An American in Germany

I recently went to Germany, and I realised I never blogged anything about it. So I think I’d better rectify this now!

Is it politically-incorrectly-odious to say that I felt like Germans are still doing penance for the Holocaust? From the moment I sent foot in that land, I felt like everyone was trying with all their umph and might to be as inclusive and welcoming and accepting as possible.

And, you know, German culture is not famed for its welcoming hospitable spirit so it felt a tiny bit disorienting. For example:

I had to buy a train ticket from the airport to the town where my friends live, so I went up to the sales desk to ask how to buy my ticket. With perfect German precision in a crisp German accent, the ticketman told me the exact time of the train and which platform it was on. I think had that information memorised because I can’t see how he looked that up on a computer so fast.

Then he told me the price and I handed him a credit card. He shook his head and said, in the way one stereotypically would expect of a German, that this was a cash-only purchase. This was a problem as I hadn’t yet stopped by an ATM and I’d left my Euros at home. I asked about a debit card. He repeated: Cash Only.

So, knowing the fame of the Germans, I figured there was no wiggle room on this issue and asked him if he could direct me to a place where I might obtain some cash. I resigned myself to missing my train and subsequent delays.

And do you know what he did? He took my credit card and processed my payment as if this never had been a cash-only purchase. This kindness was further cemented in my good graces as I remembered that, since I speak about 3 words in German, this conversation was happening in my language, not his.

So this is what I deduced from that experience: The rules are the rules. But the most important rule is to not appear to be too… well, too… German.

I could tell that, at times, this hospitality thing was difficult for people. They tried, but that didn’t make it easy. In the airport as I flew out, I needed to buy a few things and was so discombobulated that I ended up buying each item at a different duty free shop. Each time, the clerk would address me in German and I’d reply in apologetic English. They’d translate their question for me, but then they’d say something else… in German. Was it that they couldn’t remember that I was a foreigner, or was speaking my language terribly challenging to them? It was sweet that they tried, though.

Even so, Germany was gloriously German in some ways: the trains and buses were so punctual that you could arrive at the station 30 seconds before your transport was due and be 99% confident that within 30 seconds you’d be boarding a warm, cozy vehicle. The streets were impeccably clean and the houses neatly arranged side-by-side. Most of the buildings in the neighbourhood where I stayed were new, but they were of a tasteful architecture that reminded me of paintings from a century ago. Everything just kind of worked.

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