It’s time to balance the scales a little. I’d lose my credibility if I tried a wholesale approach in selling you on Germany!
In my posts about how everything in Germany is better, I went on and on (and on!) about all that my family missed when we returned to the U.S. in the late 70s after four years in the Vaterland.
Some of these aspects of our German experience elicited eye rolling or a good-natured groan. Others hinted at darker currents. In no particular order, here are a few German offenses to my delicate and ladylike sensibilities:
1. The German Hit Parade–the American Top 40 equivalent. A cheesy carnival of home-grown pop. A particular shout out to the ubiquitous and everlasting Heino is mandatory at this point. Oy! Apparently he is still alive and about 102 years old.
Here he is as I recall him in the 70s:
And here he is in 2015. Careful! Watching this could be dangerous to your health. I shuddered so violently, I nearly bit off my tongue.
Nevertheless, I have to give the guy credit. Off the record, I may even be developing the tiniest bit of admiration for him. He is having a heck of a lot of fun. And laughing all the way to the bank.
2. Sexism. Surely this has changed…?
3. Pecking Order. This rightfully goes together with the concept of Schadenfreude–a nasty delight one feels when others experience misfortune.
The culture can very sensitive to rank and authority. Even a low-level clerk can make your day hell if he gets up on the wrong side of the bed. Grace and flexibility are commodities which may be notably lacking in comparison to the harder virtues of order, punctuality, and logic.
See what happens when you stand in line at one bureau or another seeking assistance. You may be in store for some cat-and-mouse business. The one person you need to see may take one look at your anxious face and decide to head out to lunch. One “t” on your document may not be properly crossed, and you may be sent to the back of the line. Maybe you will fail to approach the esteemed gatekeeper with proper obsequity. Or maybe you will grovel too much, and it will inflame his or her sadistic glee.
Each of these rejections will be communicated with a polite smile and a tightly-clenched anus. You will have no choice but to calmly persevere since you are the supplicant. Of course, your tormentor is probably receiving the same treatment from his or her superior and only wants to share the wealth.
4. Words beginning with “schm.” I might alienate a lot of you over this one but I just can’t help myself! (I’m sorry! Please don’t hurt me!) I have a visceral response to this particular combination of consonants when used in certain words, particularly names. I cringe when I hear them. And when I say them, I feel like I have dog poop in my mouth. I think the surname Schmenkel may be the worst word I have ever tasted.
Ach, nein, I said it out loud.
Waiter! Listerine, please!
5. Ö. This is a vowel sound. When used alone, it is a teutonic version of “uh…” or “welllllll…” which induces rage and nausea. I cannot abide that sound, as it was used by my erstwhile Latin tutor to delicately indicate my utter stupidity. Use it when you need ipecac but can’t put your hands on any. You make it by forming your mouth as though you are going to say long “o” and then actually saying “e.” Draw it out in a protracted and condescending pause as you contemplate my lack of order, punctuality, and logic, and I may have to box your ears.
Sometimes the sound is used to create “Nö,” a hesitant and soft pink version of the good, hearty “nein.” This is for passive aggressive folks who mean “No. No. No!” aren’t willing to own it.
Both Ö and Nö have the mouth feel of kaka.
One of you is bound to ask. No, I cannot speak from firsthand experience.
6. Hygiene. Life was pretty smelly back then. Ladies, you will be glad to know that you wouldn’t have had to break the bank on razor blades. Back in the day, life was also pretty hairy. I believe that has changed. Part of me is sad. That’s a lot of acreage to tend once you start shaving.
7. Hands-off store policy. In all but the largest and busiest urban department stores, it was understood that you were not to touch the wares unless a salesperson presented them to you to examine. I couldn’t stand to go into small stores because the sales staff would always follow, right at my elbow, and watch me like a hawk to make sure I didn’t 1. Cause disarray 2. Soil anything 3. Steal anything. I stood out as an American, and Americans had the reputation of being overly familiar and crass. After reading this post, you’ll know that stereotype could never have applied to me.
8. Sadistic children’s stories. Struwwelpeter is truly disturbing. I tried reading it to my kids once but I had to get rid of it because it was so upsetting. They didn’t even like having the book in the house. I guess it could be useful if you are trying to get your kid to stop sucking his thumb. Take a look at the orange link above and make sure you scroll down to the cautionary tale, complete with graphic depictions, of the consequences of thumb sucking. Just don’t read it before bed.
Max und Moritz is pretty bad too but I read the stories as a kid and actually kind of liked them. Here go the little cherubs–out of the grain sack and into the grinder.
9. Toilet paper. I shit you not.
10. Schwäbisch. A German dialect. It has a slimy, runny, slithering sound which will make you want to run in terror. Don’t put it in your mouth.
This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.