on Jul 27th 2008
by Mark Rosen, Landmark student, April 2002
This year, writers of a historical book about Putney relied on engagement of volunteers who interviewed and wrote summaries about people, organizations, businesses, and places in Putney. These materials will be used to make statements about general themes and trends regarding town life in the last 50 years. The purpose of my interview was to interview a Putney resident with intercultural ties about living in Putney, and to gather a sense of some typical occurrences in daily life.
Landmark College, one of the area’s local schools, is helping out in the process of documenting and adding to the extensive collection of data for this project. In Janie Duncan’s Intercultural Communications class, we were asked to interview a Putney resident that either came from another country, or had strong family ties elsewhere. Each student received a specific individual to interview. Mine was Ines Zeller, one of the owners and workers at the local Sandglass Theatre. The goal of the interview was to try and squeeze as much information out of Ines about any intercultural issues dealing with life here in rural Putney, Vermont.
Ines is originally from Germany. She came here to Putney because while she was still in Germany, she met her future husband, Eric, who happened to be an American. After being together for four years in Germany, the couple wanted a change of scenery because of problems arising in Germany at the time. Ines specifically landed in Putney because they had friends in the area, and it reminded Ines of Europe.
When I asked Ines, “What is a normal day in Putney like, an average day for you,” it became clear that she was no ordinary person. First off, before starting the interview, I walked into a magnificent little foyer area with many intricate, detailed, puppets. Ines replied to my question, and I began to witness an artist’s story. Ines’ day is far from ordinary. She carries a very specific profession, which is puppeteering and performing. She is self-employed and has children, so her usual day involves her taking her children to school, then coming to the theatre to work on a project or in her office. Because she is self-employed, Ines said that she can work when she pleases, but indeed she gets very busy.
One couldn’t help but notice the amazingly beautiful handmade puppets throughout the theatre. Many of them seemed to originate from possibly old German folklore or proverbs, and when I posed the question, Ines quickly answered. All of the puppets are built specifically for shows being performed at the theatre, and the shows are not usually rooted in folk tradition, but have references occasionally. At the moment, the theatre is performing a piece on a German philosopher who died in the 1940’s in Spain, while fleeing from the Nazis.
An important question that I was curious to inquire about were the differences between German and American culture. Ines left Germany in 1986. Chernobyl had just had a nuclear accident and was leaking radiation over a vast region in Europe. Some parts of Germany were heavily affected by the accident, and it was creepy over there at the time. That was when Ines decided that she must leave.
It was an incredible relief to come to America, just in terms of everyday life. Ines did not have to look out for contaminated milk here; Ines and her husband did not have to eat canned foods anymore either. No one dared to lie on the grass during the summer time in Europe because it was contaminated; people wanted to go outside but couldn’t. Over her years here in the states, Ines’ longing for Europe changed. She missed her relatives and heritage, but at the same time felt like a load was off her shoulders because of the Chernobyl accident and the heated political issue regarding missile defense for the cold war. There were protests out in the streets because the German culture is politically aware. Ines noted that Americans are not as politically awake as Germans are, and she misses that. After 15 years here, she would like to see issues get resolved that haven’t, due to the public’s neglect of politics.
Due to the recent rash of global events, I was curious about other countries opinions about our war on terrorism, and any other stereotypes that are associated with our culture. The first one noted by Ines was how badly we eat. Fast food is a real problem, and that is why America is so obese. You can eat much better in Europe than here, she said. Another thought associated with America is the fact that whenever we get involved in another countries problems, it is only for our own good. Ines felt that America sticks its nose into everyone’s business and works as a world policeman, placing its values onto other cultures, which annoys others.
I asked Ines what holidays are celebrated over in Germany that aren’t over here. She surprisingly replied that pretty much everything celebrated here is celebrated there, just a bit differently at times. In Germany, Christmas is celebrated the night before when the presents are opened, while here its on Christmas day. However, Ines’ husband is Jewish. Since their marriage, Ines has adopted some Jewish ways. She changed her holiday rhythm and now because of this Easter is not as important, but Passover is very important. Ines likes Passover because it is a much deeper holiday or ritual and is more meaningful. A famous German tradition is the Oktoberfest. However, Ines does not particularly miss that. She loved the way people get together, lose inhibitions, and sing and drink together. It has funny parts to it, like a real life flea circus.
European villages are totally different than American villages. The village is closely knit. The families have grown together over the centuries, farmers have been living there forever, especially in the South. People stay rooted in Germany, where clear traditions are much stronger than over here in the states. A common question to ask an immigrant to the country is whether or not it was difficult or intimidating coming to a new country? Ines answered, in some ways yes, in some ways no. She likes the rhythm of the day: rituals, traditions, and that it is good for children to have a structured life. However, she did stress that the eating patterns took a little getting used to due to the fact that people eat earlier in Germany and dinner is a light meal.
Because Ines went to German schools and her children go to school in America, I asked her if there was a difference in structure or traditional teaching methods between the two. Her reply was that she was not sure. School itself is structured in America, from eight until three, and they are beautifully taken care of. Ines noted that school teachers here have to deal with outside school problems and pick up a lot of problems out of school. The German school system is not that great, is very demanding, and needs to innovate to rid itself of some cobwebs.
A main theme in our intercultural class this year was the constant change in American society. Europe is traditionally more conservative, and less likely to experience changes. Ines loves how America is moved by other things and that is what makes it so great. We are not hindered by our tradition, but we expand on all kind of things. Europe is more careful that way; it’s closer, tighter, and people “breathe down your neck” there.
Since my goal, according to the Putney historical society website, was to “discover and collect materials illustrative of life, conditions, events, and activities of the past and present pertinent to the history of Putney,” I felt I completed my task admirably; Ines Zeller fits every category listed above. She owns and runs a magnificent theatre called the Sandglass Theatre, and enriches the community with her artistic talents. Her trip to Putney indeed brings an interesting story, and what she has done here has become another full story, fascinating in its own right.
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