Wednesday, April 06, 2011

German Efficiency and other myths

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard mention about how (generally) Germany is a modern and efficient country. My German grandmother (god rest her soul) used to go on and on (& on) about how things were so much better and made more sense in Germany than in Canada. Well, now that I’ve had a few months experience I share my thoughts on this.

For the most part, I’m convinced that this “German Efficiency” is a myth. I realize this is a sweeping generalization and depends on personal experience, but I’m convinced that Germany has hired a fantastic PR firm to send this message out to the rest of the world. While some things make sense, some things are utterly ridiculous.

My main beef with German efficiency is the traffic lights. I’m truly amazed at how many traffic lights there are and the length of them. Because I’m ridiculous, I’ve taken to timing them and tracking the distance between each traffic light (don’t judge- it gives me something to do other than going postal while waiting in traffic) The average length of a traffic light is a minute and about twenty seconds. The average distance between each traffic light is about 500m. Probably just a little bit longer and a little bit closer together than most major city. No big deal. The frustration starts to happen when you realize that the lights are not timed. In most places in North America, you can usually count on a “green wave” that is, if you drive the speed limit you can “usually” catch most of the lights green. In Nurnberg, it appears to be the opposite. You wait your almost minute and a half, drive 500 meters only to get the next red light. And on. And on. It’s even more ridiculous because the amount of stop lights is baffling. When there is no intersection: stop light. When there’s a pedestrian crossing; stop light (no, NOT a pedestrian controlled light) The street I drive on to get to the autobahn (and drive 200 km/h!) has about a dozen traffic lights.  So I spend a lot of time waiting in traffic.  Well, there's not really traffic, I guess the lights are that long to wait for enough of us to gather to wait for a traffic light)

Another thing that amazes me, is how traditional and religious (again, GENERALLY) the state where I live (Bavaria) is. For instance, though you can visit a (legal) prostitute and gamble on Sundays, you can’t go grocery shopping. Why? Because Sunday is the state designated “family” day and it’s against the law for grocery stores etc… to open.  Until 2003, shops were legally mandated to be open only until 6pm weekdays and until 1pm on Saturday.  Though my work is an exception, women delaying marriage and family for careers still seems to be a rarity.

Speaking of shopping, there are a lot of cool shops on my street. Little unique handcraft shops that make everything from baby clothes, to custom printed bags to purses and dog treats. I would love to check them out. However, so far, that’s proved impossible. Though these shops are located on a really quiet residential street, most of the shops open only until 5. And not on weekends. One of the stores is even only open on Mondays. And only between 3-6pm. They even have a sign up that they’ll be on holidays for the entire month of may! (I guess they need a holiday since their work hours are so stressful?!?) So the times when most residents could ACTUALLY go and support our local shops, it’s nearly impossible. I. just. Don’t. understand.

Another example I’ve found is doctors. The doctor I’ve found so far is male. However, as soon as I made any mention of any female issues, he interrupted me and told me I had to go to a “female” doctor that specialized in “female” needs.

Don’t get me wrong. My experience so far hasn’t been terrible. It’s just been “interesting”. Sure meetings start on time and you’re frowned upon if you’re late, but jay walk across a street and you’ll all but get told off (another typical German trait- passive aggression. No one will likely ever say anything to you, but you’ll get eye rolls and dirty looks)

Life in Germany is very much about “following the rules” and question nothing. If there’s a rule on something, it must be followed. There doesn’t seem to be a rule on queuing though. Go to any store and try to form a line to wait and pay and people look at you like you’re crazy. It seems to be a free for all, whoever can get to the front wins sort of motto when it comes to lining up.

So far, I’ve managed with the rules but it hasn’t been easy. My personality naturally wants to question everything and follow only the rules that suit me. I suspect this will land me in trouble someday. In the meantime, I just smile when I get dirty looks when I jay walk!


Anonymous said...

Very nice! Beeing a german, I can tell you that we all suffer from these traffic lights and other german over-sufficiency.
For queuing I have my own explanation. Indeed we take it serious to keep the right order. However we avoid to show it. I think it is the aversion beeing controlled like it has been during the third reich. Most germany will avoid marching lock-step or even building a queue. Sounds funny, but I think that is the cause.

Anonymous said...

I've started following your blog since my husband and I are considering a move to Bavaria. I have enjoyed your recent blogs. It was good to know bringing your dog was not tooooo bad. However, I will be traveling with two not so mini dachshunds: a short hair and an English cream long hair. Having to fly in cargo concerns me. Thanks for sharing your experiences as a outsider looking in. It become comic relief when considering such a major move!

Katherine said...

you're welcome :) Lucy flew cargo and I was sooooo worried, she hated even being in a cage. But surprisingly, she was fine. Feel free to get in touch with me for any questions :)

Dana said...

You are so right - we live in North-Rhein Westfalia and in general, rules must be followed, no questions asked. It has nothing to do with efficiency - all about rule following. So weird!
And the traffic lights around here are the same. We have learned that if you're riding a bike, you get the "green wave" but not so lucky in a car.

Anonymous said...

female doctor means gynecologist not a doctor, who is a woman,if thats what made you wonder.

Lonnie said...

traffic lights! I guess Nürnberg city administration does this on purpose. They want to get people to use bicycles or public transportation.