Thursday, December 15, 2011

Frau Dietz and The Germans

No, I've not formed a girlband. I've in fact been invited to join a brand spanking new Blogger Stammtisch (blogging roundtable) by the ever forward-thinking Andrew of Grounded Traveler. This month, on our first go at collectively blogging on the same topic, our theme is interacting with locals.

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.)
...the Germans love to party

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.
...the Germans don't go wild about playing the English at 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.
Beautiful Hessen.
...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.


fiona said...

Wow, that was some photo to wake up to on a Saturday morning with a slightly rocky stomach. (I don't think I need to say which one). I completely concur with all your points. I actually find it hard to believe that Jack Wolfskin is only number three. What are number 1 and 2? I wouldn't be entirely surprised if I saw someone with a Jack Wolfskin tattoo here in Berlin such is the popularity. And to be honest, I can't help but think if the Germans think it is good, I should probably join them. They generally know a good thing.

Andrew said...

On the main street in Freiburg there is a Jack Wolfskin across the street from a Selewa and on the other side of the buildings a Northface. Yes, indeedy the Germans like their wellmade outdoor stuff. Don't forget the walking sticks.

And to highlight the second point, I remember reading that there is a nudist hiking park in Germany. Dangle your bits in the great outdoors. Again, don't forget the sticks.

What a great entry into the roundtable!

spiky said...

im loving everything here. hope to be expose to your culture oneday, someday.

im going to link you for more visit. :)

BavarianSojourn said...

Great post with some very interesting tips for me to take note of!! Had noticed the personal space invasion thing recently. Met one of my husbands work colleagues the other day. He was talking to me so closely, I thought at one point he was going to lick my face. Very disconcerting. Emma :)

German Gems said...

Agree with every one of your points. And, why, in a nearly empty parking lot, will a German park right next to you rather than a few spaces away?

Frau Dietz said...

@Fiona: haha sorry!!

@Andrew: thanks :) ..and thank you for mentioning the sticks as well. They are of course absolutely vital.

@Spiky: thank you very much :)

@Emma: Urrrgh how horrible!!

@German Gems: I don't have a car so I can't say I've noticed that, however I do have exactly the same problem with swimming pool lockers. Why do people do that??!!

Sabrina said...

I was laughing so hard at your drunk uncle comment in regards to the football rivalry :) I actually read it out loud to my (German) sister and her (British) husband: she laughed and he chuckled while saying he never even considered that Germans might not feel that way - they just moved here.

By the way, I think your party comment is spot on. My (Italian) boyfriend pointed it out to me and I didn't understand why he was so surprised that Germans like to party. Must be what foreigners think about us Germans :)

The Wine Rambler said...

Interesting comments on the Germans. Having lived in the UK for a few years now I can see why you picked these topics and I am inclined to, with the usual footnotes, agree. The personal space aspect is something I had not noticed though - maybe this is about moving from Munich to London. London is just so packed that people constantly come too close, so I have learned to ignore it. I certainly value my personal space!

Frau Dietz said...

@Sabrina: haha, thank you! I hope I haven't crushed the fighting football spirit of your British friend ;)

@TheWineRambler: True that everyone's pretty squashed up with each other in London but with so many people in one place you can't help but infringe on other people's personal space. My experience in Germany, however, is that it's entirely voluntary, and that's what I find unnerving!

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog (through the Mainz expat site) and what a great post! I have to agree with every point that you've made! I wish I knew about "Point 2" before visiting the Aukammtal sauna in Wiesbaden a couple of years ago. You can imagine my surprise!


ianandebe said...

Everyday I say something along the lines of "Those crazy Germs" but I think your list sums it up a bit more precisely.

So sorry to hear about the non-rivalry btwn England & Germany. In American sports, we only play ourselves so we are world champions. Clever eh?

Frau Dietz said...

@Maria: Thank you :) And that's hilarious!! I can imagine that was a bit of a shock. I'd like to visit Aukammtal sometime. Thank you very much for finding me - hope to see you at a meetup :)

@Ianandebe: Haha I think that's the first time I've ever been referred to as precise! And excellent sports tactic ;)

Laurel said...

This post made me chuckle, I agreed with everything, but have never noticed the personal space on the train, although I have noticed it while picnicking as well. I'm especially impressed with German's body confidence, regardless of its size. I love your idea of making teenagers go to the sauna and see this for themselves.

Frau Dietz said...

Thanks, Laurel :) And it's not so much on the train as boarding it!! Although it's VERY much on the buses ;)

Emma said...

Just found you through 'Love all blogs' I really enjoyed your post, it's fascinating looking at the differences between nationalities.

Frau Dietz said...

Thank you Emma, for stopping by and for taking the time to say hello :) I shall pop over and visit you too!