Cross cultural non-communication

‘We will always choose perfection over politeness.’ That, a German friend explained, is why a stranger sitting at the next table outside on a glorious spring afternoon got up, came over to me, took my cutlery and started to demonstrate how to deal with a Weißwurst. The skin must not be eaten. It must be surgically removed.

The man assumed I spoke no German, though I was asking him, in German, why I could not eat the skin. He did not answer. His first incision was ragged; the skin did not peel away. The second was more successful. Satisfied, he had conveyed the lesson, he returned my knife and fork and resumed his seat.

Not knowing that I should only order these white minced pork and veal sausages, with sweet mustard and a pretzel before midday, I had done so at two in the afternoon: a light meal to keep me going after the long flight from Australia. I had started cutting the first of my sausages into pieces, offering a morsel to my companion to taste. Neither of us suffered from this first mouthful of white sausage eaten after midday with the skin on. Modern sanitation practices should have rendered the rule that no Weißwust hear the noon chime of the church bells obsolete. But traditions remain strong in Germany: there is a right and wrong way to do many things.

While the big guy from Bavaria – when he went to the bathroom his wife, in trademark German socks and sandals, sort of apologised for her husband’s intrusion and told me they came from Bavaria – felt no compunction instructing me in the art of sausage eating, it’s more usual for Germans to keep their distance. That we soon discovered when we, two Antipodeans, joined eleven domestic tourists in Leipzig. We were to be together for three days, discovering the city of Wagner’s youth in the day and attending his Ring Cycle in the evening.

Standing outside the designated building for our first encounter, I blundered in. A roly-poly, happy man from Frankfurt approached us, thinking we may be part of the Ring group. Yes, I said, proffered our names and asked for his. Roland was the only person to tell us his name. We spent the rest of the trip on no-name terms with our fellow Wagner fans. An architect from Berlin with a shiny bald pate and hip round-rimmed glasses – he had at least two pairs, one with bold red frames, the other tortoiseshell – exchanged a few jokes with us and showed us dozens of pictures of his house. His wife sported very shiny Egyptian-blue hair, short at the back with shaved zig-zags patterns. She wore only black and white clothes, usually with something polka-dotted. Avant-garde in appearance perhaps but both were as German as they come. When our guide — he didn’t introduce himself either – arrived, the first think Mr Goggles did was point out to the guide that his shoelace was undone. Perfection not politeness.

3 thoughts on “Cross cultural non-communication”

  1. Not perfection. It’s just that the Germans like to follow rules. Some of these rules are not perfection.

    A great read and a place to visit.

    1. Yes, some of their rules don’t lead efficiency but, overall, the Germans seem to have worked out better than most how to live decently! Let’s hope they manage to keep on doing so in a fracturing Europe.

  2. The picture gave it away. Only Bavarians wear sandals and long(ish) socks.
    That’s nearly un-German. But it’s not really about perfection or politeness (not mutually exclusive, either), it’s more about tolerance. Unlike Hamburg (“The Gate to the World”, as they call it), where I come from, Bavaria was for a long time isolated from the rest of the world (okay, they have now opened up a little through tourism, but one of the biggest attractions is the amount of beer one can drink at the Octoberfest. That’s probably the reason why so many Australians are attracted – and nobody, not even Bavarians, will need to instruct Australians how to drink beer); that doesn’t promote tolerance. Most of the other Germans (especially the ones from the northern part of the country) are more tolerant. There, if you brake down with your car, they will not offer you assistance, but let you go on to fix the problem yourself.
    And the architect from Berlin (a Prussian)? Like me, a retired Insurance man, he knows something about risk-management, because undone shoelaces can cause tripping, most likely resulting in injury.
    Perfect politeness.

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