Sunday, February 5, 2012

German people and culture...not what you probably expected

Everyone knows the stereotype of the shouting, angry German that has been portrayed in countless film, books, TV shows etc over the years. All in all my experience has been somewhat different to this. Whilst it is true Germans love their rules and structure, I have found them to be a very friendly, warm and fun loving people. Like any culture there are some things that are unique to Germans and sure, the social norms of this country might be different to other parts of the world but all in all, you will probably be surprised about how many of the stereotypes that people believe is the "typical German" are in fact exaggerations.

This early video by Steve Carell is pretty damn funny, but shows just how the world sees the stereotypical German. Check out his point of view on Germans who say nice things.

Thinking about all of the people I have met in Germany, and the Germans I have met elsewhere in the world I honestly struggle to think of one person that I have met that I would consider 'cold' or 'mean' (which is often the stereotype that people think of when they are asked to describe a German person).

It is true that Germans are a very direct people. They call a spade a spade and are not afraid to speak their minds. For many people this can be interpreted as being harsh or even 'angry'. The simple fact of the matter is, Germans will say what they think and they don't give a shit if you like it or not. They have their point of view, will express it and if you disagree then you are very welcome to debate the issue with them. But they are not being mean, angry or negative. It's just their way. Don't take it personally!

German culture is something that I have slowly slowly slowly becoming more accustomed to. Here are some of the customs and parts of German culture that I have discovered since I have been here.

1. Say cheers! When you say cheers ('Prost') you must look at the other person in the eye as you do it. The punishment for not doing this every time you cheers is seven years bad sex. Even those who are not at all superstitious will take part in this ritual as they say the risk just isn't worth it!

2. Guten Apetit! It is considered good manners to say 'Guten Apetit' before you begin any meal with other people. Quiet a nice ritual that I rather like!

3. No applause please! It is considered bad manners to applaude someone who has given a presentation, or received an acknowledgment in an academic or professional setting. Applause is for the theatre and for performers. Instead, Germans knock on the desk or table to acknowledge the person's achievement or work.

4. Say your name. When you answer the telephone, it is polite to say your surname when you answer rather than 'Hallo'. 

5. Shhhh! Many people frown on loud noise on Sundays and during the Mittagsruhe (Midday Silence). This is a period from about 11am to 1pm where you shouldn't create excess noise in your apartment or yard. I have heard some people have received 'a talking to' or a note from their neighbours/building managers telling them that things like loud TV or vacuum cleaners should be avoided during this time. Some people also won't mow their lawns on Sundays. It's not really that common anymore (or so I believe), but some people still expect you to keep the noise down on Sunday.

6. Pack it yourself. No supermarkets (unless you go somewhere quite posh) pack groceries for you. You bring your own bags and pack them yourself.

7. Bio is better. Germans loooooooove organic produce. they have entire supermarket chains like Tegut that are devoted to organic only food.

8. Rules. There is a rule for everything. One element of the German stereotype that is true is their love of structure and organisation. Whilst it's not to the point where you feel 'controlled', just about everything has a process and a procedure and people will follow these. They will certainly let you know when you do the wrong thing.

9. Credit cards are out. While it's starting to be more common place, many stores and service providers won't accept credit cards. IKEA, Saturn (a large electrical chain) won't accept them. I had to pay for my iMac in cash because Saturn won't accept credit cards. They will take cash or EC Card (debit).

All in all, Germans are generally a friendly and helpful people. They are very tolerant of people who are visiting their country and may not speak the language and most German people speak excellent English. In fact I think quite a lot of German people enjoy the opportunity to speak English when they can. Things that are in English (signs, names of shops/restaurants etc) in Germany, are often seen to be a little 'cooler'. I have no idea why English is 'cool' but for some people it is. Go figure huh?

Many ex pats living in Germany often complain that 'things are so difficult in Germany' or that 'Germans go about things in weird ways'. It's not weird, just different to your home country. That's part of the excitement about living somewhere else in the world, living and learning the culture. My advice is always the same: When in Rome....