german quirks

After a long afternoon of research and all that that entails (actually, worse than research: defining the scope of my project. Probably the most tiring mental activity out there), how about I give you guys a list of cultural observations about Germany and/or Germans?

First I must clarify that not all cultural stereotypes hold true, specifically those about Germans always wearing Lederhosen or Dirndls, which are the traditional dress in Bavaria, but that’s Bavaria… but let’s just say that some of our conceptions of Germans/German society are basically 100% true. Mostly having to do with German efficiency…

German things that are typically efficient, otherwise innovative, or seem to work somehow:

Buying tickets for public transit: This one boggled my dad’s mind when he first experienced it, and while it wasn’t quite so revolutionary or baffling for me, this is something that definitely separates me from most Germans. Unlike in England or many places in America, you don’t need to present a ticket to get on a bus or tram (or subway, mostly) in Germany. Instead, you buy a ticket, stamp the ticket in the little machine on the bus or tram to confirm the date and time of your trip, and then in the case that someone comes around to check, you can prove that you do, indeed, have a valid ticket. Which, for an American like me who is semi-proficient in statistics, means that the first instinct would be to just not buy one. But a German would never, ever, EVER dream of not buying a bus or tram ticket. In terms of honesty and integrity, it really is incredible. (However, since Oct 1 I haven’t had to worry about this, as my student ID doubles as a ticket. Since then, my statistical gamble has been totally disproven, as I’ve had my ticket “kontrolliert” at least 3 different times.)

Shopping carts: Until today, I was under the impression that you had to pay a euro to use a cart at the grocery store. However, upon closer inspection, I realized that it’s really just a deposit system! If you want to use a cart, you insert a euro coin into the chain apparatus that locks the carts to each other, which releases the first cart. Then the euro hangs out in the apparatus on your cart until you return it, at which point you get your coin back. It’s the kind of thing that, when an American first hears about it, sounds overly strict and kind of nutty, but then slowly begins to make sense. The lockers at the library operate on a similar deposit system, but I feel like that’s something that would maybe happen in the US, so it’s not as shocking.

Pfand system: Speaking of deposits, the Pfand system is the German incentive to recycle. When you buy a drink that comes in a plastic bottle, most times you pay 25 or 50 cents extra for the “Pfand.” Then, when you’re done with the bottle, you can return it to one of the many special machines, normally in grocery or convenience stores, that then reimburse you the Pfand money. I know that Pfand money isn’t REALLY extra money that you get for recycling, but it is kind of cool to start out with a big bag of bottles and end up with a few extra euro.

German things that are totally inefficient, inconvenient, or just don’t work:

Lack of WiFi: I really can’t complain about this TOO much because at least there is WiFi (or as the Germans would call it, WLAN) on campus and in my apartment, the two places where I am 89% of the time. But being in England for a few days and at least being able to duck into Starbucks for some free WiFi made me a wee bit jealous. Apparently some arrangement with music companies in Germany specifically has restricted public internet access more than in other places…?

Different paperwork/accounts/passwords, etc. for EVERYTHING!: For instance, at my American university, we had one ID card that served as an ID card, payment method for dining halls, library card, and bus pass. We had one username/password set for everything having to do with the university. Here, I have an ID card/transport ticket, separate card for the Mensa/dining hall, and a separate library card, and I somehow need to keep track of separate usernames and passwords for my student e-mail, online course portals, and library account. Something tells me there is a more efficient way to do this, Germany!

This seems to extend beyond student life, from what I’ve observed. For instance, in the US if you’re an organ donor, it just says so on your driver’s license, but here if you’re an organ donor, you need to carry a separate card. This seems to go against the streamlined approach that Germans love, vis the above Pfand/grocery cart systems… if you want to make it easy for organ donors to be identified, you better make sure they always have that ID card with them! So you’d think the best way to do that would be to combine the organ donor ID with an ID card that they would have to take everywhere, anyway….

I’m rambling. I’m sure there are way more examples of little operational differences between Germany and the US, but these are the ones I’ve run into lately and/or often! I wish you a very efficient day!

3 thoughts on “german quirks

    • Just to let you know Annie, in the Chicago area there is a store called Aldi’s and they have the same procedure with the grocery stores in Germany. I’ve often thought that all the stores should have that procedure as it would keep people from leaving their carts anywhere they please. However, American people in general are lazy and they would not want to have to walk all the way back to the store to return their cart. If they lost enough quarters however they may start. They could also have the practice of having several places to get and return carts as they have for returning the carts in the parking lot. Maybe I’ll have to work on that. hmmm! I love you blogs. Keep them up. So interesting!
      love, Grandma

      • There is actually an Aldi right down the street from me!! But it’s not as close as my friendly neighborhood Netto, and also Aldi doesn’t really have that much stuff (don’t know if it’s the same in Chicago…), it’s like half grocery store and half dollar store. That’s interesting that they keep the same grocery cart procedure in the US considering that no one else does that in America!

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