Culture Club

get-around-in-english-how-to-be-politeDo you really want to hurt me?
Do you really want to make me cry?

To be honest, I am not referring to that particular Culture Club although, now I have started with those lyrics, I cannot for the life of me get the song out of my head.

I was sick for a couple of days last week and it made me realise how living in Germany for almost 11 years has changed me.  We have a culture (in my experience) in the UK of not calling in sick.  For us it is always better to get to work and be sent home, than it is to call in and say you can’t make it.  I am not sure when that trend started.  Probably when companies started providing the minimal amount of paid sick leave before slamming people over onto Statutory Sick Pay.

Here in Germany, however, it’s different.  The idea of coming to work when you are sick is still a relatively alien concept.  “You mean you would consider coming here and making the rest of us sick too?  What kind of an animal are you?” seems to be the prevailing thought.

It made me think about other stuff that I accept after 11 years that, were I to head back to Blighty for more than a couple of weeks, I would probably face the biggest culture shock since Keith “Big Balls” Chaverton went on holiday to Spain and didn’t choose a package tour (the humanity, they didn’t even have a Red Lion…or Pie and Mash).

So, in no particular order, my top 4 points of difference:

#1 Sickness

Not only do we have the “Sick is sick” vs “It’ll look better if the boss sends me home”.  We also have the classic sicknote excuses.

In the UK, the staple “I need a day or two off” is the “Bad Back”.  In Germany it is Kreislauf (Circulation).  Essentially “I’m feeling faint”.

That’s right, apparently Germany is made up of a nation of 1950s female movie stars who swoon at the slightest provocation.

Also, there is a very firm and national belief that drafts are the cause of all colds.  Case in point, I was on the train a little while ago during a heatwave.  The air conditioning wasn’t working and, as it was a 30 minute journey, I cracked open a window.  Blissful air rushed over my glistening face…followed immediately by a blustery woman who slammed the window shut and proceeded to lecture me that she didn’t want to get sick because of my selfishness.  I mean, god forbid that air should actually move across you in a cooling motion when you are at your very sweatiest.  Ah well.

#2 Personal Space

Now, I am going to be honest here.. I could happily live with reverting to the English style of things.  Germans have little to no concept of personal space.  They stand so close to you in a queue (I have talked about this before) that I have, on a number of occasions, asked if they would at least take me to dinner first!  Leaning across you, standing far to close when talking to you..nothing is taboo.

It’s enough to make your average Brit strap some form of hula hoop based contraption to themselves so as to ensure that they are not violated.

#3 Drinking

This is probably the biggest difference really.  Over here, due to far more relaxed licensing laws, drinking is a more comfortable affair.  You see, us Brits think that we have a drinking culture.  It’s an oft user misnomer.  We don’t have a drinking culture, we have a getting pissed culture and it is a subtle, but distinct, difference.

Germans go out late.  So late, in fact, that at the same time in the UK, people are an hour away (at most) from last orders.  The difference, therefore, is that in the UK it is often about drinking fast before you are unable to drink anymore.  Whereas here, you take your time and if the bar you are in is closing, there is almost always another one to go to.  Also, this avoids everyone getting kicked out at the same time and that leads to a lot less drunken brawling.

The nice thing is, you can always spot the groups of Brits…they are the only ones out drinking at 19:00, wondering why they bothered coming to Germany…only to be wrecked by the time the Germans are starting to head out.

#4 Greetings

The final point for today’s lecture, ladies and gentlemen is a very weird thing and, after over 10 years, something that I am still not fully accustomed to.  Brits are, by and large, a friendly and accommodating people.  We will invariably go out of our way to help people in need and are polite to the point of pain in most situations.  Where we are not good, however, is dealing with strangers in situations where we expect zero interaction.

Let me start you off with an easy example..one to help you understand without making you too uncomfortable.

Lifts.

Now lifts are public things and, in a busy city like Frankfurt, you will rarely end up in one on your own.  Doesn’t matter if it is in a shopping center or a car park, it’s a busy place, you are unlikely to be the only person needing a lift.  Now, in the UK, it is a perfectly reasonable expectation that interaction with fellow lift travelers will be restricted to a nod and quite possibly a smile.  The smile is designed to do 2 things. #1 Acknowledgement…we are nothing if not polite and #2 to let people know we have seen them, should they be harbouring any dark thoughts towards us, we are aware of what they look like.  Now, to any right thinking individual, this is perfectly normal and correct.

Not to a German…oh no no nono.  To the average German, the lift is the perfect place to strike up a conversation with complete strangers that are just trying to get from floor a to floor z without any social anxiety inducing conversation.

Also, when you are walking around during lunch time, Germans revel in the act of reminding you that it is indeed lunch time.  Every single person you meet, that even remotely suspects that you work for the same company, will hit you with “Mahlzeit” (literally, Mealtime) as a greeting.  People that would never have spoken to you (apart from in the lift obviously) are now providing you with information you already know ffs.  It is made slightly more annoying when you are on your way to a meeting and are, in fact, being forced to skip lunch because of it.

The most heinous of them all, as far as I am concerned, is regarding men in the toilet.  Obviously if I could attest to what the women get up to in their toilets, I would be writing this from jail.  The urinal serves one major purpose…quick relief.  You might also consider a secondary purpose, aiming practice, but generally it is there so that your average Brit can get in, siphon the python (or wring out the worm if you are unlucky in that area) and get the hell out.  It is not, I REPEAT NOT, a suitable alternative to whatever passes for the European version of a water cooler.  I do not want to shoot the shit, chew the fat, shoot the breeze or any other idiom you want to sling around.  My penis is out people.  I mean, I hope you aren’t looking and I really don’t want you to but..if I am stood at a urinal, I am definitely there for a single purpose, not because I have some kind of ceramic fixation.  There is a time and place for everything…and you have just failed that sentence in every way imaginable.

Finally, to a Brit the toilet cubicle is a private place.  You should be alone with your thoughts (and possibly your phone).  You should not be forced into have a fucking conversation.  Germans do not appreciate this.  You are therefore forced to ninja your way into the toilets, unseen by anyone, just to be certain that the next person to walk in, cannot be certain that it is you.  Alternatively, and quite possibly dangerously, hold it in until you get home.   At least that way you will avoid being forced into discussing the finer points of life whilst trying to surreptitiously (and above all else quietly) lay some cabling.

I would write more but I need the toilet and it’s at least a 30 minute drive home……