As usual, I must begin by saying life in Germany is awesome and living here absolutely rules. I have, however, learned a thing or two about the harsh realities of life in this fine country. What follows is yet another list of discoveries, oddities and annoyances revealed as an expat American living in Hannover, Germany:
- No one cares that I’m American. When I first arrived in Germany, I thought I would stand out as a foreigner, like, obviously. I assumed my aura was a blinding fireworks display of stars and stripes.
I thought I would be special here, and not just when I opened my yap and made with the Yankee talk, but also by my look, my clothes — hell, just the sweet nectar of freedom seeping from my pores — would be enough to out me as an American. I thought it would be so obvious I prepared myself for the inevitable barrage of love, hate and general fascination by refreshing my knowledge of American history and politics prior to my departure. I was counting on being challenged to conversational duels about politics, you see. “…actually, Herr Schniedersachsen, there are three branches of the American government. Guffaw, guffaw, *snort*” But it was around the third day after my arrival when reality took hold; I am American, goddammit, and these Germans just don’t give shit. For a few weeks after this revelation, I went out of my way to wear baseball caps and sneakers — flashing my perfectly straight, brilliantly white American teeth at everyone — just to score some kind of recognition. Nope. Nobody noticed, and nobody cared. Even when my nationality specifically came up in conversation, it had all the social clout of table salt.
- The squirrels are red and they have horns. Seriously, the squirrels here in Niedersachsen are red — like, bricks, rust and crayons all mashed together and trying to be adorable. Oh, and they have tufts of hair growing from the tips of their ears like little devil horns. Have you seen these little freaks? My wife thinks they’re cute. I think they look like flaming weasels.
One even invaded our home during the summer of 2012; the kitchen door was open to let a refreshing breeze through (because German homes don’t have air conditioning, even though air conditioning is clearly a requirement for godly living — it says so in the Bible) and this clawed ginger comes hopping right on in like he owns the joint. I screamed and shagged-ass out of the room as my wife shooed him away. But before he left, his soulless, beady little eyes darted across every drawer and cupboard, and I just knew he would have stolen my precious walnuts. That’s right — I said it — I’ll punish a German squirrel for a crime he hasn’t committed… because criminal behavior is in his DNA.
- Germans aren’t real big on Jaywalking. Germans are known for their love of order. Of structure. Of all things systematic. Now, I’m not a real big fan of sweeping generalizations, so please understand the gravity of this statement when I go ahead and say, yes, Germans love rules. They love their rules, and they hate to break them. Even the silly ones, like those regarding traffic signals for pedestrians.
Would you like to know how often I find myself at a crosswalk, standing amongst a gaggle of Germans who refuse to cross the street for no reason other than the signal telling them not to? Every day. Oh sure, I’ve seen a German or two cross on a red — it was probably the most exciting moment of their lives — but jaywalking is far from standard procedure here. And you’d think a people so concerned with speed and efficiency would be all about it, but they aren’t, and it’s because the power of rules wins over all other behavior patterns — even haste. I, on the other hand, am American; I am accustomed to a fiercely shyster society in which everyone tries to get away with as much fuckery as possible. So when I encounter a ‘don’t walk’ signal in Germany, I pull a Cartman and say, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” Now, I’m not crazy — I look left and right first (mostly to check for cops) — but when I see a bunch of Euro-nerds afraid to cross the street, I just gotta put on my cowboy hat and show ’em how it’s done.
- Germans don’t think in terms of compass points. Germany is an old country. Like, old as balls. Back when German cities were built, they obviously didn’t take automobiles into consideration; they made the streets just wide enough to accommodate filthy peasants and jerks on horseback. As a result, most German cities are laid out like connect-the-dot games played by someone having a seizure.
The streets are all crazy, starting out of nowhere and ending just as abruptly. And if you ask a German for directions, you’ll likely get a series of empty street names and bizarre turns for an answer. Nevermind magnetic north or the constellations — they have no power here — north, south, east and west have nothing to do with navigating streets in Germany. “The post office? Yes. You must go straight ahead and then turn right at the batshit crazy intersection. After that, go left, right, and then straight ahead until you hit Poland.”
- Sitting with strangers means saying ‘Hello,’ ‘Goodbye’ and absolutely nothing else.
Anytime Germans are forced to converge in a small space, they will greet each other with surprising politeness, and then just sit there in silence. Like, for hours.Have you ever gone to the doctor in Germany? When I’m sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, sick people will shuffle in, cough, sneeze and say, “Hallo” or “Guten Tag,” and not a word more. And then, when someone is mercifully called up, they will say “Tchüs” and disappear forever. I am accustomed to huge waiting rooms in the States, like oceans full of sick people, where saying, “Good morning!” to everyone would be considered charmingly naive… or a surefire sign of emotional instability (“Well, I guess we know why that guy is here…”).
Have you ever ridden a train in Germany? Even if you take a train from Hamburg to the Bavarian Alps — an 8 hour ride on the IC train — you will hear exactly 2 words from your cabin mates during the journey: “Hello” and “Goodbye.” And don’t even think about making eye contact with a German stranger; it’s like riding beside a homunculus, but if you actually try and relate to this silent golem, the spell will be broken and it will explode, showering you in magic, liverwurst and finely crafted automobile components.
If you’d like to read more of our Things That Suck About Living in Germany lists, check out our previous posts:
Five Things That Suck About Living in Germany
Five (More) Things That Suck About Living in Germany
Even More Things That Suck About Living in Germany