The Truth about Germany
Over the weekend, my wife set about explaining why stereotypes were so common. Although most of the intellectual parts flew right over my head, despite her attempts to explain using rudimentary sock puppets, I did manage to catch the gist. Apparently, the human brain likes simple categories that help make sense of complicated ideas and concepts like culture. At least that's what I think Mister Muffins said, he was after all, a sock with googly eyes and a fancy top hat. So, English people like fish and chips, rain and hereditary forms of government. French people enjoy the economics of onion sales and executing their hereditary forms of government. The Americans, on the other hand, like guns, sports that require a PhD to enjoy and occasionally having a good spy on themselves. Yet, do the Germans fit into a nice tidy box? Well they should do, they're German after all, but let's have a quick look just to be sure.
Stop It and Tidy Up
I've come across this stereotype more than once, Germany is incredibly clean and tidy. According to the stereotype the streets of Germany are paved with… well… pavement. Very clean pavement. I suppose it depends what you're comparing tidy to, but I can say that German streets often appear more neat and respectable than some streets back home. I have yet to be blinded by a whirlwind of detritus that can happen in the windier parts of Britain. There's nothing like a crisp packet to the face to ruin a morning jaunt to the shops. Germany's general cleanliness is even more confusing considering it's often impossible to find a waste bin on many streets. Then again, why would Germany need waste bins when they can employee people to simply hoover the streets?
Stadt-Staubsaugers aside, there are other more conventional ways to keep the streets neat and tidy. Germany has recycling down to a fine art, which is no surprise since they seem to have been doing it since the reformation. So advanced is their recycling process simply throwing something away anything can be a confusing task. It's like conducting a packaging postmortem, minus the DNA test. With four options in any one bin, you must identify if its food packaging, simply just packaging, plastic, glass or the obscurely titled 'other'. All I want to do is throw away this sleeve, that moments ago contained a slice of pizza. It's made of cardboard, or is it too much like plastic? Then again, is it food packaging? It shouldn't take half an hour to throw away anything...
Driving in Germany is often subjected to a very stereotyped perspective, with a general understanding that there are no speed limits on the Autobahn. Anyone driving on the Autobahn might be excused for believing this trope thanks to the casual German need to drive like a lobotomised gorilla. Sadly, Germany actually has the occasional speed limit, but that's generally to just placate those of us who have grown fond of such frivolities as oxygen and a pulse. 120 km/h is roughly normal or occasionally 130 km/h. Don't worry though, since the traffic police are rarer than a two headed horse playing Abba's greatest hits on the lute, you can probably just do what you like, everyone else does. Generally, driving around Germany can be a constant mix of death defying acts of overtaking, occasional flashes of your entire existence right before your eyes and quite prayers to various deities to survive the oncoming madness and that's just on Sundays.
Germany has a strong reputation as a well organised nation. In all manner of ways, Germany adheres to a careful, coherent set of rules. This can be seen most clearly in the way they play football, that is of course if you happily listen to the pundits. You can set your watch by this trope being mentioned at some point by some ex-pro commentating on a game featuring a German team, whether international or otherwise. Although many ex-pros are more used to gargling champagne and acts of sexual deviancy than commentating on football matches. To you and me Germany may be organised, but ask a German and they'll point to projects like the new Berlin airport or the train station in Stuttgart as examples of poor organisational skills. If you feel sorry for them, don't. In all honesty their infrastructure disasters are frequently more organised than most countries infrastructure successes. In terms of disaster, the bricks turning up an hour late or the windows being too early are subject to frenzied media coverage that we reserve for a new royal marriage or David Beckham naming one of his children after the new Nike football (Global Xistenz 7 is such a beautiful name, don't you think?). Don't fall for it, they only want sympathy.
Scheduled Comedy Hour
You can tell a lot about a culture by its jokes, sadly Germany doesn't like comedy. Instead they like outdoor activities and filling out their tax returns. Carefully scheduled moments of laughter are for exactly ten minutes and then back to work, also no dawdling. At least this is what the rest of the world would have you believe. In fact Germany has a very large funny bone; it just reacts to different stimulus. Hidden reveals and witty innuendo doesn't quite work in German because the language and grammar works very differently from, say, English. The punch line doesn't have the same impact when the earlier part of the sentence gives you so much detail. Another problem is the fact you have compound nouns that leave very little place for saucy, Carry-On-esque double entendre. Even if they did, Germans generally don't find endless hilarity in the human body the way British or American audiences do, simply because nudity isn't so risqué in a country with nude beaches and saunas. Somewhat frustrating is how underappreciated sarcasm is by the average German. Certainly British sarcasm can be misunderstood, given the importance of tonal subtlety that sarcasm from the monkey island requires. In a nation of literal thinkers, sarcasm can really get you into trouble. I constantly cause myself problems by making sarcastic comments that land me in numerous HR meetings, thankfully I can often resolve the issue by making a sarcastic apology that everyone happily takes literally. What does seem to go down well is slapstick humour, in a Naked Gun style, political satire and an admirable ability to self-lampoon. A great example of this can be found in the work of Tedros Teclebrhan, who made a name for himself by satirising immigrants and German views on immigration (a great interview with Teclebrhan can be seen here). The Huete Show is also a high point in German comedy/satire, taking a giant leaf out of The Daily Show's book.
This is all the more admirable as the UK has yet to create a long lasting satirical comedy show that doesn't require puppets or the panel show format. A really bad example of German comedy can be found in the form of part time Lucas Podolski impersonator Oliver Pocher, who for some inexplicable reason, still thinks it's OK to dress up in black face. Thankfully, Pocher is somewhat in the minority.
Where's the Train?
German trains are always on time...right? Well no, they're not. It's certainly not because the service is bad, in the way that British trains are bad. I mean, no one has tried to sell me a day old sandwich and a cup of tea for £436.50, well not yet anyway. Or the time I got a train to Bristol and had to travel for 36 hours, change trains 17 times, call on the powers of a Ouija board, sacrifice two lambs and a pig to Apollo the Sun God, builda complex totem pole from old stella cans and still end up 25 miles north of my original destination. Sadly, that was on one of the better services in the UK. It's just disappointing. One of my favourite tropes is German punctuality, and this has been destroyed by regularly catching late trains. There's nothing funny about, it just makes me sad. Although German trains are certainly more punctual than in other countries, whenever they do turn up late or are cancelled without warning, I tend to feel that I've been sold a false bill of goods. "They told me the trains would be punctual" I can often be heard muttering to myself. "The bastards lied".