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Archive for February, 2014

The Seven Wonders of Germans/Germany

– Hours worked, work accomplished
Typically, the French have been stereotyped as the vacation taking, strike holding, life loving but definitely not hard working people of Europe. However, according to the OECD, a Germans worker work nearly 80 hours less per year than a French worker. Unlike the French, Germans usually don’t take a month long holiday in the summer and especially not all at the same time in the month of July, which is probably why it’s not as noticeable. Nevertheless, Germans value their time away from work, and Fridays often feel like a half day. What’s even more amazing is that while working so little (1406 hours per year, only behind the Dutch at 1382), Germans accomplish a lot, having one of the highest GDP per capita in the world. Work is work, play is play, no bullshit and get stuff done is the German mentality and they really do get things done efficiency.

Few reference points on hours worked per year: France 1482; United Kingdom 1625; Japan 1728; OECD average 1765; United States 1728; Greece 2039 (!!!); Korea 2090; Mexico 2250.

Yes, the Greeks are the hardest working people in Europe, and no one but the Greeks believe it:

GreecevsGermany

Ask any German and they’ll tell you, it’s not how long you work, it’s how efficiently you work, and it’s very true.

– Deutsche Bahn

DBdelay
Deutsche Bahn is the national railway of Germany which was privatized in the 90s but still owned by the Federal Republic (so you know something didn’t go right with the privatization). What’s so mysterious about Deutsche Bahn is how stereotypically German it is, except for one very un-German fatal flaw. The ticket machines for Deutsche Bahn is one of the best I’ve seen in Europe, although slightly complicated, and it comes in multiple languages. The website with the route searching capabilities are so comprehensive that you can search for connections from Beijing to London. The website is so good that many travel guides suggest using the Deutsche Bahn website to look up trains in other European countries (like France, the SNCF website is horrible). The Deutsche Bahn staff are not the friendliest but almost always helpful and professional.

So what’s the fatal flaw? They simply can’t stay on time. Whatever stereotype you have of German punctuality, you can forget. Deutsche Bahn is consistently late, and any weather adversity (even simply “cold”) will cause further delays. Furthermore, they often announce that their trains are running late but end up showing up on time, rendering their online delay announcement useless. This is even more surprising when the adjoining country, Switzerland, has more challenging weather conditions and run their trains flawlessly.

– Products amazing / Services horrible

Miele

Everyone knows about German cars, but Germany produces some of the best products in the world, both industrial and consumer. Siemens is Europe’s largest electronics company and employs almost as many people as Luxembourg. Bosch is the world’s largest automotive supplier and is amazingly owned by a charity (instead of the normal shareholders). Miele, while less known outside of Europe, is THE premium appliance company and makes some fascinating products (like the 1000+ Euro ironing system). BASF, Bayer, SAP, Adidas, and the list continues.

What’s amazing is that in contrast to the great products Germany offers, the services are absolutely horrible. Almost every expat I know who’s been with T-mobile (the largest mobile operator here) has had some horror stories. Getting an internet connection at home requires the patience of a snail. Deliveries and other home appointments (like a technician visit) is usually given a four hour window… that’s often missed. Tourists often talk about how terrible services are in Parisian restaurants but Germany is no better. The only shining star, in my opinion, is Lufthansa which I’ve found to be always professional and reasonable (and it easily beats Air France or British Airways). What’s even more surprising is that many Germans will tell you that the services in the country actually improved over the last decade.

– Sundays
Go out to a shopping district on a Saturday afternoon and it’s a boomtown. Go on a Sunday afternoon and it’s the Great Depression. Any expat living in Germany have had the rough realization that nothing is open on Sundays in Germany (except, luckily, restaurants and public transport). Planning to have a picnic on Sunday? Be sure to buy your food on Saturday.

On the surface, it’s a major nuisance but at another level, Germans believe that Sundays are for resting and the laws are there to protect this value. It would be pretty easy to change the law to allow for Sunday shopping. Retailers would love the extra day for more sales, politicians would love the economic benefit, and people would like the extra convenience. Nevertheless this country sticks to its values, and there something respectable about that.

– Dinner for One

The Dinner for One phenomenon is well documented in the Spiegel’s Germany Survival Bible so I won’t expand on it, but why the Germans en masse have come to adopt an obscure piece of foreign comedy sketch as a New Year’s Eve ritual is one of greatest mysteries in the world.

– Festivals festivals festivals

Wine Festival

Germans love organized fun, and festivals are the perfect example. During a summer time weekend, it’s physically impossible to be in Germany and be more than 50km from a festival. In a city like Frankfurt, every weekend there is some kind of festival in some part of the city, although many of them are disturbingly similar (the few that aren’t are the better ones, like the Museumsuferfest). Winter brings another kind of festival in the form of Christmas markets which are perfect excuses to go outside and drink glühwein (mulled wine, and now that I think about it, Christmas market is a great excuse to add sugar to barely drinkable red wine).

Then there is the mother of all German festivals, an event that could easily qualify for the “Seven Wonders of Modern Human Activity” if such a list existed, Oktoberfest. Some might think of Oktoberfest as just another festival, slightly kitsch and touristy, but on the other hand, it represents the greatest industrial drinking session known to mankind. More than six million people attend the two week festival consuming close to seven million litters of beer. That’s enough to fill three Olympic size pools or a cube 20m on each side, and of course most of what goes in has to come out through one of the 965 toilets and 1 km of urinal troughs. With beers costing close to 10 EUR per liter, just the beer sales account for 70 million euros. The entire economic effect of the Oktoberfest is calculated at around one bullion euro or roughly what Panama makes in two weeks. Yes, Germans throw a party the scale of Panama.

Talking to Germans outside of Bavaria (the region of Munich) may surprise you however. Many of them are… indifferent towards Oktoberfest and feel no allegiance to it. Like many tourists, they think it’s slightly kitsch and treat it the same way: “I’ll try it once in my lifetime.” There is also a slight undertone of resentment at how popular Oktoberfest has gotten because there are many other fantastic festivals in Germany that gets overlooked. It’s like traveling to France and never making it beyond Paris.

– Nakedness
I’ve seen more live naked people in my two years in Germany than in my previous 29 years of living, and I’m from Japan, the country of public baths. This is partially due to the fact that I play the ever so progressive Ultimate Frisbee on a coed team, but Germans are more comfortable with their nudity than any other people I’ve met. Coed locker rooms are a norm here (at least for Ultimate), and as a result, I’ve probably seen more naked woman than most guys will in a lifetime.

It’s not just sports. Saunas and thermal baths are pretty common here and they would almost always have a naked tanning area. Also, wearing any clothing (even wrapping yourself in a towel) is forbidden in saunas and old German men/women will make sure you abide. Most Germans will tell you that the naked thing is more of an Eastern German thing, but to the rest of the world, Germany is pretty naked… comfortable.

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