Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Excuse me ... or not

Ok…so I love my new country of residence, but I really need to vent one complaint. To sum it up, let me quote every elementary school teacher I’ve ever had: “No pushing! Tommy, say ‘excuse me!’”

All right, that’s two complaints. But it seems people in Germany have few qualms about bumping into – or downright stepping on one another, without so much as an Entschuldigung (excuse me).

You see it in the trains, busses, shopping centers, streets, Christmas markets (where people in white winter coats are carrying two mugs of Glühwein…AHEM) – everywhere. Thomas says the “pushing thing” is just a big city problem, like in any country. But I’ve seen this behavior, albeit on a lesser scale, in smaller German towns we’ve visited as well.

Sure they look politely packed in here. But that's because they're standing still.
I guess it’s all just a cultural difference. We Americans in the U.S. probably excuse ourselves way more than necessary. We say it if we pass three feet in front of someone in the grocery store aisle, something many Germans find comical. God forbid if we block a stranger’s view of the Pop-Tart selection for three seconds.

And of course, (and I have to credit Thomas for this observation), the quantity of excuse me’s in the U.S. seems to correlate with the climate. In Arizona, where it’s nice and warm, people tend to be more friendly, and even overly-polite at times. But in Wisconsin during the cold-as-crap winter, people’s personal space bubbles (and respect for others’) tend to shrink. When it’s -20° C, each word seems to decrease your body temperature. So apologia is reserved for more sever social transgressions, like perhaps coming within 1.5 feet of stepping on someone’s toes in the heat pack aisle of Farm and Fleet.  Perhaps this upward temperature/politeness trend will occur in Munich as well (I’ve only been here since November 2010). We'll see...

Maybe we just have bigger “personal space bubbles” in the U.S., and we get wigged out at the thought of violating someone else’s. But even still, I have to say that’s one thing I miss in the U.S. At least my local dry-cleaner gets a little extra business.


  1. I noticed something similar in Montreal. Walking on the narrow sidewalks, oncoming walkers would come straight at you, darting out of the way only at the last minute. No eye contact, just a slight movement or shrug to avoid contact at the last second. Lots of near misses!

    Enjoying your blog Sarah!

  2. This is something that continues to bug me about Germans. I too love living here (I even think an outsider sometimes has an easier time seeing what a fantastic place it is), but have pondered this phenomenon you bring up at great length.

    I think it has something to do with not admitting you've made a mistake. If I step on your foot and say I'm sorry, then I'm acknowledging being 'wrong', which is something many Germans never want to have to admit.

    It's almost as if they look at you, after stepping on your foot, and say, 'Well, your foot shouldn't have been in my way.'

    Other Germans have told me they don't apologise for bumping into you because it was unintentional, which is illogical. Would they apologise after intentionally running into you?

  3. I think this one's all about perspective. Where I came from in the states (SF Bay area), many people were much ruder and would downright knock you down if didn't watch out.

    From my observations, this was more about culture than anything. Dominated by 1st, 2nd and even 3rd generation immigrants from a handful of Asian countries, my schools, neighborhoods and malls were overrun with people who would, well, run over you because that's the culture they've brought with them to the states.

    It's gotten so bad, my mother often refuses to leave her little seaside town to mingle with the lack of 'American' manners that has now become the norm in the town she grew up in. On the plus side, I get run into so much less here in Germany, I hardly see it as a problem! ;)

    Perhaps if enough American manners infiltrate Germany, we can change the culture here as well!