If You’re Happy and You Know It, Make a Demo

One of my first brilliant conclusions almost upon arrival on my first time living in Germany, was that Germans are undeniably active when it comes to politics. Of course all of my appreciations came from what previous first-hand experiences I had had in the past, being a young adult in Mexico, my home country, where it’s perfectly acceptable to simply state that politics bore you and you don’t know anything about it, successfully avoid the topic and nobody bats an eyelash. In Germany, it’s quite normal for most of the population over a certain age to follow what happens in the political scene, and it’s rare that said scene is limited to Germany alone. The intensity of this interest and the understanding of what it entails is, of course quite varied, but six years later, my original conlusions still suffice to sustain my opinion: Politics is definitely a thing in Germany.

When you live in Germany and you don’t like something, you have the option of organizing or taking part in a “Demo” to make your opinion known and spread the discomfort you feel.

That sounds nice, but how to Demo the German Way? (See what I did there?) Well, I first had to forget what I knew about demonstrating because as far as I was concerned, Demos could be done at any time, day or night, and it was enough to get a couple of angry neighbors and some scribbled placards to suddenly close some highway without any hope of finding out what the deal was about and, most important of all, when it would finally be over. To me it’s also an everyday thing to turn on the news some random morning and find out that the central square in the city is now occupied by dozens of camping tents with people who are living there in protest against something, and they will stay for as long as they want. Great. Continue reading

The Good and Fearless Samaritan

I come from Mexico, a place where social initiatives are not that big a thing, mainly because a great deal of the population has barely enough resources to keep their own heads afloat, but also because its mindset is infected with corruption and a cheating culture where you must seek to maximize your personal benefit at whatever the cost. Because everyone does the same, you must also distrust everyone and the more you can cheat, the better. The brilliant principle by which we live and justify whatever fault we consciously commit is: “The one who does not cheat, does not win.” – I rest my case.

The Umsonst-Laden. This particular one is in Hamburg. FOTO: LauraV.

One of the very first things I learned the first time I lived in Germany was that no matter how much I had read and studied about its history, politics and culture, I was still ignorant about what it all really meant in the real world where both the German society and others (like the one I grew up in) coexist. It is true that Germans tend to abide themselves by the rules because they understand rules are the base for everything to work properly –and there’s nothing they like more than things working properly (but honestly, don’t we all?). This is not to say there’s no corruption in Germany, but things are simply different and the citizens still have power as individuals, even if they sometimes fail to appreciate it and what it means, they do. It is very impressive to witness that power for someone who comes from “no man’s land” and where my own brother must leave the house full of fear when he heads to school and nobody can drive him there so he must always be ready with a secret little pocket where he stashes emergency cash and also carries a fake wallet and a fake old mobile phone he can surrender in case of robbery in the bus or while walking down the street; or where people (yes, that famously warm and chirpy Mexican people) are now so rude they won’t even stop if you try to ask them for directions. They are not being rude per se, they are scared because they do not trust their fellow Mexicans, we all know it all is probably a ruse and you will end up kidnapped, attacked or, in the lesser of cases, robbed. Are you following the vicious circle? Continue reading

How to tell when Germans are really being rude versus just being German


If you want to confirm the fact that the internet is not improving people’s IQs, just type “rude Germans” into your favorite search engine. Boom! You’ll get over 1.9 million results, most of which were written by morons. (But “rude French” pulls an amazing 39.1 million results!) Few of these online commentaries run counter to the usual “rude Germans” rant and the negative stereotype that so many Americans, Brits and others have of Germans. Even fewer of these web articles, forum posts and blogs offer any useful, helpful information on the topic of “rude” Germans, French, or other Europeans.

The Rudest Countries
I recently saw a CNN online article that listed the “10 Rudest Countries” in the world. As usual, France took first place in the rudeness race. Germany only came in fourth, right behind the UK. The USA placed seventh. But a survey like this, by the skycanner.com cheap flights travel site, is subject to all sorts of distortion, including cultural biases, language difficulties, personality differences, and ignorance, to name just a few.

What a person perceives as rudeness may only be a cultural misunderstanding. What is considered rude in one country or culture may not be regarded as rude in another. But every culture has people who are rude, no matter which culture it may be. Certain impolite behaviors are unacceptable in almost any culture. Sometimes an expat or traveler is actually right to consider someone rude! Continue reading

3 Ways I Embarrassed Myself at the German Sauna

Photo: Erin Porter

About to get N-A-K-E-D

Don’t worry guys, I brought a towel to sit (and sweat) on in the sauna and didn’t try to wear my swimsuit into the nude areas. I’m not a German sauna newbie. I’ve been once before.

That one time was at touristy Tropical Island. I highly recommend it if you are also a spa novice. It is a full-on water park with slides and waterfalls and artificial beach front. But deep in its center lies an area cloaked in palm trees and signs barring entry for those under 16. We waffled back and forth if we were actually going into this adult-only zone before putting on our big boy pants (or taking them off, in this case) and entering.

As Germans consider regular spa going a part of good health and not a luxury, the average Germ knows what to do in the sauna. Not so for a couple of expats from Seattle. We clumsily felt our way through the process of showering, storing our clothes in a cubby and dramatically dropping the towel to enter a steamy room full of naked Germans. And – no surprise for those who’ve done it before – it wasn’t so bad! We emerged thoroughly moist and with muscles that had deeply relaxed so that we were basically moving puddles. It was fabulous.

Continue reading

Summer night at the Freiluftkino (open-air cinema)

IMG_4642A couple of weeks ago we had night without children (they were having a sleepover in the KiTa – worthy of another blog post). But what a rarity! Seeing a film was the obvious choice – prior to parenthood we went to the movies all the time. But it had been a beautiful summer’s day and the thought of spending the long light evening in a dark cinema didn’t seem to fit. The answer? Freiluftkino (open-air cinema).

Freiluftkinos barely exist in the UK, I suppose because the weather is too consistently inclement. I do know of one: the central courtyard of Somerset House in the middle of London screens movies for a few weeks in the summer – but that’s just a big screen and lots of people sitting on hard concrete using plastic bags as make-shift groundsheets and tucking into packets of crisps. It simply pales in comparison to the properly established infrastructure of the Freiluftkinos here.  Continue reading

Mahlzeit!

MahlzeitFor the first time since we moved to Berlin over five years ago, I am required to go (most days, at least) to an office with lots of German people. Up until a few months ago, I’d either worked from home or from a small co-working space. But now, from behind computer screens and over the kettle in the shared kitchen, I see Germans at work – a novel and culturally enlightening experience for many reasons, not least because of “Mahlzeit!”

Have you ever heard a German say “Mahlzeit” and wondered what it meant – sitting down to a meal perhaps or some time around the middle of the day? Why should they be reminding me it’s a mealtime, you might have thought, if you’d understood the word but not really grasped what they were getting at. Continue reading

Bis Bald: 10 Things I Love About Germans

For my last official post as part of the regular writing crew here at The German Way, I’d like to be typically American and end on a positive note. Here are 10 things I love about Germans:

1. Their honesty. You will never doubt the sincerity of a compliment that comes from a German. In my first job in Germany, my boss’ comment at my mid-year review was “I have no complaints.” I am on the cusp of generation-feedback-junkie, and was a little underwhelmed at his comment. He then went on to explain that this was a typically German way of telling me I was doing my job well. Okaaaaay… so when they really compliment you, they must really mean it.

2. Their precision. This goes for all manner of things: conversation, instructions, engineering, … The list is quite possibly endless. Being out of the country, I miss the precision of engineering and design in German appliances. I am lucky to benefit from the engineering and design of the German car I drive. This precision extends to verbal and written instructions, all of which will be conveyed to you when you purchase anything. They care about things working properly, which is good. Continue reading

January 2015 in Germany: New Year, New Laws, New Rules

2015 ushered in new laws and regulations in Germany. Our overview of new things that expats and travelers need to know also reveals a lot about daily life and customs in Germany.

If you drive a car, use public transportation, rent a place, watch TV, take out the trash, get paid in euros, or use the post office in Germany, there are changes that can affect all expats and travelers. We’ll start with one of the more bizarre things that the new year introduced to German law and life (and it’s not the precipitous fall of the euro). Continue reading