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.