Today is the Tag der Deutschen Einheit or German Unity Day / Reunification Day which celebrates the day Germany reunited and once again became one country. This year Germany celebrates 24 years of reunification. And this is as good a time as any to talk about Germans and the stereotypes about them.
Germans are like people from any other country: many regions have different dialects and different traditional clothing. In some regions people are more warm-hearted, making friends quicker, in other regions, they take their sweet time. But the image of Germany beyond Europe is very stereotypical. Germans are portrayed as beer drinking, sausage toting, loud mouthed people with a thick accent. They are also often portrayed wearing a Lederhosen (men) and Drindl (women). These are – for those unaware – the traditional dress from Bavaria which is one German state and actually pisses off other Germans.
Bavaria is a place of great natural beauty. It’s also quite conservative, proud of being Bavarian and traditional. Bavaria is famous for the Neuschwanstein Castle and picturesque places like Oberammergau and Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It’s also famous for the Oktoberfest which is the greatest celebration of Bavarian culture and beer. A foreign friend of mine from NRW once said, “Bavaria is the real Germany, we just live in the outskirts.” His non-Bavarian girlfriend was not impressed. Which brings me to the German-Bavarian rivalry. Germans love Bavarian things but are at the same time very jealous of Bavaria stealing their thunder.
They don’t like that every time Germany is mentioned, non-Europeans imagine people in traditional Bavarian attire going about their business while drinking beer and eating sausage. I say non-Europeans because Europeans are generally more aware, being closer to Germany and Germans than others.
But Germans and Bavarians – and sometimes even the Swabians – are united in their wonderment at that national social experiment called Berlin. Berlin is so un-German that Germans are surprised its their capital. It’s a city which takes the unorthodox approach to life in a country where people like to stick to a certain national pattern while claiming individuality. If Germany were a room, Berlin would be the proverbial elephant in it. “Berliners like to wing it,” was what one friend from Berlin once told me. Although I have been to that city only as a tourist, I can testify to that.
One very wrong and negative stereotype that I would like to address is that all Germans are Nazis. When I was still in Pakistan and had gotten my visa to travel to Germany, I was warned by many people about how Germans are Nazis. That is simply not true. Sure, there are bad and racist people here just like anywhere else in the world. But the majority of Germans is welcoming towards foreigners and respectful of foreign cultures. Germany’s experience of Nazism and World War 2 have left a huge impact on society and can still be felt to this day. Germans’ approach to patriotism and nationalism is a reminder of that sad and bad time in German history and it is admirable how the lessons have been learnt and applied to society here.
But some stereotypes are true. Germans do love their sausage, which is demonstrated by the numerous kiosks and roadside stands selling the wurst like crazy. While most Germans love their beer – and rightly so – I have met many who have confided privately to not being in love with the golden elixir. But they dare not speak in front of their fellow countrymen for fear of being ostracized. To an extent, the German reputation of being cold and distant is true as well. However, I think it has less to do with unfriendliness and more with social norms and where you are. People in cities are used to more people around them and are generally friendlier than those in the small towns or villages. That said, Germans behave a certain way while in public and alone. No one other than a drunk or a weirdo starts a spontaneous conversation here with someone they have never met before, in a public place. Because of that, Germans can be perceived to be cold and distant when they actually aren’t. It might be difficult to break the ice in the beginning, but once you break it, people are actually very nice.
Other true stereotypes are that Germans are in love with their cars and their Autobahn where you can drive in many (but not all) areas with no speed limits. One politician, Sigmar Gabriel, realized just how entrenched the love of fast cars is in the Bundesrepublik when he tried to propose speed limits. That said, public transportation is really good here and you can easily get by without a car, as I do. Punctuality and straight talk is also very German. Germans do not like tardiness, period. If you have an
appointment, show up or have a very good reason for being late. Otherwise, be prepared for some straight talk. Germans believe directly critiquing people – specially in professional and academic environments – which is seen as a means for you to better yourself. I have noticed that Asian people have a very hard time with this because they do the opposite in their cultures. Oh and Germans don’t do any small talk either. A question like “So what’s up?” can elicit a long winded response from a German telling you exactly what’s going on these days in their life.
So a happy Reunification Day to Germans and I hope they continue to be happy and prosperous like they have been all these years.
P.S: Read about the Germans’ love for The Hoff here.