Germany – a land of contradictions
Kristi Fuoco


At the entrance of the lovely and peaceful Klein-Flottbeck Botanical Gardens stands this strange, naked statue. To me, this is the perfect example of the strange contradictions in German culture.


There are some days living in Germany where I want to smash my head against a very clean German wall and yell profanities very loudly in English for a good ten minutes. Welcome to expat life. I feel I should preface this post by saying “I love Germany and Germans and this is a wonderful place to live,” but you all obviously know that from my previous posts. Also, it would be really Canadian of me to worry about offending people. After nearly a year in Germany, I'm not quite as worried about offending people as I used to be. In fact, I even smash into people without apologizing now in the train stations, along with everyone else. When in Rome, right? 

This post has been percolating in my mind for a while now, and like any decent cup of coffee, I think it is nice and strong and ready to be enjoyed. I'll add a little milk and sugar in there once in a while to make it go down nice and smoothly. It all comes down to this – every single day I live here I notice a new contradiction in German culture. It amazes me and boggles my mind, and I'm not the only one. I've had this conversation with the majority of my expat friends and we all get confused and frustrated by similar things. Look, living in Germany isn't easy. It's downright hard. Not in the ways you might think, though. Don't get me wrong – the quality of life is really fantastic, like really. In fact the quality of everything here is pretty fantastic in general. It's really a wonderful place to live...until something or someone pisses you off, humbles you or wears you down and if you are a normal human being, this will happen regularly. So, I decided to take a look at some of the most consistent contradictions I see on a daily basis and explore this complex and intriguing and sometimes exasperating country. Oh Germany, don't get upset now, you know I love you.

What Germans think: Nudity is no big deal. Want to walk around naked at spas letting it all out for everyone to see – go for it! Want to watch a movie with full frontal nudity with your kids – no biggie! And a sex scene too? Who cares? It's just sex! Cool! Yep, it is cool! How liberal! How open minded! How free! Well...

Even the city’s town hall has a naked statue in its
courtyard. Rock on! But hey, isn’t she dressed

inappropriately for the weather?

Contradiction: Now, I do think that North Americans can be really prudish and have some real issues with nudity and sex, so once I consider the German openness to all this, it amazes me even more that the moment you dress inappropriately in Germany people stare at you like you are from Mars. Okay, so people here have a tendency to stare for inappropriately (by Canadian standards anyway) long periods of time in general, but wear a sundress and show a little leg if it's not 35 degrees and the middle of the summer and everyone will look at you like you have lost your mind entirely. Wear a short skirt on the U-bahn and old women will look at you like you are meant for the red light district. 

What Germans think: Everything must be organized and in order! “Das ist nicht in Ordnung!” (That is not in order!) They follow rules to a tee. And the rules are a plenty. They have the most amount of tax laws of any country in the whole world. The levels of bureaucracy in the government are astounding. There must be warehouses full of just red tape somewhere in the industrial areas of Germany, ready and waiting. 

A perfect example of the “line up”
chaos was recently at a German
hockey game. When my friends and
I arrived there was no real line up
and the mass of people was so
bad that we all missed the first
ten minutes of the game despite
the fact that we got there 30
minutes early. Nutty.

Contradiction: To save their lives, Germans cannot form a line or stay in one once formed. It's almost impossible. When I first arrived in Germany I dutifully, like any good Canadian, stood in line, or rather tried to form lines where lines didn't exist. Each day I held back tears of indignation when people shoved right in front of me and got on the bus first. Then.....then I learned the secret.....the secret is....there IS no line! (I guess all Germans saw the Matrix and interpreted it in this way.) I know, I know, you don't believe me. “But Germans are so orderly!” you say, “but I thought....I thought....” I know, I did too my friend. But I learned my lesson the hard way and now I shove to the front of the bus line, Canadian guilt buried deep in my bag, underneath my fresh pastries and bottles of beer. And here's the catch, because there always is one. There are certain places where there is a sort of line, like the bakery. And of course places where you need to wait patiently with a number, like government offices. Oh, first of all you're thinking, “bakeries have lines???” Oh yes, trust me when I tell you the German pastry and bread making industry is nothing to be trifled with and the desire for fresh daily baked goods is constant and widespread. Bakeries are as plentiful in Germany as Starbucks in Seattle. If bread making was an Olympic sport, well, not even the French would have a chance at a medal. Okay, perhaps the French make the best pastries, but I swear that Germans put an addictive chemical in their bread that makes you crave it like crack. But I digress. So, when at a bakery, know that there is a line, but that people will push ahead of you with no remorse. The key is to avoid eye contact! As long as you don't catch someone's eye you can easily pretend that you are simply an innocent bakery patron who is in a rush and really does need that chocolate croissant before the old lady who has been waiting for ten minutes. Hey, it's a dog eat pastry world. 

What Germans think: Germany is a country of efficiency. We know the best and fastest way to get anything and everything done. We created the BMW, the Porsche and the Audi therefore we live, eat and breathe efficiency. We have highways with no speed limits. Don't mess with us. 

Contradiction: Ding ding! And that's the bell for, are you kidding me Germany? Have you ever received a reply to an e-mail via post? And I mean the old fashioned kind of post with a postman and a stamp and paper. Oh yes, this actually happens. Have you ever waited for over a month for a reply to an important e-mail? Have you ever had to go to five grocery stores in order to get all the ingredients for one meal? Well, then you have never experienced true, German efficiency. It actually amazes me how everything here seems to take me about ten times longer than back home. Okay, so there are some examples where things go faster here....hmm....let me think. I'll send you a letter about it later. 

My typical view when I’m hoping my train arrives on time


What Germans think: German trains are always on time.

Contradiction: Okay, so I have to say, that I don't think that all Germans actually think this. It's more of a perpetuated world-wide stereotype that won't seem to die. Most Germans I know will happily tell you many stories of how Deutsch Bahn screwed them over and was late more times than they can count and it's true. And the thing is, I wanted to believe. I really did. I had hoped that there was a country where the national trains truly ran on time, where there was a time policeman standing there, making sure the train was outta the station no more than one minute past the scheduled departure time. Ah....if only. As a business English teacher I have to travel A LOT. One of my classes is way out in Lüneburg, another town nearby and I have to start teaching at 8:00am in the morning. Not only is my train very often running late, but now they have managed to change the train time so that it doesn't connect with the bus on the other end. If I miss the bus, the next one isn't for an hour. So, so much for the perfect transit system. Having said that, I do love the local transit here – how can I be truly upset when there are trains that run all night in Hamburg on the weekends? Vancouver, you should learn from this!

Yep, this happens all the time. (Photo from
Commons – strangely I don’t have my
own photo
of men peeing in public.)


What Germans think: German cities are tidy, clean and orderly. It's general, German cities really do look like the cute little postcards you buy on the rack. But wait.... 

Contradiction: Public urination is allowed. Um.....what??? Yep, this one I can't quite get over. I mean it is not actually allowed, but people pee everywhere. You might have seen from my “Toilets and Travel” post that I complained about having to pay for toilets here. Try having people peeing all around you. Maybe it's my North American sensibilities kicking in (you can never truly get your own culture out of your head), but I just can't get over it. I don't want to see you naked at a spa and I certainly don't want to see you peeing next to me. I guess it's the one time German men stand up to pee (don't even get me started on that one.)

What Germans think: Germans are technologically advanced. They have the fastest internet in the world and the highest tech...well, everything. 

This is the exact opposite of what you’d find in Germany.
Dogs allowed everywhere but no free wifi!
(Photo from Wiki Commons)


Contradiction: And yet.... try finding free wifi in Hamburg! Really. I have had WAY too many crappy cups of German Starbucks (it really doesn't taste nearly as good here) than I care to admit, just so I could use their free wifi. It's one of the few places in Germany's second largest city that has it for free. What is going on here? Germany (and probably the rest of Europe) is about 2-3 years behind North America in terms of social media trends, internet and wifi technology despite the fact that you can get a cell phone here in a grocery store. It's incredibly frustrating for me as a social media specialist. Trying to break the barriers of social media anxiety in Germany is a formidable task. Privacy laws here are much stricter and Germans just simply are more private people and don't want to share as much. And the infrastructure and lack of wifi, and in many cases, lack of reliable high speed internet, doesn't help the issue as well. The other part is the fact so much still can't be done online. This is definitely changing day by day, but still remains a constant source of frustration for me.

What Germans think: Reduce, reuse, RECYCLE! Turn off your power bar to save energy, have two minute showers, bike everywhere. 

Yes, it’s true, as an English teacher I also kill trees
daily, but hey, it’s for the cause of language learning!


Contradiction: These are all great things, of course and I applaud Germany for their green efforts, but come on.....does no one see the enormous paper-like elephant in the room? The amount of snail mail that still goes around Germany is enough to make any tree lover quiver in their MEC hiking boots. When I first signed up for my bank account here I think I got about 10 different pieces of mail from my bank. Apparently some of this is for security purposes. You know what is also secure? NOT sending me a bunch of codes that I need in order to do bank transfers by snail mail. Yes, in order to do an online bank transfer, you need a code from a piece of paper that the bank sends you. I'm not making this stuff up. Back home I made a point of stopping all snail mail from my bank and any other company I did business with. It seems ironic that in Canada, where trees are so plentiful we seem to care so much more about reducing paper use. Well, it could be a B.C. tree-hugger thing too, but to me, it's just common sense.


So there you have it folks, my little venting session on Germany. I hope I have made you think, upset some of you and made the majority of you laugh. If so, my work here is done. Feel free to share any of your experiences with me too. I would love to hear your stories!



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Kristi Fuoco

 KRISTI FUOCO – Social media enthusiast, English teacher, writer, marketer, traveler, music lover. West Coast Canadian gal living and working in Germany and traveling around Europe. Current city – Hamburg.

Twitter: @kristifuoco

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My experience in Germany has been invaluable. In addition to learning German and taking part in another culture, I have learned so much about myself. I am confident that I can thrive away from the comforts of home and that I am dynamic and flexible. This is exactly what today’s employers are looking for – giving me a competitive advantage in the working world.
Kate from British Columbia – working for an international not-for-profit organisation.