It occurred to me as I near the six-year anniversary of my move to Germany that I have spent enough time among the natives to gain my own personal insight into the well-documented stereotypes that have plagued the country for as long as most can remember. While cultures around the globe have been on the receiving end of their own oversimplified characterizations, it appears the Germans can lay claim to the lion’s share of ‘strange’ habits and behaviors that the rest of the world has seen fit to heap their way. And while I too have shared my own personal insights on the country’s penchant for punctuality and direct manner of speech, I thought I would do a quick round-up of some of the more glaring of cultural clichés in an attempt to try to separate a bit of fact from all that straight-up fiction.
Schnitzel, Sausage and Sauerkraut
While I think a good swath of America is apt to celebrate the national treasure we know as the hamburger, I feel fairly confident we are aligned in our reluctance to have it define our entire culinary culture. Please note, the Germans feel the same way about their schnitzel, sausages and sauerkraut. Despite these delectables being in heavy rotation on many a pub owner’s menu, they hardly constitute the backbone of the country’s cooking capabilities. Hardy to say the least, the German cuisine offers a range of food options to satisfy the most picky of eaters, and while my experimentation in the local cuisine has not been without its “absolutely not” moments of truth, it’s the citizens profound love of meat that has made clear long ago that I was gonna be quite cozy and comfortable eating here.
I Only Drink Beer on Days that End in a ‘Y’
It is incomprehensible to me how much beer the Germans are capable of drinking and how easily a person (me) can find themselves indulging in one of the country’s favorite past times. With a thousand-plus year history of perfecting the actual art of beer making, it’s no wonder the locals did the same in the area of its consumption. Considered by doctors to be a remedy for all that ails you and gunning for inclusion as a genuine world wonder, German beer is clearly held in the highest of regards. If believing this beer-centric society is full of only hops and yeast, your thinking would be wildly misguided as I can personally attest to the fact that the local wines are just as tasty and flow just as freely as their big, barley brothers.
The Rule, the Rules, the Rules
Listen, I gotta tell you, this one is a hard stop - the Germans are a big fan of rules. Such things as riding your bike while intoxicated (known to result in the loss of your vehicular driver’s license), naming your child something the German government rejects as weird (good thing Paltrow had her kids in the UK) and using a power drill on Sunday (because of course it’s a day of rest) are just a few of the regulations us expats have had to wrestle with. This love of the golden rule has been further cemented by an organization known as the Ordnungsamt which was bestowed with the civic responsibility of ensuring the security and order of all things German. Unusual to say the least, so when I became acquainted with one who grew up in such a regulated society I thought I might have to…
Look for Laughs Elsewhere – Die Deutsche sind humorlos
Upon discovering my husband was German, I feared his birth-right may have rendered him genetically humorless. Thankfully it was after just 10 minutes into our first date that I realized the error of my ways and the rest is wedded-bliss-history. Here are the facts: my husband is funny, our German friends are funny, our colleagues are funny and many other random Germans I have met along the way are also funny. They know what funny is and they know how to laugh and while this is not a product of their aforementioned love of beer it does serve well to enhance it. Despite my protests to the contrary however, it appears some Germans still struggle with claiming ownership of their inherent humor which in turn has given rise to an organization known as the German Humor Institute (Leipzig.) While I struggle with any clear understanding of what the course work even looks like here (“Ok, now let’s try and form your face into a smile as this is a very important first step towards actually laughing”), I can only applaud those who strive to unleash the power of humor and laughter within us all.
Romance is Dead in the German Language
German is a language spoken with purpose and conviction. This can often be misinterpreted by the untrained ear as yelling. I must admit that it took more than a minute for me to piece together that when my husband was talking to his best friend on the phone that they were not in the throes of ending their thirty-year friendship but merely making plans for the weekend. Like I said - purpose. I think most German language learners would agree that once you come to better understand it, the tone with which it is delivered appears to take on a whole new level of meaning. Chock full of multi-syllabic words like Umweltverschmutzung (pollution) , I have quite frankly come to simply enjoy the very sound of it.
“The thing about stereotyping is it's usually just throwing rocks into a crowd hoping to hit somebody who deserves it.” ― Criss Jami, Killosophy