Every country has its stereotypes. I don’t particularly like the ones about mine. But then again, at the moment, I also don’t really like my country mostly because of stereotype #1:
Man, you really needn’t to be kidding with German authorities. Those people do not speak Humor! Thing is that, in theory, the German state is supporting its citizens a lot with all sorts of welfare but GETTING that welfare contribution is a path straight to hell. If I were homeless and tried to apply for a roof over my head and a small job (Hartz IV), the amount of paperwork and hierarchy would probably make me wanna stay homeless. Right now for example, I am fighting with the authorities responsible for governmental student loans. Promising on their website that education should be independent of money, I was glad to count on their contribution for grad school in San Francisco. Being aware of German bureaucracy and allowing for the “6 months processing time, maximum!” that they ask for, I applied in January for something that is supposed to start in September. Still no answer. By now they already know me quite well: “Ah, it’s you again. NO, we have not yet calculated the contribution you will receive. For that, we will first need the transcript showing you have graduated from college.” “But I have basically graduated already, I just have to wait for my transcript to be issued and that could take 2 months!” “No transcript, no loan.” or “Hi, this is…” “Oh, it’s you again. NO, we have not yet calculated the contribution you will receive. First, we will need a confirmation that you will actually be going to a grad school in the States.” “But..but I wanted to leave in a month! I still have outstanding tuition fees and deposits and furniture payments, I NEED to know how much I get from you, otherwise I won’t be able to go!!” “We understand but first, we will need a confirmation that….” I KNOW WHAT YOU NEED YOU HEARTLESS SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF BUREAUCRACY HELL!!! Next time you ask for missing documents, I will also send my blood samples, left toes and the hearts and livers of all my relatives!!!!
2.) Traffic Lights.
Jaywalking is even worse than asking for welfare before all your documents are submitted. If there was a wide country road that was completely straight so that you could basically see the horizon on either side of it and there was no car coming but the traffic light was red, Germans would wait. And wait. All of them, even the young rebels and punks and stressed business men (although they probably wouldn’t be standing on an abandoned traffic light in the country, but you get the idea). No matter whether you go to Berlin or Frankfurt or the onehorsetown without a horse, it will always be a reoccurring phenomenon. Ever since I came back from New York last year, I have been trying to break this ridiculous habit. If there is absolutely no car around, I do the unspeakable- I walk across the street on red. The reactions are phenomenal: You can feel the stares burn holes into your back. Some people will astonishingly gasp, turn away from you, pretend they haven’t just become witnesses of such a monstrous deed. To Germans, if you cross the traffic light on red, you will be worth less to them than the dust on their shoes. So, don’t do it.
In Germany, it is polite to arrive on the dot. Five minutes before is considered rude, because the host will not be ready yet. Five minutes after the agreed-upon time will be even ruder, because you will let the food get cold. ANYTHING beyond those five minutes delay might not cause outward hostility but you shouldn’t be surprised if you never get invited again. Ever. Since Germans will always be on time, they expect the same from the other party and will always be negatively surprised if they find themselves being let down. “I don’t understand this, they are already 10 minutes late, did I give them the wrong time?” or “And it was so nice, because she arrived Punkt 6.30pm. She always is on time, you know, such a well-mannered person!” are not unfamiliar sentences in a German household. Be on time and you win the German’s heart!
“Hi, how are you?” “Good, how are you?”, are probably quite familiar, especially for Americans. In Germany, you will not greet each other by asking how the other person is feeling but will stick to a very short “Guten Tag” if you are from Eastern-Germany and a “Hallo” if you are from the West. When I had just landed again in Stuttgart after last summer, I greeted the sales woman of a small druck store with a happy “Good morning, how are you?”, only to have her look at me suspiciously and answer with a very firm: “None of your business now, is it?! Now, are you getting the gummy bears or not?”. In the US, you will be likely to start chit-chatting with people in the subway, in a store, a tram, a plane, even on the street. Complete strangers will compliment your outfit or smile at you. NOT in Germany. Germans like their private sphere. Also, they assume that, since you are on the road in a subway, plane, tram or on the street, you have a certain destination and goal in mind, are busy and do not want to be disturbed. It’s not necessarily that Germans are closed-up- by not talking to you they demonstrate respect for your comfort zone.
5.) Bratwurst and Sauerkraut
Yep, it is a very typical meal of Germans- grilled sausage with mustard and ketchup, potatoes and cabbage, that tastes slightly sour. What can I say…it grows on you. While I hated it as a child (it isn’t the prettiest of foods on the plate), I really do appreciate it nowadays. If you are being told all your life that this food defines your culture, well, you better get used to it, cause it ‘aint be going nowhere! So, if ever in Germany, do try a Bratwurst, they have them everywhere. To get you in the mood, listen to this Bratwurst-with-Sauerkraut- Song.
6.) Bavaria vs. The Rest of the Country
Most foreigners seem to associate one thing with Germany- Oktoberfest! And while it’s true that, once a year, a bunch of girls with braided hair and pushed-up lace bras carry 10 pints of beer to a table at which you’ll find a bunch of guys in leather pants, it is not all there is to Germany. Oktoberfest is really only nice if you do like beer and are willing to spend 15 dollars on a glass of it. Also, and I’m sorry for breaking this to you, but Germans do not really walk around in those outfits anymore, it’s a traditional Bavarian outfit that used to be worn a looong time ago. So please people from abroad, stop asking us jokingly why we “are not wearing the Lederhosen”. Prost to that!
7.) “We are a great country”, said no German ever (Thanks Hitler)
Once upon a time, there was an evil, evil man with a bad sense for hair-and beard styles and a somewhat stuck-up arm-gesture. Hitler sure did more to the Germans than starting WWII and killing hundreds of thousands of Jews- he defined the understanding of national pride for the country and made it to what it is today: nonexistent. While the French demonstrate pride by refusing to speak English with you, the Americans hiss the Stars and Stripes on anything that faintly looks like a flag pole and the Polish carefully remind everyone that they are not like the Russians, the Germans have nothing of that kind. If I hung a flag outside of my house, I would sure be the neighborhood talk with at least some of them assuming that I became part of the NPD- Germany’s national socialistic party (aka Modern Nazis). We are careful not to say “Us Germans”, refer to anything before 1949 or show the national colors other than for a soccer match. In history class, children are being taught about WWII in a way that makes one message very very clear to us: Germany has gone badshit crazy on the world so often that blames such as “Wow, your country was really messed-up, this is sick stuff, Germany was quite a cruel country” have to be answered with an apology. Basically, Germany will feel apologetic for a very, very long time.
Yes, our national sport is soccer (Fussball) and only soccer creates something like a national pride in the country. Anybody who visited Germany in 2006, when we held the international soccer tournament, would have thought the country was almost normal. There were flags EVERYWHERE. People were happy and proud and not afraid to wear Black-Red-Gold clothes, bandanas, umbrellas, face paint or pants. People were chatting with each other and hugging randomly, it truly was a summer fairytale. When Germany’s team was playing in the semi-finals and lost against Italy, it was a moment comparable to…well, maybe not 9/11 but it is very likely that Germans will know what they did at the time it was being announced that Germany was not in the finals. I sat at home and cried. And did not eat Italian ice-cream for a few months. But this is 7 years ago and no flags have been seen ever since….
For some impressions of the 2006 feel, do check out this video. It doesn’t happen all that often, that Germans are going crazy over their country, it’s worth a watch 😉
9.) Nude Beaches and Saunas
So yeah, we have them- the nude beaches. In Eastern-Germany, back when the wall was still standing, it was a cult and THE thing to demonstrate freedom (because, in Eastern-Germany, your private parts were probably the only thing free from state control). Still nowadays, you will find signs like “FKK starts here” or “End of Swim-clothing zone”. Only that the signs are in German, so watch out for how the people are going into the water- if you kept your clothes on at a nude beach, it would not be unlikely that several people will ask you to please undress. It is mostly to avoid the risk of stalkers and weirdos. Small hint: Children up to 5 or 6 years are often running around naked on the beach without people being disturbed. It’s entirely acceptable. Saunas are not typical German but it is very common that a friend will ask you to go to the sauna together. In most cases, this friend will sit in there naked. You do not wear your swimsuit or bikini in there, utmost coverage would be a towel. I myself am not the most comfortable being naked around others, so I make sure to always bring a towel with me but be aware of this and, for Heaven’s sake, do not stare at your naked friend!
10.) David Hasselhoff
I was not aware of this stereotype before attending an international university but, apparently, Americans think that Germans are crazy about David Hasselhoff- WE ARE NOT. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE stop spreading the word. True, he sang in Germany the day the wall came down, I don’t know how that happened but trust me- if I found the people responsible for that, they would not need a lawyer anymore! Hasselhoff is not being played on every festival or public occasion and I have NEVER heard any German say something like: “Man, I so wanna go to the Hasselhoff concert next week that people have been standing in line for for years but when I finally got tickets, my parents snatched them away from me ’cause they themselves love him so much that they would prank their own son to get Hasselhoff tickets and my life will be ruined from now until I get to see him live!!!”
Come on countries, we have already freed you from Justin Bieber’s monkey, can’t someone else take David for a change!?
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