Thursday, August 4, 2016

That is SO German...

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
    the Ukraine
    Saudi Arabia
    Switzerland (the Italian-speaking part)
    the Dominican Republic


  1. I've been thinking about writing about this for a while, but I have found it almost IMPOSSIBLE to find a darn clock when I go out! It drives me absolutely bonkers because I try to be very cognizant about time (and other things; my friends of all nationalities say that they don't see me as a typical American because I say what I mean and mean what I say, and value punctuality.) Anyway, I rarely find clocks in stores, offices, or even in the classrooms at the Uni. I almost always carry my phone and I'll even set the alarm for myself if I'm going to meet someone but have a bit of time to window shop before, just to make sure I'm on time. I'd be happy to see more clocks though! I feel as if I'm always looking around for one. Maybe it goes with the German mentality that one should be prepared and responsible for herself? ;)

    1. Quite possibly! That seems especially wierd not having a clock in an Uni classroom, though! I feel naked without my watch, so I rarely forget it. I set alarms, too. The other day I went 10 minutes over class time, and one student finally raised his hand and said "Aren't we finished at 15:00 Uhr?" Oops! I set an alarm for the next day. Kitchen timer, alarm to wake up from a nap, swap the laundry (the signal on the washing machine is at a frequency I can't hear when the door is closed)... We seem a lot alike! :-)

    2. Definitely! I care about my time, and others', and I'm usually early so I have a bit of time to poke around but don't want to have to keep checking my watch so the alarm is great. I get irritated when people are habitually late because it shows no regards for others' time.

  2. "That train's leaving at 15:18, I assure you. Not 15:20.
    You late, you wait (for an hour for the next train)." ->No it isn't... it's leaving at 15:27 ;-) Deutsche Bahn is totally the exception to German punctuality! Welll, that one is a regional one so it probably is leaving on time. If it were an ICE your photo would already say "Verspätung ca. 5 Minuten", meaning it will be leaving 9 minutes later (10 Minuten is 10 minutes, ca. 10 Minuten is anything from 11 minutes to 19 minutes... I was told this by a Deutsche Bahn ticket collector).

    1. While I personally have not had a lot of trouble with trains being late, I _know_ you're right. And of course, the times when the train departs on time are when you're running just a moment late. When you get to the train early, then there's a 5- to 60-minute delay!

      Suddenly the delay times make sense to me - I thought 5 minutes actually meant 5 minutes. Duh... But of course if you see "5 Minuten Verspätung", dash to the restroom and return 6 minutes later, the train will be gone. Ah, the joys of public transport... (still better than the US where public transportation only exists within large cities, with few or no connections between citiies).

  3. Anonymous5/8/16 11:41

    Wow. I've always been a pretty anal planner and list-maker. I honestly never even realized this was a German trait because it fits me so well. I mean, yeah, I totally do the American "let's get together sometime", but if I'm making actual plans, they need to be planned in advance. I always blamed it on my very home-body tendencies. I need time to process my need to leave the house.

    Interesting is that I've had many Germans tell me the stereotype that Germans are punctual for everything isn't entirely true. When it comes to work-related things, yeah... be on time because being 2 minutes late to a meeting is really like being 5-10 minutes late! But many have told me that when meeting friends or family, it's perfectly acceptable to be late by as much as an hour or two! My husband's grandparents live 2 hours away. When we first got married, we'd always get in a big fuss every time we went to visit them because we were always between 90 minutes and 2 1/2 hours late. In my opinion, this is disgustingly, horribly, unacceptably rude, but a handful of Germans have told me this is really how it is. You should be "überpunktlich" to all work things, but can saunter in 2 hours late to a meeting with friends. This totally blows my mind. In this way, I'm more German than most of the Germans I know! :)

    1. I think you might be right! I also know Germans who are more relaxed about meeting times, but I would never arrive 2 hours late to a gathering of friends with no explanation. Heck, I wouldn't have done that in the States, either. If the invitation or agreement was "anytime after 5:00pm", ok. But if we say "Let's meet around 7:00", I'll be there 5 minutes give or take of 7:00. Of course, in the end, to each his own.

  4. Anonymous7/8/16 14:42

    I'm originally from Missouri, and I have never seen a sign in a doctor's office telling you to let them know if you've been waiting "x minutes." That being said, the longest I've ever waited in a doctor's office was here in Germany (2 hours), and then I left to go to class and haven't been back to that place. I don't know if maybe things are less organized here in Konstanz or what, but I'm constantly confused about times. Some people are always on time while other people/appointments are always late. But maybe the late ones are Swiss!

    1. Maybe the sign in the doctor's ofc is a Wisconsin thing. :-) Goodness - I've never had to wait _that_ long for a doctor! I think it's probably safe to say that most Germans are punctual, but of course personalities differ and not everyone is typical. My recent Swiss students (from the Italian part) told me that punctuality is also very important to most Swiss.
      Thanks for visiting! :-)