Diary of an Expat, Part 30
German speed, off the autobahn
I think I might be sick again, which tempers my enjoyment of what is otherwise a very lovely weekend. The weather is warming up, and the trees become more green with every passing day. This means that the sounds of the city are changing — the birds are returning, for one, and so are the construction workers. Well, you win some and you lose some, I suppose.

One thing that has interested me, historically, is the perception that Americans have of Germans as being highly efficient, industrious, driven people. This is presumably because the Germans had, in the 19th and 20th centuries, a propensity for blundering into Europe (or substantial parts of it anyway) and taking it over. So I suppose the assumption can be forgiven.

I have commented before on the relative lack of efficiency in many German proclivities, such as the obsessive need to be registered everywhere and the terrible sadism of the custom's office. And I have touched before on the fact that Germans take their bloody time doing things. But let me note this again, for the record: people in Berlin are ridiculously slow.

I don't actually know that it's true for all Germans. Perhaps in Bavaria they bustle around like agitated Teutonic bumblebees. Perhaps the Ruhr is a constant bustle of activity. But in Berlin people are laid back, and as an American this can prove to be frustrating.

Berliners do not, for example, walk very quickly, and because walking is a social activity they have a habit of clustering together, blocking much of the sidewalk. Heated discussions in restaurants and cafes also spill onto the sidewalks, bringing traffic to a halt and forcing people onto the street to divert around them.

They also do not really understand escalators in the same sense as Americans do. Americans, by and large, understand that even if you, personally, do not feel like walking up or down the escalator, its stairlike shape makes it compatible with walking behaviors. Stand on the right; walk on the left. This is a very simple rule. Berliners are not quite so hurried, and see nothing wrong with completely obstructing the escalator, or standing right in the damned middle of it.

I tend to hurry places because, as I said, I am an American; I have been accused of walking fast, which is not entirely an unfair accusation. Berlin stymies my attempts consistently; the sidewalks are like navigating a minefield of stalled pedestrians, mothers pushing strollers so slowly their children are visibly aging, people "walking" dogs at a glacial pace and pausing to let them investigate other nearby dogs...

(Also, the package I ordered today that was supposed to be delivered in "the morning" and require a signature actually arrived at 7 PM, and a neighbor kindly picked it up for me. So Deutsche Post does not feel compelled to respect any particular standards of expediency, either.)

I suppose, at least in theory, this is a good thing. It's not good to always be in a hurry, but I still can't help but suspect that someone told them "Russian tactics were responsible for the German defeat in World War II" and they said "Oh, well, we better slow down then." Stop and enjoy life — have a long lunch, with a beer or a glass of wine, and watch the world go by for a bit.

Americans have a hard time adapting to this over here; we tend to port the same old workaholic tendencies, the long hours and the constant freneticism. We've been bred to think that a hurried stride is the sign of a successful person, instead of merely a stressed one. So when you move here, you can force yourself to relax a little, and take in the lovely scenery that's all around you. Like the back of the pedestrian in front of you, or the defecating Schnauzer to your right.

I say this, but it's kind of a lie. The truth is that Germans, for being very slow, can also be extremely impatient. They're quick to honk in traffic, and woe betide anyone who isn't fast enough with their wallet at a supermarket checkout. You're liable to get an audible sigh, and perhaps some rolled eyes to accompany your general failure.

What it may be, although I wouldn't commit to this, is that Germans are better at maintaining their work-life balances. When they're on, they're on (although in my experience this isn't always true either); when they're off, they slow down to stop and recuperate. This, certainly, is healthy; in the event I firmly believe that we will one day regard the slavish "work ethic" sensibility as being just as destructive and self-serving to one's master's as the thought that it's glorious and honorable to die in battle.

For now, I still would like it if people could stand to the right of the escalator, though...
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