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Germany: The ‘Fräulein’ Issue, Trash Separation and Other Embarrassments

The Germans can probably appear to be sort of odd or stiff at first. But they do have manners. It is good to adapt to some of those, or you might irritate them. On the other hand, they should respect you too.

Berlin, February 12, 2019. Update: February 24th, 2021 (The Berlin Spectator) — One of the Germans’ favorite activity was shaking hands, until Corona hit. An average German national probably shakes hands half a million times throughout his or her life. Migrants, expatriates and tourists who wanted to be part of the herd before the Corona pandemic needed to shake everyone’s hand as well. The opposite is the case today.

A Million Garbage Bins

When leaving an event, shaking everyone’s hand again would have been the right thing to do as well, if Corona had not invaded the world. But kissing everyone from head to toe, like the French did before the pandemic, was not required or wanted. Germans are more reserved in this regard. Many would have seen that kind of approach as forward and inappropriate.

The most important thing of them all? Separating the garbage. The Germans have a million garbage bins in all colors of the rainbow and they want all of them to be filled the right way. No exceptions. In case you accidentally throw your empty Nutella glass into the cardboard bin, you will probably rot in hell. On the other hand, those who join the Germans in their politically correct trash separation endeavor will be rewarded with acceptance. Truckloads of it.

The ‘Fräulein’ Nonsense

Germans have early dinners, at least compared to Spaniards and the French. At 8 p.m., They are ready to watch their mostly weird TV shows, walk around in their underwear and slowly head towards their beds. Do not call them on the phone after 10 p.m. or they will be annoyed for years to come.

“Fräulein, could you show me the way to the airport?” Forget it. There is no Fräulein. Period. That was half a century ago. Any woman might actually feel offended if addressed that way. And the ladies do have a point here. The emancipation which women and some men have fought for since 1968 swallowed all of that Fräulein nonsense.

Knock, Knock

Some nations, including the United States of America, are said to be a little prudish when it comes to nudity. Germans tend to see it in a different light. Many of them love skinny dipping at beaches and lakes. They do not give a damn whether anyone around them gets offended. In saunas, men and women walk around naked together.

Even in certain parks, for instance in Munich, people take their clothes off. Yes, every single item. Just accept it. By the way: It helps not to stare at naked people or they might feel like zoo animals. On the other hand, some nudists might want to be stared at. But better bring a magnifying glass.

An Accurate Cliché

When a door is closed and people are inside the room, everyone should knock and wait for an answer before entering. Closed doors do not automatically mean nobody should enter. But knocking is a must. Otherwise you might run into even more embarrassing situations.

Another important aspect: Are Germans punctual? Yes. Is this a cliché? Yes, but an accurate one. So, you are invited at 7 p.m., but at 6:55 p.m. you notice you haven’t cut your toe nails, taken a shower, ironed your blouse or purchased a little present? That’s not good at all. Better call them and apologize in advance, for being four hours late. The ground rule is: Be punctual.

‘Sie’ and ‘Du’ for Teenaged Nerds

In Germany, the most annoying part of them all might be the “Sie” and “Du” stuff. Two young people, under the age of twenty-five, will automatically say “Du”. In certain circles, such as among hipsters, party people or in the music biz, “Du” is fine, no matter how wrinkled people are. The drummer of that band you booked may be 102 years old, but he is “Du”. In other situations it would be “Sie”, along with “Herr Last Name” or “Frau Last Name”.

Now, who may drop that “Sie” thing? First you need to know each other a little. Then the person who is obviously older may suggest a move towards “Du”. In business, the higher ranking person, even if he or she is a 17-year-old nerd who just employed a 70-year-old computer engineer, is the one who can make that kind of suggestion.

Respect Goes Both Ways

Germans with runny noses, but also other Europeans, blow into their Kleenex tissues as if they wanted to copy the late trumpet hero Maynard Ferguson. But what they generally refrain from doing is spitting on the sidewalk. Especially young males from other cultures do this a lot. It drives Germans mad.

O.k., respecting manners and the etiquette in Germany is one thing, but it goes both ways. The Germans should respect you too. In case you are being treated in an unfriendly, rude or otherwise inappropriate manner, complain. Ask for the manager if the person you are complaining to gives you more of his or her unacceptable attitude.

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