What Americans notice about Germans…(part 1 of 4)

Was Amerikanern an Deutschen auffällt,  oder Fünfzig Wege die Amerikaner gewinnen den Deutschen Aufmerksamkeit (50 ways the Americans attract Germans attention…they could only come up with 50!?)

(This content was originally published in Die Zeit, 42/2002, in German, but was recently translated by a native English-speaking friend of mine who has spoken German for 20 years. What is unfortunate is that before this section of the article is a section of what Germans think of Americans…my German will just have to get better in order to talk about that part…will blog when I am able to translate it, or can find a friend to help.)
The first ten…


1.  They call Americans ‘Amis’.

(Aber warum? I weiß einfach nicht, entschuldigung. How cute, we have our own little nickname. I have not heard  Germans actually say this, but apparently it is considered a derogatory  slur (is there any other type) Germans use for Americans which is short form of Scheiss-Ami. I found an a conversation thread on Leo.de about it, so you can look and decide for yourself or this other site about German slang might also prove useful. Again, I have never heard it but, at the same time when it was a supposedly highly popular term, Americans occupying or invading (as tourists or otherwise) Germany was not appreciated.

2. That it is impossible to go (/The impossibility of going) shopping properly in the evenings or (on) Sundays.

Most shops are not open on Sundays. In Rheinland Pfalz, we are blessed with four ‘shopping Sundays’ a year. I have been told this is because it is not fair to make people work on Sundays as it is a natural day of rest and the day everyone is supposed to go to church anyway. There are even laws against the noise one is allowed to make on Sundays. You are not allowed to mow your lawn, to work on your house, or cause any noisy havoc which may disrupt your neighbors Sunday calm. 

However, there are some standard exceptions to this rule. Cafés and bars are all generally open on Sundays and some of the larger cities do not exercise this rule (making day trips that much more encouraged).

The argument for only having cafés and bars (and restaurants) open on Sundays is that those people can choose to work. Well, technically I choose to work every day. If that is the case then I can just choose not to work and the company I choose not to work for can choose not to pay me. This simple little round-a-bout is why I think so many people in America choose to work period…fearing this could set me off, I should just move on. No one needs to hear my diatribe about American (un/under/)employment right now and how those people are choosing to live the life they are leading…so, I will stop. Now.

I see this as a situation where the idea or saying of “everyone is equal, except for those who are not” might be a fitting idea for this.

The funny thing is, this is hard to wrap around an Americans (yes, I understand, here I am generalizing where I normally attempt to run from these types of statements.) head around. “Places are not open on Sunday? How do Germans get anything done on the weekends then?” Very simply, they go ape-shit crazy running errands (and grocery shopping) on Saturday or they are forced to plan ahead, far ahead! Here, I just think of my father.

When he is working on a home improvement (or DIY) project he runs to Home Depot frequently and he is very familiar with the ‘measure twice cut once’ rule. I have assisted him and/or hung out with him while he worked on many projects, so I know he is very thorough. Still, I know that if he only had ONE day to make sure he had all of his materials and supplies he would probably go mental. And this is assuming he only works five days a week (owning his own business he worked six).

I have learned that even just ten years ago things were much, much worse in that shops would open at ten or eleven o’clock on shut at three or four o’clock in the afternoon on Saturdays and the hours weren’t much better during the week though either. Normal working hours for many in Germany were eight or nine in the morning until five or six at night. If everyone is working the same hours how is one supposed to get regular errands done?

Actually, back in the day, the wife just did it. If she worked at all it was often part-time. While this stereotype and once standard practice has (thankfully) mainly died here, it was once the norm, even into our more modern times. Never mind that today mothers still have to often find creative ways to deal with their childrens’ schoolday ending at one o’clock in the afternoon. However, according to a recent New York Times article, this is changing due to many economic pressures, among others. My friends joke that this is because this is Germany and things arrive here a little later than anywhere else. This idea would be similar to how many Americans think of Idaho, or just about anywhere in the hinterland (inside the country, the landlocked states).

3.  The resulting (/resultant) stress of (going) shopping on Saturday morning (s).

Germans in the town I live in go ape-shit crazy on Saturdays or any last day before a two or three-day holiday weekend. So crazy that you would think the apocalypse was coming. The only time I have seen this in the US is when people get freaked out due to news of some impending natural disaster, that usually (thankfully) is blown way out of proportion. It seems the best days to go shopping are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, preferably about ten o’clock or about three o’clock. Any other day, especially Saturday, if you must go out, do so as early as you possibly can. Most shops open about nine or ten o’clock while grocery stores open around seven or eight o’clock.

4. Germans prefer to answer Americans in English, even if they speak good German/German well.

I find this true fifty percent of the time. Take for example last night, I had to ask for a book at the bookstore to be ordered by the salesperson behind the counter. I asked if he could help me to order this particular book and did so in German. He responded in German and even told me it was supposed to be one copy upstairs, all in German. To which I responded „Ich kann ihn nicht finden (I can’t find it, I couldn’t think of how to say couldn’t).” I then struggled to say “It wasn’t there” or „Es war nicht da.” and so then switched to English and joked that now he could see why I needed this book (it was a German language [Deutsche als Fremdsprache] training book). He said that he thought I was ordering it for the person I was with (cool!!!).

I admit that I know more vocabulary than I can say on my own. Part of this is due to context, I have come to love context in language learning and interactions. It helps make the language SO MUCH clearer. In context I can usually understand the basics of what people are saying to me or asking me. The problem is that I cannot answer them in German. Often if I try and then stumble or say things incorrectly, they do switch to English. Sometimes even if I don’t stumble but they can hear the ‘American’ in the way I am speaking German they switch automatically to English. It can be very frustrating when that happens. Makes me ask myself, “Why the hell am I even trying to learn your language then!”

5. On German television(,) there is an inconceivably/unbelievably large amount of sex at every/any/any and every time / all times of the day and night.
There is an inconceivable/unbelievable amount/quantity of sex on German television at every/any/any and every time / all times of the day and night.

Before my arrival in Germany, some (thankfully only a small few) of my friends joked when they found out I was moving to Germany that Germans are obsessed with sex, and not only sex (like Scheiße Pornos, OMG!) but weird sex and are totally okay with nudity all the time.

As it turns out, for as potentially repressive East Germany was, they were totally free and open with nudity, which the American Puritans could learn a thing or two from. The rest of the country today seems to not think much of it, a topless or nude woman is just that. While there does seem to be a double standard much like in the US in that you might freely see a nude or semi-nude woman but are not, in my experience, going to see the same of men in German society, least not on television.

Regarding nudity on television, they do have that on German television but I have yet to actually see SEX on television. Additionally, because of Satellite television there are about five-hundred or more channels available. However, just like in America, that doesn’t mean that there is more on television, especially not quality. Just like we in the US have countless channels devoted to infomercials, Germans seem to have the same. The difference being that the same number of channels are devoted to infomercials and another number of channels is also devoted to phone sex lines with ten-to-thirty-second clips of scantily clad or topless women (of all shapes, sizes, ages and whatever else people might like) trying to get you to call a specific number. The number of channels that show both infomercials and phone sex commercials does increase after a certain hour in the evening as does the general raciness of programming (the latter generally happens earlier though, around 9 p.m. while the earlier doesn’t happen until about midnight).

I think the reality of this observation is because, no matter how many Americans would like to say they are progressive about sex and nudity we still cling tight to our ‘Puritan’ roots, which in our modern America bleeds into conservative Christian ideas and values all too well. This comment says more about those who say it than those who this comment is supposed to be about.

26 thoughts on “What Americans notice about Germans…(part 1 of 4)

  1. I just love this. I am so glad that M translated the list! I agree with so many of the things you said above- especially your repitition of “I think this one says more about those who say it than those who this comment is supposed to be about.”

    It is so crazy to me, still, when I hear about how Germans in our region are so cold and hard to get to know. Okay, they don’t tell you about their bathroom habits when they first meet you, like some Americans tend to do, but I don’t feel like their reservations are anything more than at home. A German friend of mine used the metaphors of Germans being coconuts, and Americans peaches. The idea being that Germans are known as having a hard shell, but once you crack into it you get all of the soft gooeyness… but with Americans, we might be easy to bite into, but it is hard to get to our core. As a generalization, that is pretty damn good. Anyways, that doesn’t have anything to do with anything.

    And HELL YES for your response to #10.

  2. Pingback: What Americans notice about Germans…(part 2 of ?) « living the american dream in europe

  3. Pingback: What Americans notice about Germans…(part 3 of ?) « living the american dream in europe

  4. Just came across your blog following some links on “german stare”, of which I – as a German – wasn’t aware at all I’ve to say. Anyway, I wanted to comment on the word “Ami”. It’s just short for “U.S.-Amerikaner”. That’s it. “Die Amis” as a generalising term for the nation can be connected with good or bad qualities, as any other (e.g. “(the) Germans”). It’s not a negative word in any way. Of course you can say “Scheiß-Ami” as you can say, well, maybe “bloody German”, but that’ nothing to do with the “Ami” in it. It’s also not like krauts, Fritz or some of those supposedly stereotypes with usually come with a negative association. I’m afraid we don’t have that in German for the US citizens, except maybe for “Cowboys” since the last decade/”W” era and younger people not being “raised” with those John Wayne, Steward Granger etc. movies as the 35+ were.

  5. I’d like to add here and ask you: Please do not feel offended when hearing/reading “Ami”, though I don’t think it would be directly used for addressing to someone.

  6. Pingback: What Americans notice about Germans…(part 4 of 4) « living the american dream in europe

  7. Reblogged this on Southeast Schnitzel and commented:
    Today I stumbled upon a blog that I should have found a long time ago. Then again, one can only read so much in a lifetime.
    “Living the American Dream in Europe” is written by a lady from Portland, OR who has been living in Germany for the past few years. She appears to be experiencing the same transatlantic cultural gap that I’ve been trying to navigate for half of my life – she just entered the bridge from the opposite direction.
    Here she takes a stab at cross-cultural perception and how we make assumptions about other cultures. As you can see, this the first of four parts on this topic. I’m only re-blogging part 1 to encourage you to visit her site to continue reading.

  8. I am glad I stumbled across this. I love it! It’s all quite true, although the first one about the “ami” I am really not sure about. I am fluent in both German and English – have a complicated background but to make it simple, let’s just say I’m German-Australian-American (yes, all in one). I have never heard “ami” being used as a derogatory word. To my knowledge, and the way we use it between ourselves (friends and family) it is simply short for “Amerikaner” – similiar to how an Aussie is someone from Australia.

    Number 4 baffles me though. My husband is a native spanish speaker but fluent in English. He has a tough time doing administrative things here in Germany because basically no one is willing to speak English with him when he asks, and he feels that his German isn’t good enough to get things done on his own… that being said, the Germans I know go two ways. The younger generation is quite open to speaking English (perhaps because they learned it in school) and the older generation is more hesitant!

    • Thanks for your comment and for stumbling across my blog.

      I agree with you about the ‘Ami’ comment, but it’s other Americans that said that to me, so who knows.

      I also agree with you regarding the older and younger Germans willingness to speak English with others, although I have met or encountered some younger ones who also have been hesitant.

      • True, I think since perfectionism is appreciated here in Germany, some people hesitate speaking English because they feel like they don’t speak well enough. Which is funny to me, because English is such a simple language in comparison to German!

        When I lived in Switzerland, I had people that would speak English to me rather than high-German because they admitted not feeling comfortable speaking high-German since they only ever learnt their Swiss dialect in school (not everyone!)

      • you’re SO ON THE MONEY with that, you don’t even know :))

        I was never this OCD in my entire life. Hello, I even FOLD my re-useable grocery bags neatly, so they fit in the space that was made just for them. (omg)

  9. Pingback: What I know about Germans… | living the american dream in europe

  10. Hi, I’m german (sadly).

    “Ami” is not a short for “Scheiss-Ami” that doesnt make sense at all xD
    just for “Amerikaner/American”.

  11. I can’t handle the not being able to shop on Sundays thing and the not being able to shop on holidays thing, either. I can’t help but wonder why they get to decide what my day of rest should be? What if I want to rest on Saturday? Ahhhhh.

    • I’ve heard it is so ‘everyone’ can have a day of rest, but that ignores people that work in transportation or food service. I’ve also heard the argument that those people have chosen those fields so they have to deal with working on Sunday’s, which totally ignores the privilege of ones educational ‘choices’ – but perhaps that is a whole other blog/story!

      America is by no means perfect, but neither is Germany – no place is really.

      Actually, it makes me think about the different facets of ‘privilege’ in German society. I think for the most part the Sunday rest is rooted in the Catholic history of many of the German states. However, historically women didn’t work, they took care of the home and family. Even after that began to change I was told that into the 1990’s in many places across Germany shops closed during the week at about 18.00 and by 13.00 on Saturday. Which means who then has the ‘honor’ of doing all the shopping and running all the errands? Oh yeah – the Hausfrau.

      I have no idea how people actually completed house remodels or pairs, especially because I remember how many times my father had to return the hardware store while we was working on something and he was a good planner!

      We’re about to start Kindergarten and the Kita attempted to give us the times lot of 7:30-12:30 and 13:30 to 16:30. The more logical, but still challenging time slot is 7:30 to 14:00. At least we have a Tagesmutter for the days I cannot pick up my son because I work, but who thinks of these times? Again, I think they are rooted in a ‘simpler’ time and unfortunately don’t reflect modern Germany.

      • Good points. I have trouble going to the store alone in Germany (for a few reasons, but language is one of them) and it is definitely hard to find time to go with my husband when he is not working and the stores are still open, especially if we have plans to go out or are traveling somewhere.

      • And ultimately, if you aren’t working as much as your partner it does make sense to go to the shops for things you all need. It saves the time you do have together for more fun and interesting activities. It is just unfortunate that it is set up this way.

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