Photo: Sebastian Siebert/Shutterstock

How to Confuse a German Abroad

by Barbara Litzlfellner Oct 26, 2016

Invade our personal space.

Sitting with 4 people in a row of public transport seats which would fit a maximum of 2 people back home or standing in a huge bulk not in a proper queue are situations which make us extremely uncomfortable. The same thing goes for traffic. When we can’t see your registration plate in the rear view mirror, you are too close. When we can feel the warmth of your skin or smell in your breath what you had for lunch, you are too close. It’s nothing personal. We Germans just like to be alone in our own personal space bubble and we don’t really know how to handle it when someone invades it, except with either retreating really quickly or becoming stiffer than a broom.

Don’t sell our milk products.

In Germany, we are used to have immediate access to a great variety of milk products. All kinds of yogurts, dozens of different cheeses, creme fraiche, creme double, kefir, curd, sour cream, whey – you name it, we have it. We probably even invented it. While in some countries the same products are easily available, some countries have a significantly smaller choice. Why no buttermilk, Hungary. Why? Don’t you have any love for all those amazing muffin recipes I desperately need it for?

Be genuinely nice and try to help us in difficult situations.

Recently an interesting case of some Syrian refugees arresting another Syrian guy who was wanted by the police made the news in Germany. The guy, a complete stranger for them, had asked them for a place to stay and without hesitation they took him in – just because that guy needed help. Only later they realized that he was a wanted man and they called the police. Germans suspect those guys were involved in the bad guy’s dirty business. Because… who would take a stranger in, just like that?  This is a rather sad insight into the soul of Germans. These things, be it a dinner invitation, an offer for a ride or a night’s sleep, will always make us suspicious, thinking which interior motives the other person might have. But with more and more people frequently traveling and experiencing the kindness of strangers, we are working hard on changing this attitude.

Have lunch at 4 pm and eating dinner for 4 hours till midnight.

How on earth do you survive from breakfast to lunch? Aren’t you all shaky and weak from hunger by then already? The German word “Mittagessen” means midday meal and for us midday is somewhere between 12 pm and 2 pm. And since we are already on it: how can you have dinner in the middle of the night, lasting for hours? Shouldn’t the family be gathering around the TV already at 8 to watch the news, followed by some quality evening program? Alright, that model might be a bit outdated even in Germany by now, but we still prefer dinner rather early. Also it is usually a rather short and purposive affair and not a feast of several hours.

Act like we are best friends after one conversation.

Don’t hug. Don’t touch. And don’t tell us the full story of your life. If nothing can stop you from doing so, then at least don’t expect the same from us. We don’t know you. Keep some distance, physically and emotionally, for heaven’s sake! Even though we sometimes envy the socialization abilities of some other nationalities, we are just not made for emotional bonding within minutes.

Eat a hot meal for breakfast.

We are fully aware that breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day and we would never skip it, but eating a full-fledged meal with bacon, beans and sausage at this time of the day just makes our stomach revolt. A good coffee, a light sandwich and maybe some cereals, that’s what we call a breakfast.

Put speed limits on the highway.

German highways with their non-existent speed limit are a dream destination for every speed junkie. Although on many parts of our highways the amount of traffic forces you to go below 50mph anyway and on other parts there actually are speed limits in place, the notion of having a general limit of 70mph all through the country seems rather illogical for us.

Rent your flat out fully furnished.

Once the typical German settles in a place, he prepares to settle for a long time. This leads to us dragging around trucks full of our furniture from one apartment to the next one, should we – heavens forbid – have to move after all. Some of us can’t even help doing so moving to another country. Someone renting out a fully furnished flat, like it is rather normal in many big cities around the world, leaves us Germans only one possibility: renting an extra storage room for our furniture, till we will need it again, even if that might be only in 10 years.

Tell us to “hitchhike” with the bus.

“Why don’t you take the bus to town?” – “But there is no bus stop anywhere near!” – “Just wait on the street and wave when the bus comes. It should pass around 4pm.”

Have you ever been in a bus during a traffic jam in Munich and tried to convince the driver to open the doors 100 m before the next stop? Then you know that it is easier to exit a plane in full flight, than achieving this. And then you might also understand how absurd the thought of just waving down a bus on the street seems to us.

Go to the supermarket on a Sunday.

The typical German tends to have a small shopping binge on Friday evening or latest on Saturday, since supermarkets are closed on Sundays. Grocery stores often look like zombie apocalypse is here, because it’s better to buy everything than having to suffer through one day without that one thing you usually never eat anyway.  It takes us a while to take advantage of the shopping freedom we enjoy in many countries and to actually pop into the supermarket if we run out of toilet paper, instead of searching all the house for tissues to get through the day.

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