German Culture

— Feeling the warmth after 5 years

Schadenfreude was a foreign concept until the last moment.

“This is not my problem.”

While waiting in the customs line to catch a connecting flight, I was with other Americans trying to talk a customs agent into letting us ahead. We had five minutes before our plane was scheduled to depart. There were so many people ahead. Why is the agent smiling at our misfortune?

Passengers on flights leaving in 10 minutes kept trying to cut us, we were fighting to be on time.

As I counted down to departure, I let go. The plane will leave when it wants to. At that point, I understood. The customer unfriendly treatment is in the vein as Berliner Schnauze, the ‘rude’ customer service I’ve complained about living in Berlin.

I never understood it before. Why would anyone go out of their way to be unpleasant? To show pleasure in seeing misfortune come upon others. It made no sense. How would you get me to buy your product or service if I didn’t like you?

I missed the point.

The idea is friendly yet based on my background, I couldn’t see it that way. As an American, I am used to being coddled.

My dissatisfaction reminded me of my mom. She found it offensive whenever she heard my sister addressing her best friend by ‘whore’. The term was endearing to my sister and her friend. They were close enough to handle the rough exchange.

‘you over there, I know you can handle this mistreatment.’

It’s nice to not be coddled. I can stand up for myself despite anything unpleasant that gets thrown my way. By laughing at my misfortune, I have a moment to recognize my own abilities.

In Taipei there are these ladies at the entrance of all department stores who constantly greet guests. The energy in their voice makes me feel welcome. There’s a decorum established. ‘You are our customer. Let us treat you to what you need, since you are giving us money. You are here to be coddled’ There are rules established with the formal hello.

In Germany, when entering a cafe you’re treated the same as visiting a friend’s house. ‘Hey hows it going.’ They might ignore you for a moment and get back to whatever they’re doing. There’s an informality that comes from familiarity. If you need something from them, you ask. Otherwise, they’re not going to formally offer to come serve you. They might forget you’re even there.

If you take it the wrong way, perhaps it’s you, the guest who doesn’t hold the server, the establishment close at heart. You don’t give them the benefit of the doubt as being nice people. It’s not necessarily their fault that the relations aren’t positive.

This logic is so different from what I’m accustomed to. Understanding a different culture opens up how I receive people, but I’m surprised it took me so long. Developing a thicker skin isn’t the point. The cold treatment is the warmth.

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Dark times seemed so light

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