Xenophobe’s Guide to the Germans
by Stefan Zeidenitz & Ben Barkow, 1993
Xenophobia: an irrational fear of foreigners, probably justified, always understandable.
From the chapter on Order: The Germans pride themselves on their efficiency, organization, discipline, cleanliness and punctuality. These are all manifestations of Ordnung (order) which doesn’t just mean tidyness, but correctness, properness, appropriateness and a host of other good things. No phrase warms the heart of a German like ‘alles in Ordnung’, meaning everything is all right, everything is as it should be. The categorical imperative which no German escapes is ‘Ordnung muss sein’, Order Must Be. Germans like things that work. This is fundamental. A car or a washing machine which breaks down six months after purchase is not a nuisance, it’s a breach of the social contract. In Germany, words may be long and guttural, but there are no tricks to pronunciation – what you see is what you get. The streets are clean, the houses newly painted, the litter in the bins. Ordnung.
From the chapter on Right to Wrong: You may on occasion be pulled up short by German bluntness and directness. The Germans are constitutionally unable to admit to being in the wrong or having made a mistake. The Germans say what they mean and mean what they say: “Do you know what time it is?” “Yes, I do.”
From the chapter on Crime and Punishment: Adhering to rules can appear to rule out reason. A man crossed a street without waiting for the lights (it was 2 a.m. and the street was empty). Halfway across he was knocked down by a speeding car which made no attempt to avoid him. The police were called, the man put into an ambulance, and the driver was let off without a caution. Shocked, the only witness (a foreigner) asked the policeman what would happen to the injured man. He replied: “If he survives, he will pay a fine of fifty marks.” The safest bet, as indicated earlier, is to assume that everything is forbidden and against the law unless you have documentary proof to the contrary. One of the more depressing aspects of German life is that all Germans love to point out to you what you are doing wrong or what you are failing to do right. Thinking of sneaking through a red light? Don’t do it. A hundred Germans will helpfully call out that This Is Not Allowed. Thinking of leaving the kids’ toys out on the front lawn? Don’t do it. The whole neighborhood is itching to point out to you that This Is Not Allowed.
From the chapter on Manners: German manners are somewhat on the robust side. Don’t expect an apology if somebody knocks you on the pavement; what you’ll get is a withering look for having had the selfishness and inconsideration to get in the way.