|In Germany there are clocks everywhere.|
There's never an excuse for being late!
Since I have been teaching students from all over the world*, there have been many classroom discussions about what is typical for our various countries, languages, and Landsleute (countrymen and -women). I always find these talks fascinating, and I learn a lot.
We also, of course, talk about what is typical in Germany. Today something came up that made me realize just how German I am becoming.
The topic was social behavior. The Italians are laid-back and loose, they like to party and eat with friends, and it's not necessary to plan ahead for casual social gatherings. They are pretty spontaneous, and ready to drop what they're doing to have a good time. The Argentinians are much like the Italians: they enjoy hanging out with friends, they love a good festival, and it's no problem in Argentina to drop by at a friend's or family member's house without calling ahead first. They have lunch around 13:00 and then a siesta, which is nearly sacred. Dinner is often at 9:00 pm or even later.
They were amazed at the German need for planning, which they have already noticed though they haven't been here more than a week or so. "They plan SO far in advance for little things!" "You can't just say to someone, 'Want to grab a drink?' They need prior notice - several days at least - just to hang out for a while!"
I sheepishly recalled what I had been working on for the last three days - arranging a reunion of my former class to meet at a local café for Kaffee und Kuchen two weeks from now - and had to laugh at myself. Indeed, I'm settling in quite well here. I remember those students commenting on this same German quirk a few months ago. They said it seems like German life is all about Arbeit und Termine - work and appointments.
Then the Italian lass who is quartered in the apartments above our favorite local restaurant (and whom we saw last night when we dined there) piped up with a huge, incredulous smile: "She and her husband reserved a table last night for next month!" This is totally true, by the way. Hey, we were there anyway and chatting with the chef, and his reservation book was right there. Why not?
|If you are invited to a German's home for coffee at 10:15,|
this is when you should show up. Plan accordingly.
That was when one of the Argentinians mentioned that it's no problem to drop in unannounced at someone's house. I said, "Um Gottes Willen, don't ever do that in Germany!" Perhaps this is more of a Swabian thing than a German thing, I really don't know. But I've seen the face M pulls when our doorbell rings - even during the lunch hour when it's probably the postman with a box from Amazon!
The students asked me how it is in the US - are the Americans so punctual and anal about appointments and prior arrangements as the Germans? I said it's different there. When an American acquaintance tells you, "Let's get together soon/next week/after work some day", it means nothing. It's a variation on "See ya!" and you'll likely never hear from the person again. What's more, if you approach him or her again and say, "You suggested getting together soon. How about tomorrow?" the American will look at you with that "Huh?" look and start grappling for excuses why tomorrow won't work.
For appointments in the US, you should be on time, but you'll sit and wait a while anyway, so bring something to read. It's even standard in doctors' offices to find a sign saying, "If you have been waiting longer than 45 minutes, please let us know." When you report that to them, you'll hear, "The doctor will be right with you." And then you'll wait a while longer. [What's missing from the sign is "We're not going to do anything about it, but we know telling us will make you feel better."] Incidentally, German doctor offices don't bother with that sign. Despite the German emPHAsis on punctuality, you'll wait and wait at a doctor's office (unless you're privately insured), and they don't care.
This German/Swabian quirk fits me perfectly, though. I'm tired of the "Sure, let's get together soon" thing, so if we're going to do something, let's put it in the calendar. Then I'll plan around our get-together and won't let anything else get in the way. I received an email just the other day from a woman to whom I proposed a project for the Horb website. She responded and said, "Perhaps we should meet and discuss this. Are you free on Thursday next week at 7:00 pm?" Yep, I am. The appointment is now in my calendar and I will be there. This all seems perfectly logical to me. But to the laid-back personalities, it seems stiff and rigid. I get that, but I still prefer it the German way: clear, consise, organized.
I'm having visions of Sheldon from "Big Bang Theory" and his bowel-moving schedule. Somewhere behind his southern Baptist roots also lingers a German, I am sure.
|That train's leaving at 15:18, I assure you. Not 15:20.|
You late, you wait (for an hour for the next train).
|Esslinger Rathaus with its astronomical clock;|
not only do you know what time it is, but also
which zodiac sign we're in.
|There are clocks here on Medieval town gates|
|Sometimes all you get's a sundial.|
Still - watch the time, and have a Plan B
on a cloudy day.
*To date my students have hailed from
Switzerland (the Italian-speaking part)
the Dominican Republic