Monday, September 5, 2011

Looking out for your safety

Before I start on this tirade, I want to say that I need to be careful that this blog doesn't carry an underlying (or not-so-under lying) theme of me complaining about German culture, and reporting only on those things that I don't get along with here. That wouldn't be fair, and it reminds me another thing Eckhart Tolle always says: the ego loves to complain! Although I think all blogs are somewhat of an ego trip...I hope I can also use this space to honestly and sincerely reflect on myself and my relationship to Germany, and other things. Plus, I love it here! If I didn't, I wouldn't have stayed as long as I have, and founded a family and be raising a child here. It would be imbalanced to report on only those German things that drive me nuts ~as I am about to do. So, I'll have to start keeping my eyes peeled for the things I love about living here. It's a good exercise for me actually.

So, without further ado, here's something that drives me absolutely freaking mad. Actually, let me introduce this rant another way. This lovely reminder is painted on the wall at a nearby tram station:

It says: Order, Cleanliness, Security (or Safety, depending on context)
This about sums up the German view of life. It's gotta be risk-free and predictable. I heard that Germans are the most insured people in the world, and I'm sure this is true.
These pillars of German society (again, that's order, cleanliness and security) can be seen all over the streets and in the minds of the people. It goes very deep. One facet of this mindset I want to share today, something which drives me nuts on a daily basis, slowing down my bike rides and marring the beauty of our streets and pathways:

I don't even know how the hell you would call these gems of German-ness. Blockades? They are every-friggin-where! There is hardly a path that doesn't have these blocking the way. This is one of three I have to try and maneuver my bike through when I take Max to daycare. The other two look like this:

and are at either end of an underpass going under the train tracks. I have to go through this underpass in order to leave our little corner of the neighborhood and get anywhere, so I ride around these many times a day often. When we first moved here three years ago these weren't there, but about 1 1/2 years ago they suddenly appeared, much to my chagrin. I curse them just about every time I have to try and get through them. You see, I'm just not a graceful and adept enough bicyclist to be able to smoothly pedal through. I usually end up having to stop riding and use my foot to sort of guide me through, half-walking. Or sometimes I even have to get off and push the bike through (especially on the one going 'up'). I especially curse Germany when that happens. Once, only once, was I able to actually glide through on both ends. I was ecstatic! I try to make this an exercise in not complaining, as well as an exercise in improving my bicycling skills.

But really, most days, I am not that enlightened and I view this as an annoying and unnecessary obstacle course. I do get why they think this makes it safer. Hell, before they were there, sometimes someone (most often a teenage boy) would come barreling down the path and not bother to ding the bell to warn a potential person coming in the other direction (there's a blind corner) and it would be a collision course. I was never actually run into, but did have one or two close calls that made me jump out of my skin. So, in one sense, that danger is gone. Maybe these ones aren't the best example in fact. Look again at the first picture. The path is clear in both directions and it's flat. There would be zero danger whatsoever. These barricades are placed at nearly every path, and most of them are flat and safe. They just want to slow people down. Again, it is pretty much only teenage boys who are racing around without regard for safety. Everyone else is more or less paying attention and safe and considerate, with or without these dumb blockades. And the teenage boys are going to be unsafe and risky no matter what anyway. It is their parents' job to instill some sense of caution and consideration into them, not the German government's.

But the German government takes it upon themselves to look out for all of our safety, hence creating a populace who are overly fearful, afraid of change and averse to taking risks. I could go on and on all day here, but one example that comes to mind is Germans and dancing at concerts. I love live music and going to concerts and dancing. To me, that is medicine. Well, many of the concerts I've been to here have left me aghast at what I saw there: an audience of statues, just standing there as if they were watching the tickertape run on the stock market or something. Of course I always dance, but many times I've been the only one. If V (my hubby) is with me he dances too and we have a blast. But I've been to lots of shows alone and it is much less fun being the singular dancer amongst people who are frozen stiff, some of them looking at me like I were the who was out of place. It has literally left me in tears at times (okay, the fact that I may have had a few too many glasses of Sekt may or may not have had something to do with me getting all emo about it). Anyway, I digress. But it's just one of many many examples where you can see that Germans are frozen in fear. It's not their fault. Let's just blame the government! No really, there's a long history to this I'm sure, and the Germans are doing their best.

Hey it reminds me: I realize I'm making broad generalizations when I use "the Germans" in a sentence. It's not fair and it's not right. It sometimes gets on my nerves when people do that about Americans. Like: "Americans are so phony, asking 'How are you?' when they couldn't care less". For the most part that's accurate....but not all Americans are like that and I certainly don't want to be put in that box myself. Furthermore, there's a flip side to that coin: Americans are friendly and being friendly is a very important quality to have (this said by one whose beloved amazing astrologer once said "You're not what they call a 'nice person'"). I may not be overly friendly, but it's a quality I would like to cultivate more in myself, and I truly appreciate it when people are friendly to me. Anyway, there is a flip side to the German over-cautiousness: Germans are very thorough in forming their opinions, and will always dig deeper and look at the aspects others might miss. They have a piercing intellect which wants to know more and understand fully, not just superficially. No wonder so many of the world's best scientists, mathematicians and philosophers have been Germans.

Well, whether I'm praising or cursing the Germans, I do see how unfair it is to make these generalizations. I do try to see each person as an individual, not just someone from this or that culture. It's so important to be able to do this. We are so much more than our backgrounds, even though our backgrounds do condition how we see and relate to the world. So, I just wanted to say that to be clear. And for the purpose of this blog, I am going to say things about 'the Germans' or 'Americans', or any number of other groups of people. I just don't see any way around that when talking about culture and people. Please know that I know better though, than to believe all Germans or all Americans are a certain way. I know you know better as well.

1 comment:

  1. Much of one's reserved behavior is based on conformity, or fear of non-conformity. As individuals, we all have a different story. As a community, the stories tend to meld and as a society, the stories are more often than not, viewed as less diverse. A community action, such as the guard rails, is based on an individuals and communities well-being and thus, the good of all. I understand the annoyance these impose to individuals, but the social behavior of some often seen today warrants imposed guidelines (and structures) to protect those individuals that are less respected and outspoken in public. I don't think this is confined to Germany, either.