Life around the world
Friday, 3 October, 2014 - 15:10
Before my year abroad, everyone advised me to say 'yes' to everything. I initially thought they just meant trying new food, spontaneous trips or meeting up with new people.
They weren't wrong. Here in Germany, 'I don't mind' doesn’t seem to be an acceptable answer. Neither does 'I'll do whatever you want to do' or 'Really, either way is fine by me'. It really is just yes or no.
Despite having a huge smile on your face, most Germans will look at you as if you're incapable of making a decision, which of course isn't true: we're just being really typically British.
My first encounter of this was when I arrived at my B&B for the first two nights in Germany and the owner asked when I would like my breakfast in the morning. Being stereotypically British, I replied saying whenever was easiest for her. She gave me a confused look and asked again.
'No, when do you WANT to have breakfast?'
'Er, OK ... err ... 8 a.m.?' She smiled and instinctively I quickly added:
'Only if that’s convenient for you though.'
I knew about the British stereotype of politeness before I came abroad but I didn't realise how much so until I arrived here and began experiencing it on a day-to-day basis. Waiters give you funny looks in restaurants when you say thank you repeatedly - when they take your order, when they arrive with your order, when you give them your money, when you receive your change and once again, as leaving.
But that's just polite, right?! Perhaps just for the British and for everyone else, totally unnecessary.
And when it comes to me asking questions, it's even worse. 'Would you be able to do that for me if it's not too much trouble, please?' just doesn’t work here. You have to be direct and say what you want. The first time I said 'Pass that here', my heart was racing and I could almost hear my Mum screaming in my head about manners. But when not a single eyelid batted in the room, I knew I had finally cracked it.
In a Q&A session this week with a new class, I was asked what difficulties I'm facing here in Germany. My answer was straight and to the point: 'everyone here is very direct'.