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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The land of Me

Euromnzen auf weiem Hintergrund

Have you ever been to a shop in Britain? It’s lovely. First off, Anglo-Saxons have a natural urge to queue. It’s like the click of a buckle – they snap into place, no elbows or headlocks involved. Just like driving in the UK, it is utterly relaxing (when you’re used to German roads). Also, checkout assistants are usually friendly and will exchange a few words or even banter with customers. You think that’s a given? Here’s your pep talk for shopping in Germany.

German people’s behaviour in public spaces is not exactly one of our flagship qualities. Here’s what it is all about (other than the Hokey Cokey, of course):

1. The non-queue
Don your fighting gear. Germans seem to have an inborn itch to come first. The towel-on-the-deckchair phenomenon is not a myth! My English husband always says, the way to a German checkout is like a Formula 1 race. (Especially when a new till opens – a German will not have you snatch the butter from her bread, as the saying goes.)

Once it’s your turn, know that you’re expected to proceed efficiently. Elderly citizens idly counting their small change will be huffed and puffed at, just as will anyone who doesn’t vacate the packing area soon enough, i.e. in a nanosecond. (Sales assistants may even push your shopping out of the way.)

Oh, and we also don’t do common sense, especially not when it comes to queuing. I’ve tried to use it at several instances, and it ended in arguments each and every time. Picture a counter with two checkouts. What will Germans never do? Form one queue. They will form two queues and join whichever one looks shorter.

If you want to force Germans to form one single file, you need to make them take numbers. This worked so well at post offices in the past that these are now the only places in Germany where the system works (meanwhile even without taking numbers).

2. The Wechselgeldschale
This is a very German phenomenon: people avoid body contact with strangers. So to that end (and possibly to make the process of handing back change more efficient as no waiting for human interaction is required), there are trays for change on almost every German shop counter. The money is placed on the tray instead of in the customer’s hand. And if there is no tray, the change will often be placed on the counter for the customer to pick up.

So now you know what we Germans mean when we complain about our own country as Servicewüste Deutschland, a place deserted of service.

Okay, US-American shop assistants may take it a bit too far to the other extreme. A very dear Irish friend of mine was rather startled when, on leaving a boutique in L.A., she heard the salesperson chirp ‘Missing you already!’ When she turned around in confusion, she saw that the young lady in question hadn’t even lifted her head from whatever she was scribbling. L.A. – so blasé.

Next week, we’ll see what’s really good about Germany.

The Pommes Buddha says: Hooookey Cokey Cokey!

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