The Top Five German Stereotypes
I’m not proud to admit that for my first 42 years, I bought in to most of the negative German stereotypes. It’s the unconscious reason that Germany never ranked very high on my Wanderlist.
In my defense, we Americans still get bombarded with a hefty dose of negative German stereotypes and history—starting with elementary school movies and history books and continuing in movies and novels. Until recently, I hadn’t been given the opportunity to sit down with a living, breathing, 21st century German for a much needed dose of reality.
This opportunity swept me off my feet when I was 43—in Las Vegas, of all places.
I remember observing him before words were ever spoken—and concluding that he looked like the Germans I’d seen in movies and on my wanders throughout the world. It was something about his eyes, his mouth, and the hint of a mustache. Once the conversation started, there was no doubt—those Vs, Ws and Zs are dead giveaways.
A very long story short, I ended up falling in love with said German and here I am—16 months and 9 days later—having spent a total of 12 non-consecutive weeks on German soil. About every six weeks, I cross the ocean to reunite with my guy for three weeks and then restart my countdown until my next flight. If anyone would have asked me if this were possible 16 months and 10 days ago, I would have scoffed and said something highly intellectual like “Are you freaking kidding me???” But, go figure—here I am. And, I’m happy to report I’m thoroughly German stereotype-free!
Apparently, schools are still showing the same movies three decades later as evidenced by the reaction of my then 12-year-old daughter when I told her about my relationship with a German man.
DAUGHTER: “Wow…really??? Is he angry?”
ME: Uh, no…why would you think that?
DAUGHTER: “Because that’s the way Germans sound when they talk. We see it in videos at school. Does he have a funny mustache?”
Let’s look at the top five German stereotypes:
- STEREOTYPE #1—Germans are angry. In the 12 weeks I have spent wandering throughout Germany, I have interacted with hundreds of locals—most of them in the German military. I can count the grouchy ones on a single hand—1) a surly bus driver who didn’t appreciate the impact of my crappy German on this busy timetable; 2) a disgruntled son of a dead SS officer adamantly defending his dad to the Dachau tour guide; and, 3) a tightwad hot-shower-measuring landlord who took the stereotypes and amplified them. I’ve had a far greater number of unpleasant encounters with Americans, Italians, French—and, one sober Rastafarian.
- STEREOTYPE #2—Germans are professional rule followers. If there is a sign, you do as it says. If you have an appointment, you show up early. This is how many perceive the Germans. Is it really true? I would say it’s an exaggeration—but, only a slight one. John Magee, owner of Culture Influences Business, says Germans tend to be more “rigidly structured” in their official interactions and “to the point” in their communication. The aforementioned Dachau tour guide touted the positives of this characteristic—the main one being sanity. She had recently left Italy to preserve hers after two years of no shows and requests for “donations” to ensure a timely arrival. Similar to the U.S., you can rest assured that the German cable guy will show up sometime around the appointment time and he won’t be shoving his hand in your wallet.
- STEREOTYPE #3—Germans have no sense of humor. I assure you, I laugh often and heartily in Germany. According to Wikipedia, Germany is holding its own in the humor department. More so than the Italians, in fact. According to Herr Kunz of German-Jokes.com, “…in Britain everybody jokes all the time, but that just means they are a nation of humour amateurs. In Germany, we understand that humour is about telling jokes properly and efficiently.” [See Stereotype #2.]
- STEREOTYPE #4—Germans drink tons of beer. Okay, there might be some truth to this. Out of 48 countries, Germany ranks third in total beer consumption at 110 litres per year per head. But, you don’t hear anyone giving the Czechs or the Irish too hard of a hard time. [Okay, the Irish do take some heat for this.] Of course, there is a German rule about beer—Google The Purity Law.
- STEREOTYPE #5—Most Germans are fat. In 2008, Germany had the dubious honor of being home to the heaviest people out of all the European Union [EU] countries. Good news! Government efforts aimed at remedying this situation paid off. Several years later, Germany was solidly in the middle of 19 EU countries, with 28.8% of the population considered overweight proving this stereotype grossly exaggerated. You might be surprised to know, it was the Brits who ate their way to first place. (By the way…even though the U.S. no longer tops the international list, it’s not because we’re getting any skinnier—it’s simply because the rest of the world is gaining on us.)
The German stereotypes are, for the most part, antiquated.
What they are is proud and passionate—and, this American thinks their passions are exquisite. Each season brings a new one. In Winter, it’s the delightful Christmas traditions, including Christkindlmarkts laden with glühwein and lebkuchen. In February, the Carnivale season arrives and serious festivities kick in. In Summer, the Germans revel in the sun. In Fall, it’s all about “New Wine” and Oktoberfest. All year long, there are mind blowing Bavarian pretzels and aisles of yogurt that put Yoplait to shame.
And, the castles….the Germans get castles.
Here’s a reply from two folks transplanted from southern California to Bavaria,who may know this sexy shoed, tiny mustache wearing,rule making (and following), beer drinking, yet very fit man with a hysterical sense of humor:
#1 We too find the Bavarians to be quite friendly and warm. They do become enraged however when their “uber” recycling rules are violated. Only here can someone be padlocked out of the recycling bin for mixing their paper and plastics.
#2 “Tea-baggers” are the elitists of recyclers. They will separate the “bio” tea leaves from the “paper” bag, and the “metal” staple from the “paper” label. We would have to agree with the saying “inside every German is a tiny little policeman”
#3 if anyone thinks Bavarians have no sense of humor they obviously have not seen a grown man wearing leather shorts with suspenders, calf warmers and a green hat with a horse tail plume!
#4 Germans drink tons of beer!
#5 Like in the states, they run the gamut between rotund and slim. Overall, they appreciate fresh, homemade foods. Processing and preservatives are not the norm. Hence one MUST go to the bakery every two days and decide between the nutty whole grain loaf or the rolls with pumpkin seeds. On our block alone there are three bakeries. They are bicycling enthusiasts like you’ve never seen before, even in the bitter cold and snow.
We think you’ve hit it pretty close and will welcome you back to Germany to further your studies!
Well, you two SoCal transplants managed to accomplish something nearly impossible…bring mirth to my bed in the wee morning hours. Not even the recorded voice of my amateur “policeman” (with the sexy shoes) can achieve this feat before 7 a.m. I can only imagine the myriad of lessons I will be taught when I become a transplant…there will be endless blog fodder, I’m sure. Thank you for the insight and the laughter! Can’t wait to study more… 🙂
Thank you Janet for this wonderful article, it is very interesting how other nations see their own country. And you’re right, the German and especially the Berliners are really friendly, better than expected 🙂
I can really recommend the book: How to be a German, it is so funny
Thanks for reading it and for subscribing! I’m ordering the book today. It sounds funny! I need to get back to Germany and go to Berlin…I’ve heard SO many great things about it. Some day, for sure. (If you didn’t see it, you might get a laugh out of my experience in a coed naked sauna. One Butt, Two Butts…Old Butts, New Butts)