In just over a month it’ll be one year since I moved to Germany. If you had told me then that I’d still be living in my grandma’s house, I wouldn’t have believed you. However, an extended time in this country has exposed me to some strange, quirky, and somewhat shocking things Germans do. For all I know some of these things may only apply to a lot of people that live in Baden-Württemberg, or only Germans that live in small towns, or are not even that common but I always tend to notice them.
Three years ago when I travelled Europe, Germany was a nice homey paradise to me. Two years ago I lived in Sweden and that country became the ideal. After having spent more time here I have come to dislike some things about Germany that turn me off from the country entirely. Here are some petty things that haven’t greatly influenced my desire to leave, but I certainly won’t miss them when I eventually move:
1. Germans print their shoe sizes on the outside of their socks.
I really thought only certain companies did this, but it is really rampant in this country. Socks are labelled with 35-38, 39-42, 42-45, and who knows what else. I thought this might be useful if a person was found dead without any identification and any shoes so you could estimate their shoe size, though I don’t know where you’d go from there. I asked my mom about it and she said it’s probably so you can tell whose socks are whose in the laundry. Maybe this is helpful when you have a big family with lots of kids and you can’t remember which child you bought which socks for, but this is no help at all in my household where my mom and I have the same size feet. Even if we had a man in the house I don’t think I’d ever accidentally think the ankle socks with the little pink anchors were his.
2. All German radio stations play the news every half hour.
As someone who loves to jam to my tunes (yes, I promise I’m under the age of 60) in the car, this has always bothered me. Thankfully when driving I’m mostly listening to my trusty French radio stations anyway. But at work, where the radio is on all day, this is just annoying. In theory, regular news reports sound like a good idea. Really, all they do is repeat the same stories every half hour for an entire day. And if at some point during the day there is breaking news, it’s often announced as it happens even if that’s not during a regular newscast. I’ll admit this is helpful when you’re driving and need to hear a traffic report because you know exactly when it will air. However, in Edmonton we had AM radio that provided news all the time. I went through all the AM stations here one time and the only signal I picked up was something super grainy from France.
3. Reality shows have music playing for ~90% of the show.
This one I really don’t get. Reality shows are quite rampant here – and I don’t mean the garbage and shows about obscure nonsensical topics that come out of the US. Usually there are weekly competitions about cooking, shopping, weddings, etc. with five candidates where each candidate gets their own episode on a different day of the week. I’ll admit I’m hooked on a couple of these shows. The hosts are enjoyable and I always find good recipes or outfit ideas. But apparently all these show editors are asked for the same thing – play as much popular music as you can. No, it doesn’t matter if it has anything to do with what’s happening in the show. No, don’t worry if it’s playing while someone is talking. In an average week I hear Summer by Calvin Harris playing as someone is peeling a potato, or Eminem’s Lose Yourself as the camera enters someone’s house. Meanwhile, I can’t watch a music video on Youtube because they’re all blocked by GEMA.
4. Germans are really specific about why they’re calling in sick for work.
Having always worked a part time job that relies on me showing up to get paid, I’ve never been one to call in sick often. When I have, I’ve always said something like, “My muscles are completely cramped up and I can’t move my arm” (okay that sounds ridiculous but it actually happened), or “I have a migraine”. But Germans? Oh man. In a year where everyone was ill pretty much all the time, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard of my family and friends’ co-workers calling in sick because of diarrhea. Legitimate reason to miss work? Yes. TMI? Absolutely.
5. Germans jaywalk without hesitation if the crosswalk is too far, but obey the crosswalk lights with dedication like I’ve never seen.
I think Germans have come to have a reputation for their strict observance of the colour of the Ampelmännchen at a crosswalk. What really surprised me once I started driving in Germany is that they are much more loosey goosey at any other point on the street. It’s not unusual to have to slow down for jaywalkers because they are no in hurry to get across. Yet when I’m standing with other people at a crosswalk and I realize there is no car anywhere near us, they stay put at the light while I waltz across the street.
6. You have to say goodbye to everyone always.
I’m convinced a German’s favourite word is “Tschüss”. Every time you enter a place, someone will greet you. Even if they don’t work there. Every time you leave a place, everyone better say goodbye or they’re dead to you. Leaving a store without having talked to a single employee? “Tschüss!” Getting up in a waiting room to head in to your appointment? “Tschüss!” Standing naked in the gym locker room when someone heads out? “Tschüü-üüss!!” What really gets me is that Germans love to greet and say goodbye to people but they have no interest in making any small talk. If you ask someone how they’re doing they will probably recite you their life story because saying “wie geht’s” means you are genuinely interested in how they are. As a retail worker in Canada it was completely normal for me to hand people their bag and receipt and tell them to have a nice day, or a good day, or a great day. If I just said “Bye!” I would probably get a stern talking-to by someone higher up. But in Germany, if you don’t say “Tschüss” at the end of a transaction, you are definitely an asshole.
7. Despite having a simple word for a hyphen, Germans say “minus” instead.
I’ve known English speakers that don’t know what a hyphen is. Good thing we have an easier word for it too: dash. Germans have a pretty nice word for it – in classic German fashion it is unnecessarily long, but it’s not too difficult to say and it describes the punctuation mark accurately. “Bindestrich” literally means “line that binds”. Yet if some advertisement on TV or some radio DJ reads out a website with a hyphen in it, they say “minus”, just like the sign for subtraction. Maybe Germans really like word math. All I know is I had to read an email address over the phone to someone while at work and I felt like a right twat saying “minus”.
8. Germans rarely say “excuse me”.
Okay, this one is a bit more than a petty annoyance. I grew up in Canada, famous for being polite. I’ve visited the UK several times, also known for being polite. I lived in Sweden, full of, well, quiet people, but as an international student ambassador in Uppsala so eloquently put it, Swedes are so polite that they don’t want to disturb your peace by talking to you (now that is my kind of people). It’s safe to say my standards of politeness are pretty high. Now, Germans are on the whole quite friendly. However, no one ever seems to say “excuse me”. (And yes, there is a word for it: “entschuldigung”.) I went most of my life in Canada starting sentences with “sorry” to get someone’s attention, or while reaching past them for something, or while passing by them in a tight space, etc. But since I started working in somewhat of a retail role in Germany, I’ve noticed that people really just don’t say “entschuldigung” at all. I can be organizing books on a shelf and have someone reach over my shoulder to silently grab one. I can be standing with my back to the counter and eventually turn and be startled by someone that has been waiting there in complete silence. I can even be standing in the queue at Aldi on a Saturday and have someone shove in front of me to get to the apples I had to stand in front of. Yet nary an “entschuldigung” to be heard. Probably the worst thing about this is that I found myself doing the same thing the other day. Guess I’m still part-German after all.