This continues my list of things that are particularly German to me. I realize I’m keeping things light here. I know there’s lots more and I invite you to comment and share your own ideas about things that you consider deutsch – things you remember from your travels, your childhood in Germany and/or from your German friends.
I know I’m in Germany when
- People freely discuss leftist progressive ideas because leftist ideas are an accepted part of the political spectrum.
- I see the warm glow of dozens of unattended lit candles in a church. Lighting my own by holding it close to one of the tiny flickering flames, I realize that no one is nervous about the possibility of fire.
- Counting out money becomes a daily amusement. If my groceries total 12 Euros and 27 cents, for example, I know the cashier would rather I hand him a 20 Euro bill plus a 2-Euro coin, 3 ten cent coins and one 2 cent coin than a 20 Euro bill. He will give me a 10 Euro bill and a 5 cent coin in return. Germans enjoy turning such small cash transactions into little math problems. It allows them to exercise a skill they learned in school: Kopfrechnen – doing arithmetic in their heads. There are more possibilities for every day math play because there are eight coins of different denominations in Germany as opposed to only four (penny, nickel dime and quarter) in the US.
- When the yoga gear is just a t-shirt and leggings or shorts, nothing skin tight and fancy and no visible labels.
- I head for the container full of paper and plastic packaging near the exit doors of the supermarket. In 1991, German parliament passed the first Verpackungsverordnung (great scrabble word!) – a law that required product manufacturers to dispose of packaging materials. Since then, customers can simply strip their purchases of plastic wrapping and Styrofoam padding and leave store owners to return packaging to manufacturers. (Product packaging has significantly decreased since that law was passed.)
- Every conversation contains at least one word that would make me a Scrabble winner (for example, a Zeitungskiosk, is newspaper stand, a Bürgersolarpark is a citizen-owned solar powerplant, a Zärtlichkeitsbekundung is a declaration of affection. Imagine if you had triple word count! Some words, like Schmetterlingsflügelsammlung (a collection of butterfly wings) wouldn’t even fit on the board. I can choose between subways, trams and buses and it’s easy to live without a car in a city.
- When cars on the freeway pass me – always on the left - at shocking speeds because there’s no speed limit on the Autobahn.
- No one hovers by my restaurant table and takes my plate as soon as I’ve set down my fork. In Germany, diners are expected to linger.
- Waiters and waitresses take my order without writing anything down. When I signal to pay, they come to the table and calculate the bill from memory.
- A complete stranger chides me (because I crossed the street on red, for example) or tells me what to do - “put a cap on that baby, it’s cold outside.”
- When everyone waits for the light to turn green before walking, even if it’s a Sunday morning and there’s no car in sight.
- I hear church bells toll the hours.
- Virtually all stores are closed on Sundays. Bakeries are the exception because Germans like to get their fresh rolls for Sunday breakfast.
- Small children play naked on the beach.
- People mention capitalism, banks and corporations in a conversation about current events.
- People display colorful Gartenzwerge - little gnomes - in their front yards.