Aw, after two whole years, Christopher and I finally got to go back to Germany. And this time, more so than before (due to the long time of not going in between), I experienced quite some culture shock. Had completely forgotten about the realities of some things… things like… ORDER!
Yes, we Germans like order. Down to the way we fold our toilet paper to use it. My little boy will sit on the toilet and spend an eternity folding 3 pieces of toilet paper exactly on top of one another. Why? Because I taught him you should fold your toilet paper three times so it doesn’t rip when… well, you know. (Am I really making you visualize how we use our toilet paper? Yes, we Germans are also quite direct!)
But… order IS important. If Germans HAD to choose one single law that could remain, it would be to keep order.
Order at the table. Lunch is at noon. Because that’s the way it’s always been and if it’s always been that way, it must be good and working. So that’s the way it is. Order. Lunch is being had with the whole family at the kitchen table. Sitting upright on your chair. Eating with a fork AND a knife. Not holding the knife during the entire meal is really not an option. And french fries are eaten with your fork. So is pizza. And how do you eat a burger? What do you mean – a burger? We don’t eat this new-age American crap. If we eat a burger, we have a separate word for the meat only (Frikadelle). And we eat it without the bun around it. And we use a knife and a fork. And because of that, it’s really hard to eat anywhere but the table, especially in the car. There’s no eating in the car… something could spill!
Order on the street. There’s order in the car, and there’s order on the street. Cars actually move over to the right to let faster cars pass safely. And you better not show anyone the middle finger because they do reserve the right to take down your license plate and report you. And then you WILL pay. A fine. For real.
We even love order on the street when no cars are involved at all. We LOVE our pedestrian lights. When it’s green, we cross. When it’s red, we don’t. Ever. And those who do don’t just get dirty looks, but we will actually yell at them and embarrass them… for all to hear. And when you’re at a crossing, or a regular street, and there is no car (or bicycle for that matter) anywhere to be seen within a one mile radius, and you’re the only living creature wide and far… but that pedestrian light is red – you wait till it’s green to cross.
Order in the classroom. When the teacher comes in, students stand up, greet the teacher, and sit back down only when the teacher tells them to.
Order at work. So much so that if you work in a customer-facing profession, order is more important than those customers. In case you haven’t heard, such a thing as customer service doesn’t exist in Germany. God forbid employees at a department store would have to leave their assigned work area or interrupt the flow of what they were doing to physically show a customer where something is located. “Over there,” you’ll hear with a finger on an outstretched arm pointing into the general direction of the item. There is order in the store! Every item category is clearly labeled at the beginning of any given isle – so how could you possibly have to ask where something is, the clerk wonders with a head shake.
The only time Germans do not know how to maintain order is in situations where there is supposed to be a queue. Apparently, lining up is the strangest concept ever in a country full of nothing but order. Instead of a line, you’ll see a mass of people, or better yet a clump, all trying to somehow outrun each other by pushing and shoving because… Germans do not understand the concept of personal space either. We will stand so close to you when talking to you, you can feel our breath. Not kidding. The only time I am this close to someone here in the U.S. is when I am about to kiss him. Usually my son. And if I can feel his breath and it smells, I tell him to go brush his teeth. Immediately. And then…
… There is even order in how you brush your teeth. Brushing teeth is so important, that there are specific tooth pastes based on the time of day. There is one for mornings, and one for nights (because apparently, your teeth need different minerals (?) during different times of the day). And just to be really safe that the right one is used, they’re even color-coded! And there’s a little hour glass attached to the wall next to the sink that will tell you exactly when you can be done brushing (2 minutes).
Yes, brushing teeth is very important because it removes dirt, which keeps you healthy. Because if there’s dirt anywhere at all….
…we LOVE to clean it up! Germans must be one of the cleanest folk in the world. Order in the house is VERY important. Oh yes. Windows get washed every week. On the inside AND the outside. Even during rainy season. (I know. It’s a concept. It’s like sprinklers here sprinkling even when it rains.) We also don’t like to hire people to do our cleaning. And when we do, we help them. Because in order to maintain order in the house… well, you have to be in charge of what’s happening. If you don’t do it yourself, there’s just no knowing if it’s done right.
We love order so much, we even have a saying for it! “Ordnung ist das halbe Leben,” which means “Order is half your life” and really means that everything that could possibly happen to you is already half way fixed and taken care of as long as you keep order. Your problems will only be half as big, as long as there’s order in your life. Half your problems that COULD be there aren’t there at all… because you kept order. And as long as there is order, half the things that could possibly happen to you won’t happen because there was order.
And then we flew back. And the only thing that was orderly was… the queues inside the airport! 😀