Friday, September 9, 2011

Interlude: Germany--A Cultural Examination

Since not a whole lot has happened and I've been slowly collecting amusing/intriguing/disgusting/awesome cultural items of amusement in the nine days I've been here, this post is to illuminate those things, complete with pictures!

  • Traffic signals are turned off at night. I'm still intrigued by this. Not in areas in center city that stay busy, but in small suburban areas that only really see traffic during rush hours, off they go at around 8 PM. I realized this after (twice) waiting at the signal by my house to cross to the bus stop. For like five minutes. Which brings me to another point...
  • Germans are notoriously law-abiding. If the little green man (walk indicator) is not there, they won't go. And if you do go, more than likely a police officer will pull over and yell at you. I've seen this happen.

  • Cars are all generally a lot smaller than ours in the States. A typical SUV would be unable to go anywhere here. 
  • Parallel parking is basically a free-for-all. It's pretty irrelevant which direction you're facing, and parking at least somewhat on the curb happens as often as not. Probably more.
  • In keeping with their love for rules, if you're breaking them, it's your own problem. In this instance, if you're crossing a road you aren't supposed to or at a time you shouldn't be or when a car's coming, chances are that car isn't going to slow down in the slightest. You may have to run for it.
  • Streets have only about three lanes, all separated by dashed white lines. How do you tell which lane goes what way? I'm just glad I'm not driving.

  • Germans are definitely less body-obsessed than Americans. Bikinis are worn almost universally--and by universally, I mean the sixty-year-old women who've had five children and eat nothing but cheese and sausage wear them.  There's a reputation for there being a lot of nude sunbathers in the English Gardens in the center of town, but I think most of the people talking excitedly about this are imagining them all to be budding playboy models. Oh, not so.
  • In the same vein, there's no such thing (that I've encountered) as fat-free milk (standard types are 3,5% fat and 1,5% fat) or as whole-wheat bread/pasta. 
  • Almost every food or food-preparation or toiletry item you'd ever wish for can be found made by the seemingly ubiquitous brand of Ja! (Yes!).  
  • The largest size of milk or juice you can buy is a liter.
  • Grocery stores have bags, but they cost money and you're basically a completely terrible person if you use one. I bring a convenient little basket with me to do grocery shopping, which is lovely until I realize I have to walk home with it. I usually bring back some zucchini or mayonnaise in my purse.
  • All of the fruit we buy ends up covered by little fruit flies after like five minutes. I'm not sure if this is all of Germany or just my house? (I really hope not.) This doesn't bother anyone though; you just shake them off.
  • Germans eat more cheese than any people I've ever met. It's so delicious and so bad. 
  • Stores sell lots of "American-style" food, all of which is the worst example of American food you'd find. German Wonderbread, jumbo marshmallows, et cetera. 


    • I've talked your ears off about the laundry ideas, but here's a photo:
    • I've also explained the trash system a bit, but here's to illustrate:
    • Also, emptying the "Biobag" (where all the food-y items are thrown away) is one of the most disgusting jobs ever. It's sort of like if your garbage disposal emptied into a large canister and you had to toss it out once every couple of days.
    • Microwaves are one of the trickiest things to use, due mainly to the concept that words are somehow not appropriate to use. Our microwave has a dial with different settings, most of which I don't understand. The one with the asterisks is defrost, the one with lots of lines means it's really hot, but the rest I don't know. Ovens have similar settings.

    Cryptic microwave
    • If you've traveled in Europe before you may recall how their windows/doors work, but I'd forgotten and spent most of an evening convinced the door was broken. Windows don't have screens but can either be opened completely (swung out like one would open a book) or pulled out at the top (thus my fear of them being broken). Actually quite ingenious; bugs generally don't come in that way but it lets in a good amount of air. Observe:

    • Everything is much smaller here. You can take my word for it for the most part, but here's the refrigerator (I'm fairly sure most dorm room fridges are bigger than this!):

    Small refrigerator with five people's worth of food!

    And some other random things:

    • Pansies (the flower) are called Stiefmütterchen--little stepmothers. My host family didn't know why. This amuses me greatly.
    • When delivery men drop things off, they come in the backyard through the gate to leave it on the back table. I guess they just don't want anyone to take it? Quite nice of them, really.
    • Dog warnings tend to be very serious and overly detailed. This one tells you exactly how much time you have before being attacked depending on what you're doing. It begins with "Warning! I can hear you!"

    Vicious people-eating dog

    • Slugs are huge. And everywhere.


    • The doors in the area all have the same curious chalk inscription on the top, reading, "20* C + M + B 10." It looked rather tacky to me, but it apparently comes from an ancient tradition of the Starsinger Boys, who would come around and carol to different houses for Epiphany, dating back hundreds and hundreds of years. Now it's sort of a trick-or-treating type of thing around Christmas time (usually for money which is donated to different causes), but it represents the procession of the three wise men to Jesus' cradle. The C + M + B stands for Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, and the 20 and 10 are, naturally, the end of the year 2010.  I'm pretty sure if this was tried in the States, the doers would be arrested for vandalism at the very least, but here it's good luck to leave it up for the entire year, and nearly every house I've seen have it (including our front door, pictured):

    Front door of the house

    That's about all I can come up with now, but I'll show you a couple pictures of my neighborhood and house so you can get it all in perspective.

    Walk back from the market in Waldperlach

    Street sign (that's my house just behind it)

    My house -- Agrippastraße 12


    1. Love your observations/descriptions of all these mundane little differences between our country and culture and that of the Germans! Keep them coming!

    2. Dad here: I love the pictures: Classic dog sign! Sad beer-less refrigerator. I want to walk with the jolly signed pedestrian. When he finally tires out, I want to drink a lager with him and then jay-walk from pub-to=pub.