Over the weekend, my girlfriend set about explaining why stereotypes were so common. Although most of the intellectual parts flew right over my head, despite her attempts to explain using rudimentary sock puppets, I did manage to catch the gist. Apparently, the human brain likes simple categories that help make sense of complicated ideas and concepts like culture. At least that’s what I think Mister Muffins said, he was after all, a sock with googly eyes and a fancy top hat. So, English people like fish and chips, rain and hereditary forms of government. French people enjoy the economics of onion sales and executing their hereditary forms of government. The Americans, on the other hand, like guns, sports that require a PhD to enjoy and occasionally having a good spy on themselves. Yet, do the Germans fit into a nice tidy box? Well they should do, they’re German after all, but let’s have a quick look just to be sure.
Stop It and Tidy Up
I’ve come across this stereotype more than once, having been reliably informed that the streets of Germany are paved with… well… pavement. I suppose it depends what you’re comparing tidy to, but I can say they often appear more neat and respectable than some streets back home. I have yet to be blinded by a whirlwind of detritus that often happens in the windier parts of Britain. There’s nothing like a crisp packet to the face to ruin a morning jaunt to the shops. This is mainly down to the German art of recycling, which like many things in Germany, dates back to the reformation. So advanced is this process, simply throwing something away in the street can be a confusing task of packing postmortem. With four options in any one bin, you must identify if its food packaging, simply just packaging, plastic, glass or the obscurely titled ‘other’. All I want to do is throw away this sleeve, that moments ago contained a slice of pizza. It’s made of cardboard, or is it too much like plastic? Then again, is it food packaging? It shouldn’t take half an hour to throw away anything…
If you’ve managed to get through some of my previous blogs, you’ll know that my driving is a constant mix of death defying acts of overtaking, tinged with occasional flashes of my entire existence right before my eyes and that’s just driving to the local shop. It’s commonly held that Germany doesn’t have any speed limits. Anyone driving on the Autobahn might be excused for believing this trope thanks to the casual German need to drive like a lobotomized gorilla. Sadly, Germany actually has the occasional speed limit, but that’s generally to just placate those of us who have grown fond of such frivolities as oxygen and a pulse. 120 km/h is roughly normal or occasionally 130 km/h. Don’t worry though, since the traffic police are rarer than a two headed horse playing Abba’s greatest hits on the lute, you can probably just do what you like, everyone else does.
If you have had the pleasure of watching the German national team or the recent run of German teams in the Champions League, you will know by now that Germans are always well organized. You can set your watch by this trope being mentioned at some point by some ex-pro, more used to gargling champagne and acts of sexual deviancy than commentating on football matches. To you and me Germany may be organized, but ask a German and they’ll point to projects like the new Berlin airport or the train station in Stuttgart as examples of poor organizational skills. If you feel sorry for them, don’t. In all honesty their infrastructure disasters are frequently more organized than most countries infrastructure successes. In terms of disaster, the bricks turning up an hour late or the windows being too early by a week are subject to frenzied media coverage, that we reserve for a new royal marriage or David Beckham naming one of his children after the new Nike football (Global Xistenz 7 is such a beautiful name, don’t you think?). Don’t fall for it, they only want sympathy.
Scheduled Comedy Hour
You can tell a lot about a culture by its jokes, sadly Germany doesn’t like comedy. Instead they like outdoor activities and filling out their tax returns. Carefully scheduled moments of laughter are for exactly ten minutes and then back to work, also no dawdling. At least this is what the rest of the world would have you believe. In fact Germany has a very large funny bone; it just reacts to different stimulus. Hidden reveals and witty innuendo doesn’t quite work in German because the language and grammar works very differently from, say, English. The punch line doesn’t have the same impact when the earlier part of the sentence gives you so much detail. Another problem is the fact you have compound nouns that leave very little place for saucy, Carry-On-esque double entendre. Even if they did, Germans generally don’t find endless hilarity in the human body the way British or American audiences do, simply because nudity isn’t so risqué in a country with nude beaches. What does seem to go down well is slapstick humor, in a Naked Gun style, political satire and an admirable ability to self-lampoon. A great example of this can be found in the work of Tedros Teclebrhan, who made a name for himself by satirizing immigrants and German views on immigration (a great interview with Teclebrhan can be seen here). A really bad example of German comedy can be found in the form of part time Lucas Podolski impersonator Oliver Pocher, who for some inexplicable reason, still thinks it’s ok to dress up in black face. Thankfully, Pocher is somewhat in the minority.
Where’s the Train?
German trains are always on time…right? Well no, they’re not. It’s certainly not because the service is bad, in the way that British trains are bad. I mean, no one has tried to sell me a day old sandwich and a cup of tea for £436.50, well not yet anyway. It’s just disappointing is all. One of my favorite tropes is German punctuality, and this has been destroyed by regularly catching late trains. There’s nothing funny about, it just makes me sad. Sad like the time I got a train to Bristol and had to travel for 36 hours, change trains 17 times, call on the powers of a Ouija board, sacrifice two lambs and a pig to Apollo the Sun God, build a complex totem pole from old stella cans and still end up 25 miles north of my original destination. Sadly, that was on one of the better services.