The gorgeous, rolling landscapes of Germany provide an ideal backdrop for a vibrant lifestyle filled with peace and happiness. I am still adjusting to this unbelievably comfortable lifestyle, and being the easy-to-please lifelover that I am, I have very few criticisms. I am, however, entirely able to comment on the aspects of German life that stand out the most, particularly to one who has never before left the North American continent. I will fill you in on vehicular habits, insects, and a few stereotypes that Californians may have about Germans.
As I have not yet driven a car here (and I do not plan to), I am not entirely certain of what it is like to operate a vehicle in Germany. However, as a pedestrian, I am happy to observe and report on the practices I have witnessed while walking through the streets, carpooling, or riding the bus. There are lots of small cars here, and it seems like every car is fairly new and in very good condition. Those that are older are still in good aesthetics, and it is rare to see a visually offensive vehicle (I’m looking at you, lifted Tacoma drivers). I suppose I would not describe Germans as aggressive drivers, but rather assertive, as most seem to operate safely and reasonably while still moving quite fast. Almost everyone drives a manual transmission, which allows for better handling of the vehicle, and zippier transport from one place to another. When parking, many drivers pull their vehicles directly up onto the curb, and I have yet to settle on a definite explanation as to why. What’s more is that it is common to hear drivers start up their engines after a stoplight turns green, because cars are rarely left running if the vehicle is not in motion for more than a moment.
Here in Germany, we love being outside. Outdoor eating areas are kept open and utilized in all but severe weather, and it is common to observe people lounging by a river or on a bench, enjoying the fresh air and the beautiful scenery. Not only the people love being out and about, but the flies, bees, and wasps are huge fans as well. Curious creatures, these acrobatic nuisances are sure to be found wherever people are gathered. There are certainly bees in California, but not in such large numbers, so Germans are sure to get a good chuckle out of those of us who frantically swipe at the air and jump around with newfound agility. Bees are mostly harmless, as they will perish if they use their stingers, and they typically fly away sooner than flies do after checking out the scene. German windows often do not have screens, so our flying friends are frequently found inside buildings. Other insects, aside from the aforementioned, that I have come across have been fairly similar to those seen in California, although I have noticed slightly less butterflies and slightly larger ants. I saw an ant in a beer garden last week that was so large, I was able to draw it in detail in my notebook. I’m starting to get on better terms with bugs now that I am here, which is another typical German quality. When I was at the swimming pool, I was accosted by a rather persistent bee that landed on my chest, so I ran and jumped into the water. The struggling bee was saved by some local heros, and it quickly flew away to a friendlier, drier place.
When I was preparing for my journey abroad, many people that I spoke with brought up stereotypes that they had heard or experienced in the past. First, Germans are stoic and unfriendly at first, but warm up slowly to be wonderful people. My opinion is that this is somewhat valid, however I think this may have been misconstrued a bit. I have found that most people I speak with are very friendly and helpful, and I have had great experiences with strangers. It is true that it is less common for them to approach you first, but I have had a few people strike up conversations in German or English. It is actually my opinion that Germans are overall happier and more friendly than people in the US, and I have seen very few angry people, and it is rare to hear or see people fighting or making rude gestures to one another. It is true, however, that small talk is not a cultural norm when checking out at a register. After several occasions of being ignored or given a strange look, I quickly dropped my habit of following up my “hallo”s with “wie geht’s,” which has caused a few awkward exchanges with fellow Californian international students. The cashiers are not being rude, it is just not how people get through their day here.
The second stereotype, if it can be considered one, is how people in Germany stare unabashedly, even when caught. I have heard from past students that staring contests with strangers, for reasons unknown, are not unheard of. I don’t think I have had quite enough experience to comment on the frequency of staring or the likelihood to not break contact, but I have noticed that people are more likely to look again after they have been caught looking, while in the US I think people avoid eye contact at all costs after being spotted. I will revisit this topic after a few months.
The third stereotype is that Germans are very punctual people, and I have found this to be almost entirely true. I have had several kind drivers already sitting in their vehicle waiting for me at X:00 on the dot, while I am used to leaving several minutes or so after the designated time. If you tell a German you will be somewhere or do something at a certain time, then at all costs, make sure you do it. Not keeping your word is probably considered rude globally, but when it comes to matters of time obligations, get your Scheiße together and get out the door. This includes trains and buses; if you are not through the doors by the end of the minute, then you are searching for alternate means of transportation.
There are more stereotypes to cover, but I do not think that I have gathered enough data at the current time to warrant a valid commentary, and this post already has enough words as it is. Until next time, ciao!