Saturday, October 15, 2011

First and Last Post

Germans are so misunderstood...

I don't know why foreigners are always complaining about the Germans. I've lived here almost 20 years now and can say that the Germans are quite simply - just misunderstood. If you take a closer look you will come to realize that they are a very polite, shy, fun-loving and humorous people.

Take an example from last week. I was at the bookstore, standing in line. This process is, by the way, called a "schlange" in German, which means "snake". Some nasty foreigners like to say that the reason for the name is because standing in line can sometimes be poisonous with all the pushing and jostling which goes on. However, the real reason for the name is that lines here tend to slither around while you're standing in them - because Germans like to constantly play games.

In any case, there I was standing in line. The woman behind me started to push, as is just customary here and simply an indication of their fun-loving nature. I pushed back, getting into the game. But she began to push harder and harder until I was forced to turn around and tell her that while I was having a great time, my arms were on the verge of turning blue. To which she replied, "Lady, I think you have a big problem with bodily contact!" Whoa, that was so funny I almost fell on the ground laughing! Germans are sooo funny!

Then there was my misunderstanding of bakery rules. I used to get really upset at the bakery. When you go into one, don't expect that the person behind the counter will use thongs or a piece of paper to give you your baked goods. They handle crumpled, used bills and dirty bits of change - considered in other parts of the world as a source of germs and bacteria - and then hand you your food.

When I told my German friends that I wanted to complain about this, they were horrified! Germans are very polite and putting traditional practices like this into question are just not good form. And also - and here is the main reason for not complaining - German germs and bacteria are actually good for you. There is in fact a beloved German saying: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." So before you complain, stop and think about what a bit of bacteria can do to strengthen both your stomach and your character - if it doesn't kill you first. But then, taking a risk is part of the fun!

Do you ever wonder what's going on when you go to the department store and ask a clerk for help? This is just another one of their wonderful games! It goes like this: you look for a clerk and see two of them together, deep in conversation. You can go up to them, but do not, I repeat - DO NOT - interrupt them until they have finished, otherwise they can be dangerous. When they have finished, you can ask your question. Invariably, you will hear, "I am not responsible for that, please go over there and ask my colleague." When you go to the other side of the store to ask the colleague, he will repeat the same words. This is a game, lighten up, don't be so stuffy! You are being given the opportunity to be involved in one of the most popular games in German culture!" Aggravate the customer", it's called! Just play along with it! Although they are having a great time and laughing at you behind your back, eventually they will answer your question. Just give them time and don't be such a foreigner!

And then there is the German fascination with looking out the window with a pad of paper in their hand. You know, those elderly men and women who put a cushion on their windowsill and watch the comings and goings of the neighbors for hours at a time, often with a pencil close-by. Once, I took some old newspapers to the next paper container, which was several blocks from home. When I got there, the container was full and others had started to pile their paper next to the container. Not knowing what to do, I put down my heavy load while I considered my next step. Suddenly, I heard a loud, "I see what you're doing and I'm writing down what you look like so I can call the police!" I looked up and there was an elderly, sweet looking little man leaning out of his window, writing down my description.

However, I was already warned about these situations - it's just a game! Mostly played by the elderly, since they have more time. They keep a list of how many people they can police during the day, and at the end of each week they meet to tally up points. Knowing this, I smiled and waved, and shouted back the expected response, "You horrible old man, I'm going to write down your address and report you to the police for harassing innocent citizens!" And then I pulled out my pad of paper and pencil (which I keep for game-playing purposes) and pretended to write. Ah what a joy it is to live in such a fun-loving country!

Are you also wondering about German party situations? That's when you go to a party where you are the only foreigner and everyone else is German. Hey, if no one looks your way, asks how you are, where you're from or what you're doing in Germany, don't despair. Germans are very, very, very shy and just cannot bring themselves to talk to strangers, especially if they are from another country. Don't think that they are uninterested, selfish, cold people - of course they want to know exactly what it is that you're doing in their country. But they are way too shy to ask. So you, as the foreigner, have to take the situation in hand. Go up to them - ask them something about themselves. Be very happy if you get a sentence or two out of them during the evening. You've done your job and the person you talked to will proudly tell his wife later that night, that he talked to a foreigner. And the next day he will joke with his colleagues and ask why more foreigners don't learn to speak German. It’s all part of the game! Those naughty, funny Germans!

Yes, as I said, I've lived in Germany now near-on to 20 years and I still find it invigorating! Every day a new and interesting game to be played! If you're new at all this, just remember - don't listen to what other foreigners say about the Germans. Germans are really horribly misunderstood. Come with an open mind and experience it for yourself - you'll be surprised at the outcome.

10 comments:

A Twenty Something said...

I hope this isn't really your last post! I just found your blog and can't stop laughing...or agreeing. This is my third year in Germany and living with my German boyfriend and I am still finding strange things to laugh (or roll my eyes) about everyday.

Chandler said...

This is hilarious! I grew up in Canada and have been living in Berlin for nearly four years. My experience of German 'parties' has been a bit different - perhaps because I'm a student - but equally as horrible as your account. Most conversations end up looking like this:

-Both party-goers discover that they are bachelor students.
-Major and semester number are determined.
-The exchange degenerates into a conversation about BAFöG, Semesterwochenstunden and, everybody's favourite topic, how many Leistungspunkte one has.
-I politely absent myself, drink another beer (quickly) and return to the friends I came with, who are all equally disgruntled fellow 'foreigners'.

If anyone's interested, I've written a bit about annoying German tendencies here: http://chandlerhill.eu/2011/11/life-in-germany-a-catalogue-of-grievances/8.
The story of my dealings with my downstairs neighbour is also quite amusing: http://chandlerhill.eu/2011/11/prussian-neighbourliness/7

Anonymous said...

This is so funny. I can relate to all these situations. I have been living in Germany for a year and having lived in 8 other countries before, this is the first time I sometimes feel...maybe I am on another planet.

Anonymous said...

Woooow, seems as if Germany was horrible... I could mention you one million situations like these - only worse - in the god blessed U.S.A.!

Anonymous said...

Well just leave the country or play the games as we like em :)

Anonymous said...

Your blog makes you seem like the least relaxed person in the world. I'd like to play the "Germans tell foreigners to relax" game with you.

mike60 said...

Super! You really got the point. Beeing german, I agree to all findings. But you have to distinguish: some points are really bad and even we call them "typical german", and that is not a compliment! For example old men playing police. But others are scientific proven: Bacteria make no harm, unless you are american. Germans get the flu by a draft, and not from other people. And third, on some things, we are working to improve: smalltalk at parties is really hard for us, perhaps because talking to much is seen as superficial and has to be avoided.
About standing in line: comfort zone of an american is 50 cm, for a german only 20 cm. You must feel uncomfortable in a queue with people too near to you. Btw, it is 5 cm for people from eastern europe, what we dislike. And yes, clerks have equal rights and may not be seen as servants. We completly disagree that someone should be worth less, and for example, pack your groceries into paperbags and carry to your car. (Btw. dont touch my stuff!)
We will fight for our cultural identity ;)

Anonymous said...

Quote:
Then there was my misunderstanding of bakery rules. I used to get really upset at the bakery. When you go into one, don't expect that the person behind the counter will use thongs or a piece of paper to give you your baked goods. They handle crumpled, used bills and dirty bits of change - considered in other parts of the world as a source of germs and bacteria - and then hand you your food.

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I'm amazed at this comment. I grew up in Switzerland, which is exactly the same in many ways than Germany and I never even noticed that. In my view, it is healthy to be exposed to the environment. We have never lived in such a sterile unnatural place as now and the many autoimmune diseases or alergies hint for many people to an immune system that is bored to death and needs target practice. It does not get enough pathogens to keep itself up to full strenght. IN my case, my immune system is very powerful and I hardly ever get sick and I am sure that is partly because my immune system is well trained. You might not be aware of this, but our stomach uses sulphuric acid to sterilize food. If a few stray bacteria from hands that touch food would be a problem, we would have died out aeons ago. Imagine going to a market back in 1650 and telling a baker to use thongs to not touch the baked goods with their hands and they would probably have laughed you out of the store. Dealing with bacteria and pathogens is normal for a human body, you might not want to take a microscope, as you will find everything crawling with the bugger, even our body have lots and lots of (symbiotic) bacteria and I don't think any person in history ever got sick by eating a piece of bread that somebody touched with their hands. I have noticed a very unnatural and artificial way that Americans can look at these things, where they want to wear shoes everywhere, even in nature or on a wonderful soft lawn, in fear of that the floor is dirty...hihihihi, and they forget that we walked barefooted for a million years before inventing shoes and that many ailments of the back or tension can be relieved by walking barefooted. In Switzerland, many do and they keep the ground clean of dangerous objects like broken glas just because of it, you can go into stores any everything. Here in the USA, I always get harrassed and ridiculed about not wearing shoes and I always have to smile, as it is these people that are ridiculous. Shoes must be the most dirty thing there is and yet, they are perceived by American to be cleaner than feet walking on bare floor, eventhough you wash your fee when you shower, but probably rarely, if ever wash your shoes.
That is another sad example of thinking that your way of PERCEIVING things is the only true way and harrassing people to do as you want, limiting their freedom.

I have seen people in the US wearing these glove like shoes, that actually are like walking barefooted, but you still have a layer between you and the floor and again, that seems very strange and artificial to me. Why do you need something that you got already when you were born? Do you need to spend money necesarily? Are your feet imperfect because you got them for free?? I have seen again and again that moter nature beats us by leags and bounds and is very very clever, many of the problems that we perceive and fail to solve have been solved by nature aeons ago. And funny enough: there are massage tools that you can put your foot on and everybody knows that the food has many nervous relex points. And amazing enough, if you walk over a dirt path or pebbles, barefooted, it is exactly these points that get massages, automatically. ;-)
When it comes to living more natural, Europeans really know a lot more than Americans. A lot of Americans grew up in a very unnatural way it seeems to me and are now dependent on all kins of artificial stuff like antibiotics, because they got it right away when they were kids, their parents never trusting their immune systems to be able to do their job.

Kiran palwasha said...

Nice post..May be you are right that Germans are misunderstood probably. But frankly speaking i also heard by my family members in Germany , that German citizens are bit proud and don't like to talk to strangers. But at the same time their govt is much caring towards migrants and took care on base of human rights.
I like your blog and am going to follow it OK :)
Stay blessed !

Kiran palwasha said...

Kindly tell me how to follow your blog as i couldn't found the follower list in your blog ?