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CULTURE

8 ways living in Germany will change you for good

When you go back the homeland for your Christmas hols don't be surprised if people look at you a bit funny - you've probably picked up one of these peculiarly German habits.

8 ways living in Germany will change you for good
Photo: DPA

Not crossing the street until it’s green

Berlin's famous Ampelmann. Photo: DPA

In the Anglophone world it might seem like perfectly reasonable behaviour to step out into the road if you’ve scoured both horizons and not found a vehicle in sight.

But in Germany it’s considered downright reckless – and a bad example to children, who might be watching out of windows even if they're not there beside you on the street.

Give yourself a few months and you’ll be waiting with the crowds for the little man to turn green – if you don’t, prepare to get shouted at.

Saying hello and goodbye to shop owners

A small late-night convenience store. Photo: DPA

It would seem downright rude to ignore a shopkeeper or cashier in Germany, even if you don’t end up buying anything.

Germans may not be known for their friendliness, but they never fail to greet you as you come into the convenience shop, grocery store or pharmacy and almost always sing a melodic “Tschüß” as you walk out the door.

Perhaps it’s because shops tend to be smaller and thus feel more intimate than they do in the US – just imagine greeting all of Walmart’s workers as you walked in.

Clapping when the airplane lands

It’s always an entertaining clash taking a flight from the US to Germany and witnessing the German half clapping upon landing while the rest look around utterly baffled.

Photo: DPA

Especially when there’s a bit of a bumpy ride beforehand, it’s actually quite a nice gesture to show appreciation to the folks upfront who managed to bring an enormous, flying metal bird back down to Earth safely.

Obsessively collecting bottles for Pfand

Getting Pfand for empty bottles. Photo: DPA

Germans take recycling seriously – as you can tell by each apartment complex’s courtyard dedicated to an elaborate system of specific bins.

Beginners’ German classes sometimes even spend time explaining the process, almost as a matter of German pride.

But on top of that, supermarkets make it extremely easy to turn in bottles for their Pfand deposit and immediately get the cash reward through automatic machines.

Thus you will see long queues of folks on weekends awaiting their chance to earn a few extra cents per bottle – and huge collections of bottles amassed in each German’s household, rich or poor.

Simply tossing a beer bottle in the normal garbage bin would feel almost sacrilegious when you know the next passing bottle collector could put it towards their next meal or good night's sleep.

Sitting while peeing

For men, sitting down is a must. Photo: DPA

If you come from the barbaric Anglophone lands where the lesser sex still stand up while doing a number one, you may have to deal with weeks of passive aggressive muttering from German flatmates before they finally concede their ire at the fact you don’t bend the knee when taking a pee.

This isn’t just something that will bother female flatmates, German males are often just as insistent. In fact it’s an issue taken so serious, one landlord took a tenant to court over it.

Throwing in English words while speaking German

Photo: DPA

German culture is so heavily influenced by American culture that sometimes it seems like every second word has been pinched from English – even for words that already exist in German. 

After a while you’ll feel that it’s too weird to use the actual German word you learned so diligently in school and start using the English one instead – but with a heavy German accent to it of course.

Being totally cool with nudity (and mixed sex saunas)

Naked sunbathing in Munich. Photo: DPA

This is the one that us prudish Anglo-Saxons probably take the longest to get used to. But it is accepted – if not widespread – to be naked in certain areas at the beach or by the lakeside.

If you are a member of a gym in Germany you will also have to get used to the fact that you’ll be the only one wearing speedos in the sauna if that’s how you choose to go about it.

And there’ll be naked members of the other sex too. This is one habit that is sure to cause a storm if you take it back to the Anglo world with you.

Having lightning speed hands at the cash register

She's never as decisive as when packing her shopping. Photo: DPA

When you head to the checkout counter at grocery stores in Germany, you have to be both physically and mentally prepared. Those cashiers don’t mess around. And no one is going to bag your food for you like stores in the States.

Nope. German grocery store checkouts are survival of the fittest, a competition between consumer and cashier to see if you can keep up with their lightning-speed hands, throwing veggies, milk and eggs across the scanner as you scramble to pack things in a bag before they read out your total.

Those who are too slow should expect frustrated sighs and passive aggressive watch-checking from both the cashier and the customers behind them.

OPINION & ANALYISIS

What’s behind Germany’s obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

Forget the Bundestag. If you want to understand German politics - and see how lively it can really be - turn on your (almost nightly) talk show.

What's behind Germany's obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

It may well be one of the most German things imaginable – a roundtable discussion designed to give a fair amount of time to a wide range of viewpoints before (maybe) achieving some sort of consensus.

Failing that, viewers – theoretically anyway – walk away better informed and open to changing some of their opinions after a, again theoretically, respectful discussion.

Welcome to the German political talk show circuit – a collection of moderated roundtable discussions.

Whether its Anne Will on Sunday nights, “Hart aber fair” or “tough but fair” on Mondays, or Maybrit Illner on Thursdays and Markus Lanz on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – you can tune into several political panels a week if you fancy.

If you have politically-minded German friends or co-workers, you might ask: “Did you watch Lanz last night?” Anecdotally, at least as many people who watch will have strong opinions about why they don’t.

Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk makes a video appearance (left video) on the Markus Lanz show on 10 March 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Cornelia Lehmann

“Lanz is a disgrace!” and “I don’t watch Anne Will out of principle!” are both phrases I’ve heard myself more than a few times over the years.

But if you are a fan and you miss an episode, don’t worry – many news outlets will run summaries of what happened during said roundtable the next morning.

“Newspapers regularly publish these recaps almost as if they were relevant parliamentary meetings,” says Peter Littger, a columnist on language and culture in Germany. “It’s super relevant politically. It can increase your voting base and certainly your book sales if you appear there.”

READ ALSO: Tatort to Temptation Island: What do Germans like to watch on TV?

‘Consensus-oriented political culture’

If the nationally-focused ones aren’t enough for you, there’s a good chance you can find a show on a regional broadcaster focusing on issues in your federal state, again in – you guessed it – roundtable format.

As you might have gathered, the show’s name is often the same as its host, who functions first and foremost as a moderator there to facilitate and mediate a discussion between guests who are chosen specifically to balance a panel.

For a discussion on Ukraine, for example, you’ll regularly have people from every political party, from ministers and high-ranking parliamentarians who chair important Bundestag committees to pro-Russian voices from the German Left Party and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

And no one is too high-ranking not to make at least the occasional appearance. Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself joined a Maybrit Illner roundtable on July 7th this year.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appears on the Maybrit Illner show on 7 July 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Svea Pietschmann

Both European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have also made appearances on Anne Will this year.

In characteristically German fashion, state broadcasters have extensive written regulations to ensure a panel also has a balance of people from relevant expert disciplines. For instance, a coronavirus panel may well feature a notable doctor alongside a civil liberties lawyer.

“Germany has a more consensus-oriented political culture than you might see in a country like the UK, for example, which is more confrontational and even adversarial,” says Sebastian Ludwicki-Ziegler a PhD researcher at the University of Stirling’s Department of Communications, Media, and Culture.

“You’ll still get some invited guests who are very contrarian and even aggressive – like Thilo Sarrazin (a former politician who wrote a controversial book in 2010 about Muslim immigration to Germany) for example. But even then, the moderator often tries to maintain a softer, more civil tone.”

Ludwicki-Ziegler says that while the roundtable format reflects German political culture, it also reflects its institutional setup. A show producer can simply get more obvious ranges of political opinion in a country with Germany’s proportional representation, which has seven parties in parliament.

Historic roundtables

Unlike the often subdued German Bundestag though, German talk shows can certainly get lively, or even historic.

Perhaps the most notable TV roundtable happened right after the 2005 federal election. With then incumbent Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder having finished only one percent behind Christian Democrat Angela Merkel when all the votes were counted, party leaders gathered in the traditional “Elefantenrunde,” or yes, the “Elephant’s round,” to discuss the results.

READ ALSO: Talking elephants and grumpy politicians: Four things that will happen after the German elections

With the final election result having been so close, observers still discuss whether Schröder lost his chancellorship at the ballot box or during the 2005 Elefantenrunde. In contrast to a calm Merkel, Schröder insisted he would stay on as Chancellor.

Brash and arrogant, some observers have asked whether he was drunk at the time. German media outlets ran anniversary pieces looking back at his disastrous roundtable performance 5, 10, and 15 years later. One such anniversary piece from 2020 called the roundtable “Schröder’s embarrassing end.”

The 2005 post-election roundtable, or “Elefantenrunde,” is considered by many German political observers to be the disastrous end to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder;s political career. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | ZDF/Jürgen_Detmers

Mastering the roundtable appearance is a big plus for a German politician, or anyone else looking to move the needle of German public opinion.

Satisfying a particularly German impulse, you can certainly also walk away feeling like you’ve considered all sides. But are there drawbacks?

On 8 May 2022’s edition of Anne Will, social psychologist Harald Welzer appeared to lecture Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk that 45 percent of Germans were against delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine because of German war history. Many observers criticised Welzer for patronising the Ambassador of a country at war about the need to have weapons for its own self-defense.

The exchange, and a fair few others, lead some experts to wonder whether the roundtable format so many German political talk shows seem to love gives too big a platform to pro-Russian voices or to controversial writers like the aforementioned Thilo Sarrazin.

“If we take Germany and Ukraine as one example, you can get some great guests who come on and really set things straight with facts, data, and plain talk,” says Benjamin Tallis, a Fellow in German Security Policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“But you can get false balance. You’ll get people on with rather fringe opinions given a platform against people who have a lot more experience and evidence. That’s true in a lot of places now, sure, but this talk show format really lends itself to that because of the amount of guests you need on a nightly basis,” says Tallis.

“Unfortunately in Germany, many guests are invited on based on their opinions about an issue rather than the level of their expertise, in order to try and achieve balance,” says Minna Alander, a specialist in German foreign policy who recently joined the Finnish Institute of International Affairs after more than a decade working in Berlin.

“When you start equating opinion with knowledge, it makes it way more difficult to have a fact-based debate. On matters of life and death, like in Ukraine, that can have a polarising effect.”

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