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.
6. Irony (/Sarcasm) must/has to be (clearly) labelled/marked/pointed out/indicated/announced (as such).