Friday, 28 February 2014

Rant No. 28: Telling off.

Germans love to tell people off.

There seems to be an inherent feeling of moral superiority and also the need to impress these beliefs on others.

It might originate from a sense of community and social awareness, and perhaps they mean well with their advice, but it really doesn’t come across like this.

Wow, I’ve really never seen anything like it. You can be told off for being loud at a concert, for standing on the grass, or even going through a door the wrong way.

I grew up in Manchester, and there if you dared to look at someone the wrong way, let alone tell anyone off, you were likely to get punched!

Here, there seems to be no end of people ready to scold you or tell you how you should be behaving.

Once I had a really horrible experience with this. I was on the train to the airport. I was tired and I put my feet up on the seat in front of me. Don’t get me wrong; I know I was at fault. People aren’t supposed to put their feet up. But, I’m an adult, I chose to break the rules, and I didn’t think this was anyone’s business but my own.

Wrong. I was wondering for about 15 minutes why a guy further down the train was staring at me in an aggressive manner. He was a big guy with a skinhead, and I felt really uncomfortable. To the point that I almost got up to ask him to stop staring at me.

Anyway, when he got up to get off the train, he came up to me and screamed, “Fuße runter!” (Feet down!) really loudly and aggressively, as if we were in the military or something.

I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to ask him what he cared, but I was too gobsmacked to speak. I put my feet down. I was scared!  

But I couldn’t stop wondering how someone could care that much about someone else having their feet up on a seat? He didn’t work for the train company. It wasn’t his train. He was never going to sit there. How could he really be that angry?

I guess I will never understand Germans!


  1. loved your rants, to the point and echo my experience as an expat of 23 years standing. One thing that REALLY gets to me is German smugness, e.g. when commenting on sites such as Spiegel Online: usually it involves some news about iphone hacking or whatever and there is always at least one German saying how 'people only use smart phones to show off anyway, and he is perfectly happy with his Nokia 3210 from 1995 and doesn't need such status driven BS.' Argh. I've been thinking about a hashtag like #smuggerman for such instances....

  2. Nice rant and very true, if I may say so as a German.
    You mentioned several occassions where Germans can get nasty, one being told off for being loud at a concert. May I ask what kind of concert that was?
    If you have dared to talk during a concert of classical music you have actually broken one very closely observed cultural tabu.
    Germans consider classical music to be above the spheres of mundane chatter, so they react quite harshly to being distracted from concentrating on it. This may sound strange but that's the way it is.
    And your example with the feet on the seat is also interesting.
    Most Germans consider trains and buses as the infrastructure they pay for, either with taxes or by buying tickets or both. And few people enjoy sitting on dirty seats. Also it is against the "Ordnung" :-).
    And regarding "I grew up in Manchester, and there if you dared to look at someone the wrong way, let alone tell anyone off, you were likely to get punched!". I agree, and this culture of violence is something that quite put me off in England (And I really love England and have often been there since my school days). The Germans have quite successfully come to a social understanding that is often not the best solution to punch someone in the face, even if you have differing opinions.
    Only trying to explain, I really enjoy reading your rants.
    Grüße aus Frankfurt,

  3. I'm from Manchester too and I'm moving to Kreuzberg next week for work. I can't wait. Maybe the feet guy was having a bad day. I hate when people use their bags on seats when others are standing. I'm English so I reserve my temper and internalise it, but I would love to ring their necks sometimes!