Trying to work out what on earth I was going to write about, I started considering what I've learned about the people of Germany since moving here a year and eight months ago. I came up with all manner of things and realised that many of my preconceptions about Germany had been crushed through my interactions with Wiesbadeners and the Mainzers across the river. Here are five of my rather more superficial evaluations of the Germans, some of which may affirm their stereotype a little and some of which come as a surprise, but all of which are of course (disclaimer alert) vastly sweeping generalisations based on my geographically limited experience of Germany during my time as an expat here so far...
|German festival-goers at this years Mainzer Karneval. (This image also illustrates to my point about Germans not being shy about what's under their Lederhosen.)|
Despite their reputation as a strict, cerebral, humourless people, I've quickly learned that the Germans in fact know how to have a seriously good time. Aside from the three German weddings I've been to, at none of which I was permitted to go to bed before the sun came up and the birds started singing, clear evidence of this can be found in the German calendar of events. I'm talking festivals: in Germany there are summer festivals, winter festivals; Easter festivals, Christmas festivals; festivals for beer, festivals for wine, festivals for pumpkins, apples and cheese. Parties in market places, parties on the streets, parties in castles, parks and on small patches of pavement outside shops. During the riotous final week of Karneval, millions of Germans (probably) all over the country do an absolutely terrific job of showing the rest of the world how to have a rollicking good time. You name it, there's a German festival for it, and there's probably a special kind of booze to go with it, too.
...the Germans aren't shy about getting their bits out
It doesn't seem like the locals here (and abroad, if my trip to Crete was anything to go by) need much of an excuse to take their clothes off. I'm not just talking about the enthusiastic abandon with which trips to the gynaecologist are embraced, nor the simple pleasure of wandering around starkers at the sauna: at my local pool, not only is topless sunbathing allowed (though presumably discouraged at this time of year for fear of icicles, etc) but there's also a nudist area for getting one's bits out for a good sunning, should one so wish.
I like to think it does everybody an awful lot of good: I've never enjoyed a more empowered air of relaxation than on a Tuesday at Wiesbaden's Kaiser-Friedrich Thermal Baths (Tuesday being ladies' day, though there's often some poor young chap on duty who has to strip half-naked to fan the air out of the Finnish sauna once an hour). I've half a mind to lobby for compulsory trips to the sauna for the teenage girls of the UK in order that they learn very much earlier than I did that real, happy women come in all manner of marvellous shapes and sizes and that every single one of them, accepting themselves for who they are, is absolutely gorgeous in their own unique way. And that absolutely no-one in real life is a flawless, cellulite-and-wrinkle-free size 0. Especially not after two hours in a steam room.
...the Germans and I have a very different idea about personal space
I was brought up in a culture in which strangers are pretty uncomfortable about snuggling up to each other on the bus. We'll do it if we have to, with almightily strong upper lips, but we're awfully keen not to enjoy it. I like to think I'm a pretty relaxed and friendly sort of a person, but I do have a not-unreasonable-sized area directly around my person that I'm not entirely comfortable with having penetrated by strangers in unnecessary situations (ie I'll put up with a tall chap forcing their arm across my face on the Tube if I must, but I don't want to feel the hot breath of an unfamiliar pensioner in the parcel collection queue at the post office.) Personal space is, generally speaking, infrequently invaded territory in the UK, but not so here in Germany. I find myself regularly being spooned at almost-empty bus stops, queueing at the bakery, whilst attempting to alight a train (credit to Resident on Earth for that turn of phrase). I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it per say, it's just I can't seem to get used to it, and everywhere I go there seems to be someone standing a little to close to comfort.
My current favourite personal space incident here didn't actually involve me directly. In late spring of this year, B and I took to a large grassy area by the river at Schierstein for an Sunday afternoon lounging with the weekend papers. We were, bar a large, semi-naked lady sunning herself on a small blanket, the only people as far as the eye could see. I watched an attractive and well-to-do-looking couple amble hand-in-hand along the banks of the Rhine before they wandered onto the grass to find a spot to sit and canoodle in the sunshine. They had almost had the whole park to choose from, and where did they choose to set up their afternoon love nest? Literally 5 metres away from the large, semi-naked woman. If anyone has an explanation for such behaviour, I'd love to hear it.
|This isn't an England-Germany sporting event, it's a Mainz 05-Stuttgart one. But it is football.|
This one was a bit of a shock to me, and I can tell you, boy did it hurt when I found out (during the World Cup last year). It turns out that the Germans don't consider England to be their arch nemesis on the football pitch. I know!! Though they anticipate, with great eagerness and excitement, playing what they consider to be 'classic' games against my national team, their biggest rivals are in fact the Dutch - and boy do they love to hate them (and not just on the football pitch). Thus what we English consider to be a fierce, long-running sporting rivalry with the nation who's our historical enemy turns out to be one that's entirely one-sided. In fact, the Germans don't even seem to know that the English feel this way and as result, it feels to me that we're the drunk uncle trying to dance with the hot young bridesmaid at a wedding: it's embarrassing, and just a little bit pathetic. Oh well, at least we've still got the French.
...the Germans love the great outdoors. And what they love even more is to be fully equipped for it
Jack Wolfskin is now one of the top three outdoor manufacturers in Europe (so say the Spiegel) and in this part of the country at least, you can see why: that little paw print logo is everywhere. At this time of year, if someone's not strutting down the high street in a coat made from 84 stoats and a spatchcocked fox then you can be sure they're kitted out in gear that'll see them through a week sleeping rough in the Alps. And let's face it, when one's popping out to do one's Christmas shopping in this climate, its important to be prepared for all eventualities with a mountain-tested-for-light-and-warmth Texapore trekking jacket with kinetic-stretch inserts, Nanuk Dynamic fleece panels and system zips. And of course a good strong pair of Activate Pants.
I could go on, but I've a wine to drink and I don't seem to have enough photos to illustrate my points as it is. Please peruse the links below for other posts on this topic from our Blogger Stammtisch, and hey! if you're an expat living in Germany, what have you learned about the locals since you've been here?
p.s. I know, I know, this isn't a Friendly Friday. Life's been a bit busy of late: my expat interviews will be back in the new year.