The beer and sausages aside, I would like to take a moment to address the day-to-day behavioural German stereotypes that one often hears of Germans and to what extent I find them true, false or hilarious!
Germans are direct.
The most common one and indeed something I have found to be quite true. Germans love getting straight to the point. What’s the use of waiting around, engaging in futile small talk and then asking the question, when you can skip straight to the last part and get your answer right away?
This works phenomenally well, because more often than not you have a clear idea of what’s going on and what you’re expected to do. If you screw up, let the lord be kind to you since those words will come out pretty direct as well.
Supervisor: So I had a look at the blog post you made for X event.
Me: Yeah, do you have some feedback?
Supervisor: Yeah, well it looks quite ugly.
Me: (*can feel my cheeks burning*) Ah, okay. What would you like me to do then?
Supervisor: Never mind. We don’t have enough time to use a new tool and since you don’t really know X tool, you can’t fix the layout really.
Me: (*Double Cheek Burn*) Okay.
Side Note: In India, the only time you will hear the words ‘quite ugly’ for a blog post is when you destroyed the entire page, and the company was going to shut down because of it. Unless, your supervisor is just a mean person. Then, good luck dealing with them! In Germany though, no mincing words. More often than not, you will get the blunt truth. Good or bad.´It’s important not to take anything personally unless otherwise stated.
Even though I am used to having the most direct and rude bunch of friends one could possibly have from before I moved to Germany, the new ones still manage to pleasantly shock me every once in a while. I myself thought I was a pretty direct person. At least compared to most Indians. When compared to an average German person, perhaps not.
While back home, I’d spend ten minutes talking about X, Y & Z and then come to the point of what I really needed my friend’s counsel on, with German friends I can usually be extremely direct and ask them for help straight up. What’s also great is that they will never say ‘Yes’, if what they really meant was a ‘No’.
This is a definite upside to this culture, since back home its the opposite. Your friends will almost never say no on your face but back out at some point later. (I’m guilty of this. I find it extremely hard to directly say no to friends and always try to find the most guilt-free way out, even though I have no reason to feel guilty if I don’t have the time or desire to do something)
Me: Hey, do you think you could help me move to my new flat?
German Friend: Yeah. Let me know which weekend and what time. I’ll bring my car.
Me: Great. See you then.
Side Note: Had this been an Indian friend or even some other cultures I won’t explicitly mention, I would have gone an entirely different route to ask the same question. I maybe would even have to bribe them with food or alcohol to get them to help me out. (Kidding) Unless it is my childhood friend of course, who has no choice really. If I know you for half my existence, you better pull me through. Even if I am in prison and I ask you to do some more shady things for me.
Germans worship rules
If there is a society on the extreme opposite scale of ‘following rules’ from India, I definitely found it. Some times I don’t even know which rule I’m breaking when I am accused of it or get strange looks as if I was a lunatic. Jaywalking always gets you crazy looks which is understandable but even small random things can get you some fantastically direct comments.
The other day, I was biking and saw the green light, so I biked faster to cross over the street and take a right. I saw the guy coming from the left and estimated he wasn’t that fast or near enough so I could still pass by. After 15 seconds, he biked frantically next to me and said without looking at me with what seemed a disgusted face, “Schau mal, kommst du an!” (English: Look when you are coming), and then biked away at the fastest speed possible as if I was going to chase him down to tell him to f*** off. Even though I very much wanted to. The man had a helmet and was 30 metres away. How much of a space was I supposed to make for him? Stop at the previous light even when it was green just to let him pass by so he can maintain his average biking speed? Who even made these rules? I need to find this guidebook so I can avoid looking like a jerk when I really don’t think I am doing anything wrong.
Another time a friend and I were walking to find a new place. My friend’s one leg was on the bike lane and the biker having seen her from a long distance didn’t make any effort to stop. She was facing me and hadn’t seen him either till he almost collided. When she jumped out of his way, he angrily shouted (in German), “Kannst du nicht sehen?” (English: Can you not see?) Was it wrong to cover one foot of the bike path? Perhaps. But was such a rude reaction needed? Most certainly not.
This kind of insane rigidity when it comes to following so-called “rules” is what makes Germans efficient in the first place, but also sometimes robotic in my opinion. It’s like some people just can’t relax here. They secretly always worry some one is out to get them. Maybe the German government, or the US government or the Russians. Even when they live in one of most protected, secure and liberal countries in the world, they worry themselves to death. Often about utterly pointless things. Which leads me to my next point.
Germans are well-insured
Back in India, the only insurance I had, was medical insurance. That’s the beginning and end of my insurances. Within a month of arrival, apart from the health insurance I also had to get what’s called a third-party liability insurance in-case I damage some one else’s private property by mistake. On top of that, I had options to do a ‘home contents/accident/death/travel/legal advice’ insurance. The list goes on and on. It seems to be the case that Germans absolutely love being safe. They love it so much that pretty much any unforeseen and hence unpleasant event is often insured.
Growing up in what one may assume one of the most accident prone countries in the world, I didn’t even own an accidental insurance. Here, I almost feel guilty for not owning one.
During a visit to my local bank manager, I asked to apply for a new credit card.
Bank Manager: Why don’t you upgrade to the Z card which is like 80€/year(4X the normal version) since it has a ‘special travel insurance’. It gives you the added benefit of getting your money back if you have to cancel your travel due to falling sick right before travel.
Me : (*to myself: What is going on with these people here? Do they make new scenarios just to buy extra insurances?’)
Me : Oh no, thanks. My previous credit card covers regular travel insurance while abroad. I don’t think I need this specific benefit. But I’ll keep this in mind for the future.
Side Note: I understood the logic behind this special insurance after realizing how most Germans really travel. Owing to the ‘Better safe than sorry’ mindset, a lot of them prefer to book vacations through travel agents months and some times years in advance. It is not just old people or families, it is a lot of the youngsters too. These packages can often be expensive and non-refundable and knowing that most humans hate losing their money, having this insurance might actually make sense for them. Personally, I never book travel packages simply because I like planning impromptu activities once I am in the country I am heading to and hence I don’t see a need for the same.
Germans like to complain.
I haven’t really paid attention to this particular attribute, mostly because I think its normal for humans to complain and be unhappy about something. After all, life is not all just drinking beer and eating sausages right? Why I think this stereotype however might be true is because if there’s something Germans love the MOST, its ‘efficiency’. They are used to having systems, processes and schedules in place that are religiously followed. It is part of what makes this country so awesome.
However, when these systems or schedules break down, it is not uncommon to see people abusing quietly under their breath and sometimes even loudly gasping or yelling. The most common sight where you can notice this is definitely while waiting for public transportation. Having grown up in India, you get used to pretty much everything getting delayed, especially means of transport. I would be surprised if my train in India wasn’t late. You can imagine why I just roll my eyes, when there is an announcement that a train is five minutes later than expected and people around me start to get pissed off. However, I do understand why they complain. Even if it is not always justified. This naturally feeds back to the ‘love for punctuality’. (that stereotype needs its own blog post).
Germans are boring
When seen from a distance, this may appear true. On the contrary, I find Germans to be on average quite interesting people. Since a young age, they are encouraged to take up many hobbies and activities, most of them speak at least two languages including English with a vast majority fluently speaking a third or fourth(usually French or Spanish), often take gap years after high school/uni, undertake challenging internships and travel around at least in Europe to have a broad idea of what life outside of Germany is all about. This is exactly why I always find something interesting to talk to irrespective if it’s a fellow 25-year-old at the university or a 50-year-old at work.
What is hard is to move beyond the acceptable social topics and talk to Germans on a deeper level. Friendships are not ‘lightly formed’ and it may take a few years for you to really get to know a German well enough to call them a friend, unless you went to school or university together giving you enough time to bond well.
No matter what, exceptions to everything I said always exist. I know a few people who according to the above parameters would most certainly not qualify as German, but who are we to judge people anyway?
If you like this article, see also: The 10 commandments of living in Germany
(*In true German fashion*)
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