Smashing a few German Stereotypes – Or Just Clearing them Up
I’ve come out from behind my computer keyboard a few times lately to do promotion for various projects, and as a result, I’m being asked some strange questions. Now, I realize that stereotypes come from somewhere… but you would think that a few of these German people stereotypes would just vanish because of their ridiculousness. Someone actually asked me if I play the SPOONS? WHAT?? WHY?? And even stranger, someone asked me to YODEL for the camera. I didn’t even know what to say.
So I feel like I should talk about some of these stereotypes, and maybe (hopefully) send them to the ash heap.
German People Stereotypes
First, let’s define Stereotype-
A stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a certain group of people, and is therefore the expectation that every person of that particular group of people behaves that way.
Basically, it’s the picture people get when someone says Germans.
And for some reason it looks like this...
But, like far too many stereotypes, they are wrong… and in some cases quite silly. (Goodness, I don’t even expect many Alpine people to know how to yodel).
What’s interesting to me is how so many stereotypes seem to come out of Bavaria. Now, don’t get me wrong… I love Bavaria, I even have Bavarian friends (insert winky face here). But there are 15 other states! (Not to mention Prussians, Silesians, Volga Germans….) And Germans emigrated from all over Germany… Maybe it’s related to the American sector after WWII? Maybe it’s where tourists go first? I honestly don’t know.
Here are a few German Stereotypes that make my eyes roll….
1. All Germans wear Lederhosen and Dirndls.
And even weirder, there seems to be an expectation that Lederhosen and Dirndl are worn daily.
This seems to be the biggest misconception/stereotype of all. While Lederhosen and Dirndl are traditional Tracht (folk garments or dress) in Bavaria, they are not universal German clothing. In Bavaria these clothing items are worn to Fests, and a recent resurgence in traditional culture means that there are Lederhosen/Dirndl Fridays. But outside of Bavaria, you don’t see a lot of adult men wearing them. And for festivals, there are other types of traditional dress, depending on what state or region you are in. (Side note- you might see children wearing Lederhosen in other German States, but that’s because they wear like IRON… and can be passed along… quite practical, and practicality IS a real German trait!)
2. All Germans drink mass quantities of Beer from giant Beer Steins
During my childhood, I don’t think I ever saw my father drink from a Stein at home (note- in Germany, a Stein is called a Krug… Steinkrug if it’s made from Stoneware). He drank from a glass. A footed Pils glass, a Hefeweizen glass, a Kölsch glass… but never a Steinkrug (oh, and very very very seldom straight from the bottle). And when we visited family in Germany… Glass also. And here’s the kicker… when I was on a beer tour in Bavaria, we were generally served in glasses. The shape of the beer glass is important to the enjoyment of the beer (bit like a wine glass). Monasteries and some restaurants still serve in Steinkrug, but most places use glass, because it’s easier to keep clean. (My favorite quote comes from Angela, who is quite German- “I hate drinking out of a Steinkrug, it’s like drinking out of a flowerpot”. She’s not wrong)
3. There are no German Vegetarians or Vegans
This one is nuts. According to studies, over 10% of Germans are active Vegetarians or Vegans, and 35% of German households consider Vegetarian products very important (70% want MORE Vegetarian products), and 63% of Germans are trying to reduce their meat consumption. (For health and environmental reasons) Per capita, Germany is one of the most vegetarian places in the world. The German Diet has always been seasonal, meaning people eat Fruits and Vegetables that are in season. Consumers get over the top excited about White Asparagus or Pfifferlinge (Chanterelle mushrooms). That level of excitement doesn’t generally extend to meat products. Every Markt (Farmer’s Market) is awash in delicious vegetables and fruits, that are bought and happily consumed. Yes, you still find meaty dishes on restaurant menus and at home, but heavy meat dishes aren’t necessarily everyday, and right next to Rouladen, you might find a vegetable Eintopf (one pot meal) or delicious roasted Vegetables on the menu.
4. Germans are Nazis
Want to lose a German friend forever? Greet them with “heil Hitler”. I’ve been driven to tears more than once over this. (Unbelievably someone sent me a message calling me one just last week…) I’m not saying that WWII wasn’t a horror show of epic proportions… I’m just pointing out that it’s been a few years. Criticizing those of us who are German descendants for the “sins of fathers” is not right. Besides, Germany is much more than one period of history. I’m not trying to wash it away, or re-write history, or make excuses… I’m just saying I promise I will never behave that way, so stop calling me names. (A few great books on the Topic- Tearing the Silence by Ursula Hegi and Belonging by Nora Krug)
5. Germans are all Blonds
Despite what you might have learned from the Movies, Germans are not all blond haired with blue eyes. Even over just a few generations of my family we have everything from Tow-heads (white blond) to dark brunette. (And some of those blonds may or may not come from a bottle… but I’m not outing anyone).
6. Germans don’t have a Sense of Humor
I still see my very stern Opa laughing until his eyes watered over silly jokes (Ostfriesen Witze were his favorite… I never said he was PC). The humor may not always translate (and I never could figure out Otto), but they laugh! Don’t believe me? Spy on a ladies Kaffeeklatsch some time. It’s talk talk crosstalk then BAHAHAHAHAHAAH! Very fun, and also happily reassuring for the kids in the next room. Funny stories, Literary Satire, and crude cartoons… Germans will laugh at it all.
7. Germans are all Work and no Play
Honestly, Germans do work hard… but they also play VERY HARD. They just manage to compartmentalize it very well. When at work, they do the job. Efficiently. No fooling around on Facebook, no getting distracted (I need to relearn that)… WORK. But then when “Feierabend” rolls around, they relax and enjoy life fully. And work around the house is the same. Windows are washed with the right tools, and after a meal the kitchen is cleaned, not just dishes stacked, but they can walk away knowing that it won’t be gross next time they walk in. This is why they can enjoy weekends without fielding emails from work… or take vacations for weeks on end… Have you ever been to a German wedding? The band plays and the guests enjoy themselves until the next morning. And German Festivals? Always the best time!
8. German is an Ugly Language
Someone once told me that German sounds like people clearing their throats at each other. Sigh. Seriously, he’s never heard a German mother sing a lullaby, or the joy in my Oma’s voice when we arrived. It’s a language of love (“Schätzchen” has to be my second favorite word). Who can call German poetry ugly? German voices lifted in song makes my heart swell with joy. This language of my family feels like home, even when I’m far away on a telephone. While it can be a rather precise language ( my absolute favorite word is “Dudelsack”) and a language of incredibly long compound words… it’s not ugly.
9. Germans are Cold and Unfriendly
This one makes me sad, because I realize it means people are missing out.
Here’s the thing. Most Germans don’t greet you with giant smiles wanting to know about your day. They can be a bit distant, and not always easy to get to know. BUT! Once you have made a German friend, you have real friend. A true friend. One you can count on. Sure, you may not get to have long conversations with a check out person at the Edeka (frankly, that person doesn’t care about you beyond ringing up those groceries at light speed… you should be bagging, not chatting), but when you make friends with a German, you have a “Kaffeeklasch-Dinner Party- Feed the Cat -Nurse you When You Are Sick” friend for life.
And who doesn’t want a friend for life… even if they have no idea how to play the spoons.