In the States you are force-fed all kinds of stereotypes about Germans. Either we see the grumpy and overly critical German on “The Simpsons” or experience public media notions of German superiority in the form of market domination in the auto industry. But we also see the drunken, big-bellied soccer-fan with a Bratwurst in his hand who is beating a fan of the opposing team in the head with a beer-bottle. However the most common assertions are ideas of German directness, punctuality, their love of beer, Bratwurst and soccer, and, above all, the intense need for order and cleanliness. But how true are these stereotypes?
As a person who has spent the most developmentally relevant part of her life in the United States, and someone with a self-proclaimed eye for social structures and dysfunctions, I would like to offer my perception of “the German” within the confines of the culture shock which I experienced after moving back to Bremen.
Let’s attempt to deconstruct the common stereotypes.
- Germans are punctual.
Sorry, but no! Let’s get real. How many times have you stood outside of an administrative office and asked yourself if you wrote down the wrong appointment time? Germans are not any worse than Americans in their punctuality, but they are not punctual. The only way I can explain the overwhelming belief which still seems to exist on the internet, that Germans are punctual is that maybe this is something which is exclusive to Bremen. If so, get with the program, Bremen! It really sucks to have to wait 20 minutes for my job interview because your Macchiato tasted so good, you had to revel in its glory.
- Germans are orderly.
This is only half true. On the surface everything seems very orderly. Germans are the kings and queens of image and status. Every German looks completely composed and in control until you open that backdoor where they all stash the stuff that they didn’t have time to properly put away before you showed up. Of course this is meant metaphorically as well as, in some cases, literally. However, I personally believe that it is precisely that orderliness which is causing Germans to become less orderly. Germans are so caught up in their order that anything outside of the established systems reinforces feelings of deep illogic to Germans. And when something is illogical, it is so scary to Germans. Don’t believe me? Go to the Jobcenter and tell them that you don’t have any official documentation for your job experience. They won’t know what to do with you.
- Germans are direct.
Yes. Painfully so. But it comes with an extreme opposite. The interesting phenomenon is that, even though Germans love to criticize each other, they also cannot handle being criticized. Having spent a good amount of time in the US, the asshole-nation, I was used to people yelling at each other publicly. Everyone yells in the US regardless of age and status. At least it seems that way to me. In contrast, there is a grand divide between Germans who dish out and Germans who don’t. This is usually based on age and status. It is far more common for the retired carpenter with a decent pension to yell at the young Bushido fan with pants under his butt than the other way around. So when you are someone who is young and alternative but does not base self-worth on status and age, most Germans will not anticipate a thought-through, objective response to their unnecessary criticism. This is all related back to the orderliness. Things simply do not make sense to Germans if they cannot be anticipated. And then you are left with the look of fear in Herr Schnitzelstein’s face when you come up with a smart comeback to his prejudicial criticism. Germans are direct. Germans are critical. Germans are fucking rude.
And let me add a stereotype:
4. Germans are ridiculously impatient
Germans are always running around like they are in the process of missing a plane to the most important appointment of their life. Standing in line at the grocery store is torturous. The guy or girl behind you stares you down in a way that would not fly in the US. You would get punched on a daily basis. Then…if you don’t have your money counted perfectly by the time the cashier utters the amount that is due, death by cannibalism becomes a real possibility.
5. Germans love Bratwurst, Beer and Soccer
Yea, ok. That one is mostly true. Although the Bratwurst thing is not so popular anymore because Germans are not complete in their dumb-ass status ideals unless they are healthy. So many of them would not let their friends see them choking down a Bratwurst because it isn’t organic or whatever. You know what? The beer and soccer thing though: It’s one of the only things I enjoyed. Even though soccer fans are terrifying like a group of bulls ready to trample you…the fact that they feel comfortable screaming strangely Nazi-sounding Werder Bremen songs at 3 o clock in the morning on public transportation is a sign of freedom from the kind of order addicts US cops represent. It is sad to me, however, that Germans feel like they cannot be “wild” in any other circumstance. And this is probably why they go so crazy when it is considered appropriate and without danger to their status. Government approved rebellion.
I guess all the things Freud asserted in “Civilization and its Discontents” are still valid.