In this blog I am going to take some time to reflect on some cultural aspects of my time here in Berlin, more specifically, how I was received and an American and intern/tourist and how I perceived the culture around me.
I have not noticed much hostility towards Americans, which many have warned me about before I left. Neither have I noticed a particular fondness. German natives seem impartial towards us citizens, only really showing any enthusiasm when they speak German very well. I do not, so I fall into the category of ‘just another tourist’. And I am sure that Berliners are quite used to foreigners galloping around their city. I bet New Yorkers are quite used to it too. As a Pittsburgher, I am always pleased when I encounter the occasional tourist. I love giving directions and ask what they’ve seen so far and where they are going. I guess this is where the stereotype of people from small-out-of-the-way cities and off-the-beaten-path towns being so nice. I guess if I was bombarded with hoards of tourists everyday I may treat them with indifference too.
As far as language is concerned I have noted a correlation between language and age. First, younger Germans are more likely to speak excellent English. Second, Older Germans who do not speak German who do not speak English are more likely to treat you frostily. I think the cut off age may be near 50. I have encountered this phenomenon several times, most noticeably when I was running an errand for my boss. She asked me to run across town to drop off an envelope. When I arrive to the office, the signage was very poor and I bumbled into several office asking for directions. No one spoke English, nor tried to be helpful in German and some were even a little rude to me. Finally in the hall, I encountered a youngster like me who was able to point me in the right direction. Now, I do realize that what I saw as frostiness may have been misinterpreted. I may be biased because of the stress I was feeling at the time. But I do believe that the underlying observation holds true.
There are only a view German customs which I have perceived as strange. Americans are well used to the idea that ‘the customer is always right’. In Germany, the customer is not always right. I have seen cashiers scold customers and waiters give customers attitude. These actions would be huge breached of civility in the US, but here they are accepted with equanimity. I like the idea that a server, barista or cashier doesn’t have to but up with BS or abuse from a customer. I have only experienced this once. I approached a cafe with a few friends and one asked, in German, if we could sit outside. The waitress replied as she walked by “everyone else is”. I was surprised by her frankness at first, but then i thought that it was funny. You should also know that in Germany you are supposed to seat yourself without consulting any of the restaurant staff.
I am sorry that I waited so long to write on this particular topic. I have now been in Berlin for almost three months and customs which seemed strange at first no longer confuse or shock me. Nothing more comes to mind, but I will report back if I encounter any strange new custom.
PS- I feel that the image for this blog is much more interesting than the blog itself. It is a piece of work on the legal graffiti wall in Mauerpark. I have dubbed it in my mind as the ‘Berlin Snail’. It has been there since we arrived in May, which is a testament to the skill of the artist. Bad work is replaced almost immediately.