27 November 2011

Fact or Fiction: Six American Stereotypes about Germans

TV Tower with Menacing Clouds

I've been in Berlin awhile and have decided to stay.  Life has normalized itself and I have switched modes, from a traveling troubadour to a struggling artist and language student.  Though I still can't understand a lot of what is being said, my Deutsch is generally good enough to get around (get directions to a place, find what I need at a store, ask how much something costs, etc.)  I have begun to ask people working in cafes and bakeries to speak to me in German instead of English.  (Berlin is very accommodating to the English speaking world.  This is a good or a not-so-good thing, depending on your perspective, but I'm not going to get into that now.)
I really enjoy making lists, so I thought I would make a few!  The following is a list of stereotypes that Americans have about Germans and whether they are (in my experience) Fact or Fiction.  Coming soon, cultural differences you wouldn't think about if you weren't here

And now:
American Stereotypes about Germans, Fact and Fiction

1. The trains run on time
Fiction. While the Bahn system is quite reliable in Berlin, it is quite often that the S and U Bahn will be a few minutes late.  Also the buses, while more reliable than the SF MUNI, seem to show up when they want to.  It is always around the time they are scheduled, but they may be a few minutes early or late.  The night bus, which runs all night during the weekdays after the trains shut down, really tends to have a schedule of it's own that has not so much to do with any printed information.

2. The German language is harsh sounding and ugly.
Fiction. While the German language has many sharp consonants and uses a few sounds we don't use in the English language, I actually find the Deutsch language gentle.  Of course any language is going to sound harsh when it is spoken like this:

4. Germans are always on time
Fiction. Oh, the falseness of this.  Again, I can only speak of Berlin, but in my experience, the German people in this city have only a slightly more rigid idea of what it means to be on tme than they do in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Then again, I don't know anyone with a 9 to 5 office job here, so I may be wrong.  But to my foreign sensibilities Berlin seems a very relaxed place.

5. Germans have no sense of humor
Fiction. This is a very common stereotype that is simply not true.  Not one little bit.  The German sense of humor, much like the British sense of humor, is dry and somewhat satirical  Then again, a lot of downright silly.  I know a lot of Germans who have a terrific sense of humor.  This country has a long history of clowning and comedy.  One of the great German comedians, Loriot, recently died, but here is a sample of his work:

6. Germans are rude and unfriendly.
Fiction. German culture is direct.  Many Americans may mistake this directness for rudeness; however this is simply not the case.  Rudeness, to me, implies a sort of judgement, while directness is simply the easiest way to say what you want to day.  An example of this would be this morning when I brought my friend his laptop.  He was in his bedroom and the computer was on the kitchen table, resting on a piece of bubble wrap.  I neglected to bring him the bubble wrap as well.  While one of my American friends might have said, "Can you get the bubble wrap as well?  It keeps the computer from overheating because the fan is on the bottom of the machine," Robert said, "Oh, no.  This is wrong.  I need the bubble wrap also because otherwise the computer gets too hot." And he pointed to the vent on the bottom of the electronic device.  

A month and a half ago, I would have felt scolded.  (I am occasionally still overly sensitive to this cultural abruptness, but I like it.)  But my friend was not judging me, he was just explaining my error and why the padding was necessary.

Traveling really forces one to look at their stereotypes in a critical manner. I suggest it to everyone.

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