, but after I came here, I have to admit that D.C. residents are beating us.

People run everywhere in D.C. and at any time. I had to wake up at 5 a.m. one morning to catch a bus to New York, and what was the first thing I saw when I walked out the door? Runners. And a lot of them. I must say D.C. has a lot of beautiful running tracks. The city is so green. You can run by the river, in a park, in a forest, between horses, and you can run at the National Mall. It's amazing. And everything is in the middle of the City!

So why do people in Washington D.C. run? Is it to get in shape? Is it to look good?

The capital contains a lot of educated people. People work a lot, and of course people are stressed. I think they run to relieve stress. You get a lot of adrenaline from running, it's easier to sleep at night and, of course, a lot of people run to keep their weight down. And to be out in the fresh air. If you want company while running, there are a lot of opportunities. DC Road Runners meets Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. DC Capital Striders meets every Sunday. And some groups meet early on the weekends. Washington Running Report gives running news, tips and results from some of the running races in town.

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