Monday, November 13, 2006

It's all a front

One of the biggest stereotypes I heard before moving to Germany was that people here are very efficient, orderly, and in control. This idea leads Americans to believe that things are wonderfully in order in Germany, as long as you follow the rules and fill out the paperwork correctly. Not true. They want you to believe that this place runs smoothly like the well-oiled machines for which they are famous, but it's all bullshit. A few examples:

- You can't get anyone on the phone. Try to call an office of any type. The Post, a bank, even the U.S. Consulate. You will get a machine. If you are blessed enough to get a human being, he/she will transfer you to a machine. When you call again and get that same person on the phone, they will not remember having spoken to you moments earlier. And then they will tranfer you to a machine.
- Having no luck with the telephone, you try to visit said office in person. It is closed. It opens at 9, closes from 12 until 2 for lunch and then closes for the day at 5. This requires that you take time out of work to make it during those short hours of operation. But surprise! There are also various reasons why the office could be closed for the entire day, such as a state holiday you have never heard of or seen noted anywhere, a spontaneous outing made by the office manager, or a flash flood. If you do happen to find the office open, the person with whom you need to speak will be out on holiday until January.
- Everything is closed on Sunday. Clothing stores, grocery stores, drugstores! You'd better not get sick on a Sunday. And you had better plan ahead. Don't want to have friends come to visit with no food or drinks to serve. Otherwise you'll have to go out to an overpriced cafe for lunch... hmm, I sense a plot.
- If you do take these friends to a cafe, be careful what you say. If the waiter hears your foreigner's accent, he may pretend that he can not understand you, preferring to say, "Wie bitte?" in the snottiest tone imaginable while making you repeat yourself three times. Even if all you are trying to say is "Cappucino, bitte." Even if he figures out you are American and he speaks fluent English. He wants you to speak fluent German, and until you do, you won't get a coffee from him. All of this makes for a very long and tiring cafe experience, which leads me to my next point.
- Food and beverage service. Now I know that as an experienced server, I have many biases, but give me a break. You will wait 20 minutes at a table to be acknowledged. Your food will take 45 minutes. No one will ever return to the table, so pray that you get what you ordered, and if not, eat it anyway. Prepare to be at the restaurant for 4 hours. Bars are no better. One little Mexican place in our neighborhood has a happy hour for one hour every single night. It is always packed. They only have two bartenders and two cocktail waitresses working. And if you sit at the bar you get to watch them prepare a drink: crush ice, pour alcohol, slice lime to garnish drink, smoke a cigarette, add soda, argue for ten minutes with cocktail waitress while smoking another cigarette, place straw in drink, notice ice has melted and toss drink down drain, begin again. Better not complain though, they will know you are an American! The Germans accept and love this, because waiting gives them the excuse to talk more shit about you while you look uncomfortable and thirsty at the bar.

The point is that Germany is just like any other place with annoying bureaucracy and red tape, with human beings who are flawed and have prejudices, with a system that doesn't always work the way it could or should. All of that would be fine if not for the attack of (dare I say it?) propaganda to make us think this is not the case. Everyone I know here talks about how organized and efficient they are! Efficient my ass. Hey, America is full of bullshit, but at least we can admit it.

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