The glitter revolution

0105 The glitter revolution

Living in Germany is great. I’ve talked to quite a few expats in recent times, most of whom confirmed that they have made a conscious choice of living here based on the standard of living, quality of life, benefits for families, social security and so on. There’s plenty to love about this beautiful country. However, one thing strikes many foreigners about Germans. What annoying quality might I be talking about?

Granted, Germans are perceived by most other cultures as rather direct and straightforward. But while this may take some getting used to, it is not always viewed as an altogether bad thing.

One thing, though, that does get pointed out to me time and again in conversations with immigrants (and that I myself find utterly annoying) is that Germans have a penchant for what I call ULOSIPping (unsolicited lecturing of strangers in public). This may occur in any situation, but there are two spheres where it tends to be applied most: traffic and parenting. Anyone staying in this country for more than a week will certainly experience instances of ulosipping. Let me give you two examples from our recent family life.

Situation 1: My English husband is cycling on the pavement with our four-year-old. Everyday occurrence in Cologne, as it has been permitted under the Traffic Code of North Rhine Westphalia (the German state we live in) for quite a while now for parents accompanying young children on bikes to ride on the pavement with them. An elderly couple comes along and the man feels it is his duty as a citizen to step in as Batman’s wing man and right a wrong here. But not only does he yell (like so many do), ‘This is a pavement, not a cycle path!’ – No, while doing this, he extends his arm in front of him across the pavement, so as to force Mr K off his bike. As this came as quite a surprise, my husband had to brake really hard, which made my four-year-old bump into him and fall off her bike.

Situation 2: I am crossing the street with my two children. Because of their height they obviously can’t see above the cars parked on the curb, so they step forward (as they’ve been taught in kindergarten police traffic training) to the edge of the cars so they can see if the road is clear. Zooming past us from behind on the pavement is a middle-aged berserk woman on her bike screaming ‘Get those children off the road! They’re about to get flattened!’ as she cycles across and back on the pavement again on the other side. I was so perplexed that it took me a moment to find my speech. Then I said, ‘Oh yes, by you, it seems like.’

Riding my bike about town a lot, I’m used to getting yelled abuse at, such as ‘The most wicked kamikaze cyclists are mothers without children!’ or ‘It’s not I who has to look out, it’s you!’ Or I get beeped at just because I’m there and cars need to slow down because of me. (Oh, the cheek of me, just being there, breathing!)

Also, strangers in Germany tend to tell parents and/or their children how to behave. When a child loses it at the supermarket, there is always a concerned mother or elderly woman (yes, they tend to be female) around the next corner who knows what’s best and will make sure to let you know. And often insist.

As my English husband points out, in his country, you would think those things but not say them out loud. Of course, not saying what you really think can also go the other way, but seriously, queens: a little less policing would do you full-blooded Teutons good!

I have a suspicion that, for some reason, Germans have a primeval craving to be right – myself included; I’m not entirely free from that either (as Mr K would be hard-pressed to deny). It seems to be in our DNA. I for one have been doing lots of yoga, Pilates and soul-searching and working on this in recent years, and I do find that, in spite of my genetic make-up, I’m gradually getting better at the initially ludicrous idea of loving myself and others.

So, my lovelies: A little more benevolence and warm-heartedness in everyday life would make social interaction so much easier, more pleasant and more joyful for everyone. Why not just break into song or start to tango the next time someone has a go at you? Or buy them a drink or wish them a wonderful day from the bottom of your heart. Imagine we all did this from now on – this is how revolutions get started. Kill them with kindness and feel the love, queens! (I think I’ve been QE’d beyond hope – I like!)

The Pommes Buddha says: When life’s a bitch, just sprinkle some glitter on her!

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Happy holidays

Urlaub auf dem Balkon mit Buch und Drink

If you happened to be on the verge of moving to Germany and had to pick a place to live, what would be your checklist to go by? Cost of renting? Climate? Food? Hospitality? These are certainly all important factors. But if you fancy as much time off work as possible, here’s a little secret that might help you decide.

Depending on the German Bundesland you live in, you may have more or fewer days off work in the calendar year. I never realised this myself until I moved from North Rhine-Westphalia (one of the länder with a fairly large number of bank holidays) to Hesse. In NRW, my birthday always used to be on a bank holiday. In Hesse, it was not.

The attentive reader may have noticed another particularity of German holidays. Unlike in England, where most bank holidays are only in theory on the same date, but in practice are moved to Mondays so that every bank holiday makes the subsequent weekend an extended, three-day weekend, German bank holidays always fall on the actual date of the original holiday. If this happens to be a Saturday or Sunday, hard cheese – you’re one work-free day short that particular year.

In case of Ascension and Corpus Christi, though, which are always on a Thursday, many German schools and employers impose the Friday between that Thursday and the following weekend as a so-called Brückentag (“bridge day”), making the weekend a four-day weekend.

There are nine national bank holidays in Germany which every Bundesland must observe. The number of additional regional bank holidays varies between zero (Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein) and four (Bavaria). For those of you who want to know precisely what they’re in for, here’s a list.

Another thing should be mentioned in this context. Contrary to the meanwhile nationwide extended opening hours for shops in Great Britain, Germany’s workers’ unions have made sure that, here, working hours are staff-friendly. Shops are closed on Sundays and bank holidays. Almost without exception. Exceptions are the odd special-occasion Sunday, as well as Sundays in December (but not everywhere). The phenomenon of shops being open on Sundays is so rare that it has a special name: verkaufsoffener Sonntag. During the week and on Saturdays, most big shops are open til 8pm, or sometimes longer. In smaller towns, opening hours might end as early as 6:30pm on weekdays and noon on Saturdays. If you need anything after hours, the only options are petrol stations or kiosks (in Cologne vernacular called Büdchen – “little huts”).

So, keep your eyes peeled for opening hours and closing days.

Next time, let’s find out about one or two of Britain’s favourite summer crazes.

The Pommes Buddha says: Miss out on a day off? Not in a month of Sundays.

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