Don’t know about you, but I’ve always liked the expression embracing a new culture. It sounds peaceful and reassuring, and when I planned to come to Germany I used to think of myself as a Pocahontas in reverse ready to absorb and confront with open mind and arms this new teutonic world.
I soon realized, though, that if Pocahonts had known about McDonald’s, guns, stuffed turkeys and Zoey Deschanell, she would have probably spared us some songs and filed a couple of complaints. I also realized that there’s times in which you don’t feel as you’re embracing another culture as much as you’re handcuffed to it.
Everybody tells me that Berlin is not representative of Germany, but there’s things, little annoying habits, that I picked up along the way during my expat life in Berlin and they look 100% Deutsch to me. I’m pretty sure you’ll pick them up too if you get to live long enough in this beautiful city.
1) Leaving bottles on the street
My education turned me into a strict recycling machine and the thought of somebody leaving his trash on the sidewalk used to horrify me.
In Germany empty bottles are not trash: they’re money. You go to the supermarket with your empties, a machine sucks them up and returns cash; for an empty bottle they give you up to 60 cents, which you can then reuse to shop.
It’s not very difficult to understand that leaving an empty bottle on the public soil of a relatively poor city is like anonimously delivering donuts to a fat camp. You lay the bottle on the ground, turn one second to your friend who’s trying to decide if the fourth club of the night should be Berghain or Watergate and zac – onomatopoeic italian sound – the bottle is gone.
You kind-of-sort-of-like give to the poor and you also avoid storing another empty at your place.
I mean, the fact that I’m just a couple of Club Mate away from buying myself a car makes me proud, but I can barely see the entrance of my apartment anymore and at this point my only hope is that the crew of Hoarding: buried alive finds me before it’s too late.
2) Sitting while peeing
I’ll never forget my first day in Berlin. My new flatmate, a seemingly cheerful and easy going guy, took me apart and told me that we needed to talk. The most severe expression was lying on his face and the tone of his voice got serious. I thought he was going to tell me that he had three months left to live and that I was supposed to tell his parents cause he hadn’t had the courage yet and organize the funeral finding a decent selection of music that sounded like a compromise between what was on his iPod and what the occasion required. Instead all he said was
You need to sit down while you pee.
As a penis bearer I recognize that this is not a ridiculous thing to ask but the solemnity he used to make his demand made very clear how this was a very important point for him and, my guess, for german people in general. So I did it. I did it with him and with whoever came after, always resisting to the temptation of taking a piss while standing , ’cause OMG WHAT IF THEY HEAR ME? What if they can hear the difference in the jet and file a report to the police? I’m pretty sure one day german males will lose their ability to piss-and-stand, just like whales lost their legs.
3) Sleeping on the floor
I had no idea there could be people sleeping on random mattresses lying on the floor in western european countries. In fact, I thought such people only existed in Charles Dickens’ novels. But really: of course I understand the persons who can’t afford a full fledged bed, but what about the others? Why would you CHOOSE to sleep on a mattress on the floor? Some say it’s super good for your back, others do it as an attempt of hippyiness, I guess, and I did it because after a while it just started to look normal. The only thing I know for sure is that if my very italian mum would know that her son slept for more than one year so close to acari, dust and all those floor-things she’d have an heart attack.
4) Griping about public transportation
In Italy public transportation sucks. I used to be very disappointed about it but at the same time after years of delays, breakdowns, unreliable timetables and lame excuses, I reached some sort of zen resignation.
German transports, on the other hand, are pretty awesome. Clean, not too smelly and usually on time. So on time that a minor delay of a bus, for example, can literally drive people nuts. I used to make fun of this in the beginning, but after two years I have to admit that I became part of it. Whenever the train is late I go through a physical, emotional and phychological transformation.
1 min late: I notice that something is off and check my clock
2 mins late: I start repeatedly tapping on the floor with my foot
3 mins late: I can’t focus on my newspaper/smartphone anymore and I can’t help thinking that they’re wasting my time
4 mins late: I mentally sue BVG (the company managing public transports ) and go through the whole process in my head from the first formal complaint till the day of the verdict of the jury, which is obviously in my favour.
5 mins late: That’s it. I lose it. I start listening to the faint german voice in my head telling me to KILL KILL KILL and I’m ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.
5) Wax your face ON, Wax your face OFF
As you probably know, italians are famous for their gestuality. This peculiar trait not only makes us unbeatable charade players but also gives us the ability to understand the meaning of every gesture, every nervous tic, every frown of the person we’re speaking with.
Or so I thought.
German have this weird unreadable gesture, a mix of self-waving and the Wax On/Wax Off scene from The Karate Kid applied to their own faces, that I had big problems to understand. The first time I saw it, my list of possible interpretations was:
– Go put a mask on
– I so need a face scrub now
– Let me palm read myself for a sec, I’m sure the answer is there
Well, none of the above. It turned out that weird hand movement in front of their faces means “You’re nuts” or “He’s nuts”. It still looks pretty illogical to me but I’m using it quite often now.
To no. 1: That is the most Berlinish thing I’ve ever seen. Okay, I didn’t visited many different cities in Germany, but I only know this habit from here and nowhere else.
To no. 2: I only know this from girls. Mostly. But I appreciate it. Or in other words: You can stand and piss, but you will be responsible for cleaning the bathroom your whole life! Full stop! (Yes, I agree, it sounds verrry German. Sorry for that!)
To no. 3: Isn’t it something what only younger people do? At 30-something you will just begin to think about a real bed. At least you can start with a Lattenrost first. With 40 the rest of the bed will follow. ;o)
To no. 4: So you turn German here, I start turning Italian instead. With the years I got the zen, and also the fun of watching people complaining about … nothing!
(I call the Germans the folk of grumbling.)
To no. 5: I don’t get it. Tried to apply the video snippet tutorial to my face. It’s not working. Maybe I need wax for this hand movement? (Do you have a video showing the real habit?) The only hand movements fitting to “You’re nuts” I know are called the “windshield wiper” move (no wax needed) and tapping the index finger to the forehead (I guess it also works without any wax on the finger).
oooooh, so it’s a windshield wiper! Well, it makes perfect sense now :D
These made me laugh. In the five years I’ve lived here I have only had problems with the trains a handful of times. Today I was on the Ring Bahn and it stopped for what must have been 2 minutes and everyone was complaining! I used to live in London, back then I’d have been applauding if my train had only stopped for 2 minutes!
The peeing sitting down one particularly stood out for me too. I lived with a German girl when I first moved here and I was so shocked when she told male visitors they had to sit down. There was even a sign! Now as a mum of two boys, I am soooooooooo thankful for this rule and uphold it strictly in my household. All rejoice men sitting down to pee I say!
Oh, when it comes to children I’m completely “einverstanden”: we should hide from little boys the fact that peeing while standing is even a possibility until their first day of highschool :P
I think my boys might get quite the shock when they go to England as teenagers and realise everyone there stands up!
It doesn’t matter, the important thing is that it’ll be too late for them to go back ^^
Regarding number 2. Did you know Sweden is considering forbidding it by law?
I seriously hope you’re kidding me!
Ok. This is crazy. Coockoo crazy.
My ikea bed slats always fell off the bed frame in the middle of the night and crash half my mattress was on the floor anyway. Also the cat was most upset.
Also I think peeing sitting down is a pretty spiffing plan really, but as long as it is not in the shower.
OMG you’re right! Sitting in the shower! You totally found the exception to the sitting while peeing rule! You’re a genius!
I just wandered over here from the Everywhereist’s post about the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia (where I live). One thing I love about the blogosphere is random trails that lead to well written and/or amusing posts. This one certainly qualifies. As the mother of two boys, I was sooooo happy when we moved to a bigger house with two bathrooms, so I only had to share a bathroom with one male of the species because in the USA, as you may already know, men and boys mostly stand up to pee. (Admittedly, my sample is hardly statistically significant, but my men seem to be pretty “normal” American males (assuming there is such a thing), so I assume they do what most males do in the peeing department. BTW, is there a Peeing Department–sounds like they might actually have one in Sweden—WTF).
Hey Suzanne! Thanks for passing by! I’m happy to have feedback from all over the world about how men pee in their countries. It’s important I think… I’m gonna start a poll about Asia and Africa now, we have to bring this research to the next level! :P
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The moment will come where you actually find yourself in a group of people waiting at a red cross walk. No car in view, no danger coming your way, yet all stand patiently waiting for the little green Ampelmann.
I think the horrible thing here is that when it comes to crossing the street I’m already one of them. My brain tells my legs to go but nothing happens anymore…. Maybe I’ve been here too long?
Seriously! And the chances of this happening increase exponentially if you find yourself living in a less metropolitan area of Germany than Berlin. I try to resist it as much as possible, but as the years go by, it’s getting hard! Now I only cross against the light when children aren’t around to follow my bad example. :)
hahaha ah, yeah, the “Kinderkiller” thing. I had forgotten :D
haha! How about the hanging “or” at the end of sentences. Maybe not a habit for Germans because it’s just the way they speak, but it’s become a bad habit for me to end about half my spoken English sentences with a hanging “or.” As in “it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, or?” My baffled American parents ask “or what?!!” Or not! DUH! lol oh, how I remember a time when the hanging “or” made no sense to me as well….
Haha! Yeah, that is very very annoying :-D And it happens all the time