Sunday, January 13, 2013


One of the dangers of being an outsider in Germany is that I can fall into the trap of generalizing from only a few points of data. While four months here have served to introduce me to German society, I'm limited by my own observations and a flurry of question directed at my ever-patient colleagues. I do my best to catch myself, too, by looking for several repetitions of the same behavior. With all that in mind, here are a few odd things I've noticed.

German adolescent boys, approximately ages eleven through fifteen or so, seem to be unironically wearing fanny packs. Whether this trend is widespread or limited to a certain group of friends who rides my bus in the mornings, I don't know for certain. I haven't seen any of my students donning the "I'm a target for thieves!" look, which argues that this is a localized trend. I hope that's true.

Certain German adults seem to make a habit of checking the garbage cans at the old mall and the bus terminal right outside. These people are all a little older - sixty or so - but don't appear to be homeless. None of them wear suits, but all are reasonably well dressed and carry a small backpack or briefcase, if anything at all. I wonder what they're looking for. My instinct says bottles and cans to recycle, probably out of a combined desire for the deposit and an overriding concern that recyclables do not belong in a garbage bin. Ever. Everything must be in order.

German schoolkids raise their hands with one finger up instead of the whole hand. It looks like this:

When I asked why, both students and teachers looked at me like I had just questioned gravity and answered "You don't?"

German parents are very lax about their babies and children, displaying no concern when a stranger leans over to pinch a cheek or pat a head. Entire restaurants can stare at a baby and the waitress can bring a piece of bread over to be gummed and no one seems to think it's the least bit weird. Whenever I ask to pet someone's dog, however, they seem taken aback and some even say no and hurry away.

It all makes me wonder: what do I do that Germans find baffling or strange? I'm sure the list is very long.

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