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The German-Russian Guide to Feelings

Swift, Tammy. "The German-Russian Guide to Feelings." Forum, 26 June 2011, B1.


I sometimes suspect my parents found me under a cabbage leaf.

It’s the only explanation to how vastly different I am from the rest of my family.

Seriously, if it weren’t for the fact that I share my mother’s fleshy arms and my dad’s big, English teeth, I might believe I was adopted.

For instance, I have spent years poring over self-help books and searching for the deeper meaning of life. My dad’s idea of self-help is when he bought the Popular Mechanics book series on how to wire, plumb and drywall your home.

I am hyper-sensitive and emotional. My whole family comes from the “Just walk off that broken ankle” school of life. They are all about putting on a brave face, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and getting over it.

They are true, stoic descendants of the settlers who were too busy milking the cow to cry if any of that milk spilled. They face all problems with logic, willpower and sheer brute strength.

To them, an unexamined life is well worth living. My sister once told me that psychiatrists “put the ‘fee’ in ‘feelings.’ ”

In fact, I think their tough-love approach could add something entirely new to the self-help genre. Imagine a book called: “Snap Out of It, or I’ll Give You Something to Cry About: An Upper-Midwestern German-Russian Guide to Emotions.”

I’ve already envisioned a few chapter headings:

  • “Stop Pouting, or a Bird Will Perch on Your Lip.” This section, on the dangers of self-pity, could include subsections titled “Would You Like Cheese with That Whine?” and “Your Grandfather Got Kicked By a Horse, But He Still Managed to Finish Plowing the Field.”
  • “Life is Not Fair.” This chapter would contain colorful illustrations and simple sentences because it would be intended for anyone 2 and older.
  • “It’s Best to Be Nice to Obnoxious People and Then Talk About Them on the Ride Home in the Car.” This chapter could school readers on the finer points of passive-aggressive behavior.
  • “How to Put The ‘Function’ in Dysfunction.” This section would be about putting on a brave face for the world, even if the kids are fighting, the bills are piling up and the deck has dry rot.

Other possible chapters could include “Don’t Stare at Your Aunt When She’s Drunk,” “You’re Too Sensitive,” “If You Can’t Laugh at Yourself, We’ll Do It For You,” and “You Don’t Know What It’s Like to Have a Mean Mom.”

OK, so maybe this book wouldn’t really “help” someone.

But it might give you something to cry about.

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Fargo, North Dakota.

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