This post has been a long time coming. After countless instances of being subjected to German directness, it’s finally time to come out and say it, German style. This could be a long’n so get comfy, Schatzis, and get ready for a rant.
British etiquette rules that any angry, rude, or honest thoughts we have should remain festering in our minds, and not externalised, for the sake of politeness. The English language itself is embellished with so many niceties that even when we try to get angry about something, we usually end up apologising somehow. On the other hand, the German language is not at all embellished, which means that what should be a normal statement, is understood by us Brits to be a personally-directed insult.
Think about how many times you’ve been on the tube/train/bus, and some eejit has positioned themselves so that they are stepping on your toe/their armpit is dangerously infringing on your capacity to breath/their stupidly oversized rucksack is completely smothering your face and has trapped you in the corner of the carriage. In England, etiquette dictates that whilst you are inwardly close to exploding with rage, you remain outwardly silent, your only form of protest being a death stare, which is somehow supposed to communicate the unadulterated hatred you feel for this person at that moment. In ze Vaterland, if someone is standing on your toe, you tell them. If their armpit is obstructing your intake of breath, you tell them. If their stupidly oversized rucksack is smothering your face, you tell them (if you can). It’s just more efficient, obviously.
You yourself will probably find yourself prey to this Britishness, when you fundamentally refuse to ding your bike bell at the boneheads walking on the bike path because it simply sounds too aggressive, so instead you find yourself wobbling behind them, every fibre of your being willing them to move, before it all gets too much and you bumble out an apologetic, “Sorry, sorry, excuse me, can I get past?” In the same way, if you’re shopping with your German girlfriends, you can always rely on them to give brutally honest feedback on whatever clothes you try on, so you don’t have to sift through the lines of the diplomatic niceties that your British girlfriends will tell you when they are trying to tell you that the outfit you are trying on looks shit, for example:
English Response vs. German Response
“Oh wow, look at you, those are some short shorts!” vs. “You look like you should be standing on a street corner, take them off now.”
“You have got great boobs!” vs. “Your boobs look cold.”
“Are you sure you’ll wear it again though?” vs. “Never ever wear that again. Ever.”
Just yesterday I had a first-hand experience of this brutal honesty when I went bikini shopping for an upcoming trip to “take the waters” at the thermal baths in Budapest (gloat gloat gloat). I barely had a foot in the door, when the shop assistant came strutting over to me. I tried not to die inside as she yanked my jacket aside, looked me up and down, and informed me that I was this size and should accordingly try these bikini tops on. Any attempts to correct her were quickly shunned and before I had even made sense of the situation, I was being frogmarched into a changing room and had a confusing variety of bikinis thrust towards me. In the safe haven of the changing room, I tried to gather my thoughts and try on the bikinis in my own time. Apparently this wasn’t efficient enough though, because the same shop assistant (who had been lurking on the other side of the curtain the entire time) shoved the curtain aside and sidled in, with what seemed like octopus hands, rearranging my boobs, deciding that this one looked rubbish, so whooshing that bikini off and putting another one on for me, before spinning me round to inspect me. There was nothing left for me to do but stand there in a very British panic about the fact that a complete and utter stranger was handling my bees of the boo variety.
Bikini top finally decided on (by the shop assistant), said breast enthusiast handed me matching bikini bottoms and carted a very bewildered Alex to the cash tills. I still can’t work out whether this was German directness or just an extremely good sales tactic, but in any case once the mortification had worn off and I was in the privacy of my own flat, I made the horrifying discovery that I had in fact bought what can only be described as a nigh-pornographic bikini, which will probably get me barred from the thermal baths of Budapest for the rest of my living years.
So the upside of this German directness is that you’ll end up with flattering clothes, unbruised toes, and a new teeny-tiny bikini. The downside, however, is that your inner Brit won’t be fully desensitised to what is meant to be honest or helpful, but what is actually perceived as hurtful and personal. For example, when you’ve skyped your mum and you’re feeling a bit wobbly-lipped already, a person shouting at you that you’re on the wrong cycle path can be the straw that broke the camel’s back, so you’ll find yourself welling up whilst trying to cycle the wrong way up a one-way street. Moreover, a meeting with your tutor in which they tell you outright that you’re not very good at something will leave you feeling as if your very being has been wounded. In general, the Germans don’t often dish out praise and do often dish out criticism, but this isn’t meant as cruel, it’s meant for improvement purposes: Vorsprung durch Technik, blah blah blah, why else do you think German cars are so brilliant? German directness, apparently.
So although it might make you cry occasionally, German directness is something you will have to accustom yourself to, and understand that it isn’t meant to pierce your soul. Anyway, if it does bother you, then you can always give the Germies a taste of their own medicine and tell anyone who will listen that their shirt looks shit, they have a bogie hanging out of their nose, and it’s their turn to take the rubbish out. So there.