Five Things We Do That Irritate Germans
There are a bunch of lists like these floating around on the internet, but since marrying a German and being taken in as one of their own, I’ve learned that there are quite a few things that these lists fail to mention. So, here are some things I’ve discovered over the past year that we, as Americans, often do without realizing that we’re actually making the Germans around us want to scream.
And, yes, I learned all of these things the hard way.
Throwing Coins into Fountains
In the States, it’s totally normal to see tons of coins at the bottom of public fountains. Children learn from a young age that if they make a wish and throw a penny into a fountain, their wish will come true. That’s just something that sticks with us. It is not uncommon at all to see fully grown adults tossing pennies, dimes, sometimes even quarters into fountains. And then, in my understanding, periodically the fountains are cleaned out, and the money is donated to charity.
German children, however, do not grow up with this information. In fact, most Germans can’t stand seeing coins in their fountains because – for one, it just doesn’t look nice, and two, it contaminates the water. They have no fountain-cleaning-charity-donors who are more than happy to scoop out pocket change. No. It irritates them. I wouldn’t say it necessarily makes them angry, but they really, really don’t like it. And when they see coins in a fountain, they know immediately that it’s us. Apparently we’re the only ones who do this.
I remember eating at a very fancy restaurant with my husband a few years back (in Trier, I think). It was summer, and it was hot. We sat outside, had a lovely meal, drank some wine, and eventually got up to leave. As we walked out, we passed this very large, very ornate fountain. I stopped my husband and said, “Oh, we have to make a wish!” But before I could even open my purse, he said, “No way!” And then proceeded to launch into a tirade about how irritating it is that Americans wander all across Germany, littering their beautiful fountains with metal coins that somebody then has to clean up.
I had wondered why I never saw any coins in other fountains in Germany!
Walking Outside Barefoot
Most people who have been to a German’s home know that they don’t walk around inside their homes barefoot. A lot of Germans even take their shoes off at the front door. When they are at home, they wear house shoes. And I think most Americans know that Germans think it’s odd that we usually don’t wear house shoes in our homes. What you might not know is that a lot of them also can’t stand to see Americans going barefoot outside.
Now, I’m not talking about walking down the street barefoot or going into a restaurant without shoes. No one is doing that. I’m talking about just walking to the mailbox or the car. Being in the front yard.
As many other Americans married to Germans, I, too, finally caved and got houseshoes. But, I only wear them about 60% of the time. I often go outside barefoot when it’s especially warm. Again – just in my front yard. And my husband still looks down at my feet every single time with that disappointing look. Sometimes, if we’re walking outside together, he’ll notice that I’m barefoot and say something like, “Oh, did you want to put your shoes on first?” To which I say, “No, we’re just going outside for a second.”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay.” As he sighs and drops his head.
Not Passing Tractors
For readers familiar with the Eifel, they’ll immediately understand this. Because we’re out in the country, there are a lot of farms. And that means a lot of tractors. The farmers’ fields are usually not where their houses are, so they often will drive their tractors down a normal street (like a Landstraße or even Bundesstraße). These are just two lane roads, and, although they’re not terribly busy, they are quite curvy. So, a lot Americans, especially those new to German driving, will ride behind the tractor until it turns off somewhere. The problem there is that, because the roads are so curvy, there are only short windows of opportunity to pass. When one car decides to ride behind a tractor, that usually means somebody else is going to get stuck behind the tractor, too. And before you know it, there is a chain of cars five or six deep putting along at 30mph.
Germans won’t hesitate to pass tractors on curvy roads. However, when there is a line of cars that builds up behind the tractor, those windows of opportunity to pass are too small when they need to get around several cars at once. So then the Germans also get stuck.
When I first started driving in Germany, I loved getting caught behind tractors because then I didn’t feel so pressured to drive faster. My husband on the other hand…
That’s not to say that some German drivers don’t also ride behind tractors from time to time, but, let’s be honest, it’s usually us. And they can always tell.
Being Courteous at Intersections
This might sound like a giant contradiction, but let me explain. At smaller intersections, there is often no signage. I mean no stop sign, no yield sign, nothing. Not on main roads. You usually just see this on smaller, more residential streets. But the rule is that when two cars come to an intersection with no signs, the car on the right has the right of way. Now, Germans are, on the whole, very good drivers who respect these rules. So, when two German drivers come to an intersection at the same time, it’s a smooth process. The car on the left yields – the car on the right maintains speed and drives through without hesitation.
For us, though, this is weird and stressful. I still struggle with this rule as it just feels wrong to blow through an intersection with no signs as long as no one is to my right. There is always this internal struggle as to whether or not I need to brake, and the fear that the car on the left will not yield.
So, when Americans come to such intersections, and there is another car also there, we instinctively yield. Even when we are the car on the right – even when we have the right of way. But, the German driver knows they don’t have the right of way, so they also yield. And you end up with two cars, sometimes completely stopped, playing this slow motion game of chicken. We think we’re being polite in these situations when we wave them through.
I did this several times in the beginning because I figured it was better to just let them go first. But, what I found was that the German drivers either refused and vigorously waved me through, or blew through the intersection while shaking their head.
Germans don’t find this polite.
Germans find this maddening.
Thinking all of Germany is Bavaria
I’ll never forget taking my husband to a “German” restaurant in Texas. We had avoided those for years because, as he argued, he could eat German food any time he wanted back home. When he was in Texas, he wanted to eat Tex Mex. But, on one of his visits, I finally talked him into trying Texas style German food. After all, I had tried Mexican food in Germany. The restaurant was in the city. It had great reviews. The family that owned it was second generation American (from Austria). It seemed like it would be authentic. So, we met up with some friends, walked in the front door, and, as we stood there, waiting for our table to open up, my husband saw it.
A Bavarian flag hanging from the ceiling – with his beloved Bitburger logo emblazoned on it.
Oh, the humanity!
I think the biggest pet peeve Germans have with us is that much of what we think of as “typical German” is actually “typical Bavarian.” But, Bavaria is just a state in Germany, like Rheinland-Pfalz or Hessen. Each state – and to a larger extent each region – has it’s own culture. The problem is that a lot of us think Bavarian culture is German culture. And it absolutely is not.
Case in point –
Oktoberfest. Yes, it’s celebrated all across Germany, but it comes from Bavaria. It is a Bavarian tradition. Not German.
Lederhosen. Yes, many Germans wear these as part of the fun of Oktoberfest, but they are traditionally Bavarian, and they are the only ones who keep this tradition going outside of festivals. You won’t see a German from the Eifel wearing Lederhosen outside of an Oktoberfest tent. And some Eifelers won’t even wear them then.
Castles of King Ludwig II. Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee. You guessed it. These are all in Bavaria.
Weißwurst. White sausages that are boiled, not fried, are a staple of Bavaria.
Maßkrug. These are those giant one liter mugs of beer. Sure, you can get them around the country, but they are Bavarian.
Ultimately they are all German since Bavaria is part of Germany. But labeling these things as “typical German” is like labeling everything Texan as “typical American.” Yes, it’s American, but it’s not representative of New Jersey, Kansas, Washington, or any other state.
So the next time you have the urge to toss a penny into a fountain, walk outside barefoot, ride behind a tractor, wave somebody through at an unmarked intersection, or label Lederhosen as “typical German,” remember that somewhere out there a German is cringing.