It’s The Little Things: When Different Comes Across as Strange.
I have been away from home for exactly two weeks today and on the whole I’ve had a rip-roaring time. I’ve been whisked around the Streets of Berlin by a host of fabulous new friends, I’ve eaten great food, I’ve found an apartment to rent, I have even bought a bike! It’s been a lot of fun absorbing all the new and wonderful experiences like the little South African sponge that I am. But there are also those times that every traveller will recognise when the cultural differences really stand out and you find yourself saying a big old WTF!!!
Some facts about Germans:
1. They pile their shoes at the door.
At first I thought this was a respect thing, kind of like people who “keep an Asian household” and ask you to take off your shoes before entering their living space. But no, German’s don’t expect you to take off your shoes before entering their home. The shoes just live at the door because that’s where shoes go. People don’t keep their shoes in their closets or rooms, they keep them in their entrance halls. For me, this is pretty strange and confusing – but hey, each to his own!
2. They use two single duvets
Most beds in Germany are your standard double bed: 2metres X 140 cm. But try as you might, you will not find a double duvet in the stores here! The reason for this is German people prefer to sleep with two single duvets. They say that it is better for sharing because this way a couple will not have to fight over the duvet at night but if you’re single all that means is you have to buy two rather than one duvet and covers etc. The logic escapes me actually because I particularly like an oversized duvet that falls over the sides of my bed whereas two singles sit neatly on top of the bed, which just doesn’t look right in my opinion.
3. Everything has its place and its function
I guess some of the stereotypes are true. Germans can be quite rigid about certain things. If a bicycle lane is blocked by a pedestrian, the person on the bike will ring his bell to alert the pedestrian that he is in his lane rather than riding over the line of the bicycle lane. And yesterday I was shouted at by a woman who was angry with me for taking cover from the rain inside a building because “you cannot stand here, that is not what this space is for”.
4. Men pee sitting down
Apparently, men in Germany pee sitting down. This means that German women never have those arguments about the toilet seat being left up or about mess on the toilet seat. German men are taught as boys that it’s the best way to pee so as to keep the mess to a minimum. I have to say, I love the cleanliness factor!
So yeah, some of these oddities are really not such a big deal and let’s face it; all cultures have their strangeness. But ultimately it is part of the fun of travelling to a new place to discover all of its eccentricities and quaint mannerisms. I’ve also discovered some really great German tendencies. Like the fact that surprisingly, given what huge beer drinkers they are, Germans are fanatical about making really good cocktails. All over Berlin are the most exquisitely stocked artisan bars. The bartenders take their “art” very seriously and put a huge amount of love and effort into every drink. I guess when it comes to Germans, if you’re going to do something you must do it WELL.
Whether you find that which is new and different to be odd or whether you see the magic and intrigue, it is important to remember that an outsider’s perspective is always going to be just that…a perspective. It should make no difference to any German that I find their habits strange. And in just the same way, you should never feel you have to explain yourself to anyone! We should all be celebrating our differences and embracing the true beauty of this diverse world we live in. Whether you pee sitting down or up, whether you prefer beer or cocktails, even if you wear socks and sandals – you should feel 100% proud of who you are, your heritage, your customs, your way. Enjoy your oddness! Celebrate your weirdness! Let your strange hang out!