28 April, 2018

That's So German!

Image source: pixabay

I've now lived in Germany for four and a half years, and in that time I've learned the ins and outs of German culture pretty much as well as any expat or immigrant could. As I mentioned in a previous post, many of the things about life in Germany that used to stand out to me as new and different, such as sorting trash and recycling, gruff customer service, and the weird window and door handles, have faded into the background and have become my new normal.

But despite the fact that many of the things I used to find strange about Germany have become commonplace to me over the course of the past few years, there are still some things that are so particular to this country that when I see then I still can't help but think (or say) "that's so German." Just a few of those things are:

Sunny Weather = Ice Cream!

The weather here in Hamburg has finally started to warm up, and we have even been blessed with multiple sunny days over the past few weeks. As soon as the sun comes out, that means one thing to Germans: It's ice cream time! Walk around on any sunny day in Germany and you are bound to see throngs of people walking down the street eating ice cream cones, even in weather that I would not consider ice cream weather. Since it's cloudy, rainy and cold here for so much of the year, especially here in northern Germany, any amount of sun is cherished and taken advantage of, and what better way to celebrate the sun than to eat a nice tasty treat.

Page Protectors

These exist in America, too, but the frequency with which they are used and the ubiquity of their presence in many aspects of everyday life is, at least to me, particularly German. While Americans tend to reserve their use for making things stored in binders look nice and organized, Germans are likely to use them any time paper needs to be stored, carried or transported. It's common to see people at the train station with their printed train tickets in one of those handy plastic sleeves, or for people to bring their papers for an appointment with one of Germany's many public offices dutifully protected from the hazards of daily life (or the dangers of the average person's tote bag). My boss even gives me my pay stub each month—a single piece of paper—in a page protector.


I'm using the German word here because I honestly have no idea what the English word is (or if there even is one). A Parkscheibe (plural Parkscheiben), which literally translates to "parking disk," is a small, flat object with a turnable disk built in that you can use to indicate the time at which you arrived in your parking spot.

Source: giffits.de

You move the wheel to the correct position (for example, the person using the Parkscheibe above arrived at 10:30), leave the Parkscheibe on your car's dashboard, and away you go. That way if you overstay your welcome, i.e. if you park in a 20-minute space for three hours and someone comes around to check, they will be able to tell that you are breaking the rules.

This sort of thing probably only works in a place like Germany where 1) people like order and rules and 2) there is a high level of trust that people will be honest when it comes to these rules. This approach is based on the same trust in rule-following that leads German subway stations not to have turnstiles: the assumption is that everyone will follow the rules so you don't have to go to extreme lengths to prevent people from breaking them.

Greetings in the Doctor's Office Waiting Room

Germans are typically not ones to randomly say hello to, or even make eye contact with, total strangers in everyday life. Especially in cities, you are unlikely to even be acknowledged let alone greeted by someone walking past you as you stroll down the street. There is one area of life, however, where this convention is inexplicably turned on it's head: the doctor's office waiting room.

Nearly everyone who enters a doctor's office waiting room to find it occupied will utter a more-or-less lackluster but obligatory "Hallo," "Morgen" (if it happens to be morning), or "Guten Tag" as they enter, and, if they come back to the waiting room after their appointment to get their coat (see next point), an equally obligatory "Tschüss" as they leave. Ninety-nine percent of the time no other conversation takes place, leading to a stony silence punctuated by the occasional salutation.

Coat Racks, Everywhere

As I hinted at in the previous point, every German doctor's office has a coat rack in the waiting room, and people make good use of them. I've also seen coats racks at fancy department stores and even a government office or two. This phenomenon goes hand-in-hand with a related trend of having lockers to put your stuff in at places like libraries, although those lockers are more of a pain than a blessing when they suddenly become compulsory (but that's another story).

Ever since I've noticed these ubiquitous coat racks I've struggled to remember if such a thing even exists in the US. I for one have never noticed coat racks strategically placed in offices and places of business, and even if they were there I never would have used them. Americans, myself included, are far too worried that their precious things will get stolen to trust the safety and security of their outerwear to the mercy of total strangers. Add to that the fact that I would be liable to accidentally leave anything I placed on a coat rack behind and you get where I am today: I've used one of those coat racks a grand total of once, and otherwise I simply carry or wear my coat out of the room with me.

While I'm sure I could think of at least a few more things to add to this list, I will stop now to avoid boring you all with what I still find to be fascinating cultural quirks. One of the thrilling but often exasperating aspects of living in an adoptive country is that these differences I notice will probably never completely fade from my awareness; but that's a good thing because that means I will always have new material to write about for the entertainment of my readers. Thanks for sticking around despite my inconsistent writing schedule, and let me know if there are particular aspects of German life and culture that you would like me to tackle next.

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