How to tell if you're German
by Raphael Landeck
Another response to my E-Z home test for Americans.
Raphael is a young German student who says he's "interested in
everything connected to human behavior".
If you're German...
The Alps are nice but they could use a beach
- You think it's you're right to say your opinion. You may also think that others have
the same right.
- You're familiar with Sesame Street, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck (as a comic character), Wetten, dass..., Die Sendung mit der Maus, Sandmännchen and
Biene Maya. If you're over 30, add Tatort, especially Schimanski, Lindenstrasse, and
Derrick. If you're over 40, add Bonanza, Dallas, Denver Clan, Kojak,
Flipper, Ein Herz und eine Seele, Was bin ich? and Einer wird gewinnen.
If you're over 50, add the TV-movies after the Edgar Wallace novels and probably
Raumpatrouille. If you're under 30, add Baywatch, Married with Children
(known to you as Eine schrecklich nette Familie), Harald Schmidt, Stefan Raab,
Big Brother, Verona Feldbusch and at least one of the daily soaps.
- You know how soccer is played.
If you're male, you can argue intricate points about its rules. You know what
handball is but don't care much about it. If you're under 30, you might know about
basketball or even American football, but you don't know how baseball is played,
although it somehow reminds you of a game you played for fun in elementary school.
They should all be Soziale or Demokratisch though
- You count on getting three to six weeks of vacation a year, which you probably spend
on a Mediterranean beach. If you like noise and really drunken people, there's nothing
better than Ballermann 6 in Mallorca (originally Balneario 6, but who can pronounce
that?). The more refined go on 'cultural holidays' in countries with warm climates
and watchable folklore.
- Perhaps you believe in God, perhaps you don't, and perhaps you don't know. You probably
don't care much about religious topics. However, if you're from the west you're fairly
likely to belong to a church; perhaps because it was still the norm when you were a child,
perhaps because in Protestant regions it's a tradition that you get money from
relatives at your confirmation.
- You think of McDonald's, Burger King etc. as cheap food.
- You probably own a telephone and a TV. Your place is heated in the winter and has its
own bathroom. You do your laundry in a machine. You don't kill your own food. You don't
have a dirt floor. You eat at a table, sitting on chairs.
- Speaking of houses: You know what people mean when they complain or make jokes about
installing certain Swedish products.
- You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, or guinea pigs to be food.
- A bathroom probably has a bathtub in it (at least in an ordinary house), and it
certainly has a toilet.
- The telephone system, railroads, and the airline were run by the government until a
few years ago, and power companies used to be partially private, partially public
monopolies. Now everything has been privatized and the monopolies eliminated.
You hope that you will get better service now, but all the different new prices confuse you.
- You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will work. Getting a new phone
- It is also routine to do large or regular payments by simply transferring money from one bank account to another, and you're surprised when you hear that Americans still send checks by mail.
- The train system, by contrast, isn't very good. Trains obviously go faster than cars,
but they arrive too late too often, and there's often something about breakdowns in the
media. Traveling by plane inside your own country is something for people with
too much money or not enough time.
- You need to be 18 to get a drivers license.
You have to take paid lessons and cannot practice on your own.
This makes getting a drivers license very expensive.
- On the other hand, you can drink beer legally at 16 (and they usually don't ask for your ID),
which is really cool, since your country's beer is of course the best in the world,
and your region's beer is of course the best in your country.
(For hard stuff, such as whisky or rum, you've got to be 18.)
Everybody knows that
- You find a parliamentary system with two main and some smaller parties natural.
Politicians of all parties talk a lot about how to fight unemployment.
Defense is a controversial topic, but unless you're a pacifist
or work for the military (both rather small groups), you don't care too much about it.
If you don't have a special interest in political systems, you don't understand how
another kind of democracy could work.
- You know that politicians are inefficient at times, and sometimes stupid,
but what really freaks you out about them are their double-, triple- or whatever
pensions from all the public offices they've ever had. On the other hand,
they won't get really rich from them.
- If you're from the west, socialism and communism have been passé since
the mid-eighties (among intellectuals, that is. Among ordinary people, the last time when there was a strong socialist/communist segment was the first half of the last century). If you're from the east, you had real live
communism until 1989. Perhaps you're one of those who think it wasn't that
bad, especially when talking to someone from the west, but you probably wouldn't want it
back. However, the renamed eastern state party is a strong political force in
- On the other hand, you don't expect to hear a "right to bear arms"
defended (although it's not too difficult to get a gun illegally).
And "creationism"? Whatthehellisthat?
- Between "black" and "white" there are no other races. Someone
with one black and one white parent looks black to you. However, the main question is if
someone is German or not.
Everyone else is, depending on how politically correct you are, an Ausländer
(foreigner) or an ausländischer Mitbürger (foreign fellow citizen).
There's a hot political debate on the circumstances under which these people should be
able to become German citizens.
- You think most problems could be solved if only people would put aside their prejudices
and work together.
- You're not sure that the EU is a good thing.
All they can do is create standards for paper clips, toilets, condoms and apples,
and argue about policies all the time-- to say nothing of what happened to
your currency since they introduced the Euro.
And despite all that bureaucracy, they didn't manage to keep brain-smashing beef
out of the market.
Problem is, it's supported by all the major parties
(well, except for the Bavarian majority party, but it has no say in federal politics
anyway), so there's not much to do if you don't like it... which is why your country is
generally seen as very pro-EU.
- You don't mind the UN, unless you're a radical pacifist and don't like their
- You take a strong court system for granted, even if you don't use it. You know that
if you went into business and had problems with a customer, partner, or supplier, you could
take them to court.
- There's a fair chance that you can speak English, and you probably use quite a few
English or English-based words that you've learned from the media, especially from
advertising. You probably respect someone who speaks more foreign languages.
- As for other languages, it depends on where and how you want to travel.
Since Germans make the most foreign trips of any nation,
many people working in tourism around the world know enough German to communicate with
German tourists. If you know English, you should be able to travel comfortably in
most of the world. The only problems are France and the French-speaking areas...
you don't understand why those snobs can't learn English like everyone else.
- You think a tax level of 50-60% is scandalously high-- if you earn enough money
that you have to pay that much.
- You probably think the national flag and the national anthem are something for public
buildings, international sport events and travellers abroad; not something to decorate
everything in sight. Perhaps you don't even think they are necessary at all.
- School and university are free (at least, it's an option, even if you went to private
school). There's a poltical debate on whether or not universities should stay free for
- There's no 'college' as opposed to universities
(although you can go to a Fachhochschule- the official English term for them is university of applied science; it's a kind of higher vocational school for professions that require some academic training).
Everyone goes to school for at least 9 years; but to get into the university
you need an Abitur, gained with 13 years of schooling.
It was great chewing gum
- Mustard comes in jars or tubes. Shaving cream comes in cans. Milk comes in bottles
or in cardboard boxes.
- The date comes first: 09/11/18, 23, 38, 39, 89. (And you should know what happened
on at least one of those dates. Others can look here.)
- The decimal point is a comma. On calculators it's a dot.
- A billion is a million times a million. A thousand times a million is a Milliarde.
- World War II was a catastrophe. It was a time when the government went crazy and
forced the country to do what was wrong. (Unless you're a neo-Nazi fool and see
things differently). If you're male and were born before 1930, you probably fought in
it. If you were born before 1940, you probably remember bombing nights in the shelter,
food rations, and fields of ruins. (You don't think the Allies had to bomb all those
civilians) After it, your country was divided for 45 years.
- You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties. Getting
married by a Standesbeamter (family status official) is a requirement; getting
married by a priest is an option. Therefore, if you marry at a church, you usually
marry at the Standesamt (family status office) earlier the same day. You have
two Trauzeugen (wedding witnesses) at the wedding-- friends or siblings.
And, naturally, a man gets only one wife at a time.
- If a man has sex with another man, he's a homosexual.
They've just passed a law introducing a marriage-like status for those folks.
- Unless someone is a child, or you're both not older than (say) mid-twenties,
you should know a person for a while to address him with
Du, which also usually means that you can call him by his first name.
(Otherwise, you address him with Sie).
- If you're a woman, you might go to bathing places at lakes topless (especially in the
east); perhaps even to the beach. There are special FKK (Freikörperkultur-- 'free
body culture') beaches where no one is allowed to wear clothes (to discourage voyeurs).
- A hotel room has a private bath.
- You'd rather a film be dubbed than subtitled, except for some art films. If you're an
intellectual or a dedicated fan of a particular foreign film or TV series, you
complain about the quality of the translations.
- You seriously expect to be able to transact business, or deal with the government,
without paying bribes.
- On the other hand, you see government officials as lazy idiots who get money
and privileges for doing no useful work, and always have to follow their stupid
bureaucratic rules that regulate everything.
- Just about any store will take your credit card, unless you're in a very backward area.
They are, however, more for yuppies and snobs, and you usually pay with cash.
- If a company wants to fire an individual employee, it has to give reasons for it
and convince the workers' represantative. If it wants to fire masses of people as part
of a management strategy there will probably be public protests, but it will probably
- You like your bacon soft (unless it's on a pizza).
- Labor Day is on the first of May. It's a day when the unions organize demonstrations;
in some areas radical left-wingers provoke riots as a kind of sport.
The lowdown on the neighbors
- If you're under forty, you've probably seen
Star Wars, ET, Terminator, Das Boot and Jaws; if you're fourty to sixty, you've probably seen Casablanca
, otherwise, it's Gone with the Wind, Feuerzangenbohle and Psycho.
- You know the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Herbert
Grönemeyer, Dieter Bohlen and Helge Schneider. If not, you know Frank Sinatra,
Duke Ellington, Udo Jürgens, Roy Black, Peter Kraus and Louis Armstrong.
- You count on excellent medical treatment. You know you're not going to die of cholera
or other Third World diseases. You expect very strong measures to be taken to save very
ill babies or people in their eighties. You think dying at 65 would be a tragedy.
- You went over ancient Egypt, Greek and Roman and medieval and modern European history
in school; if you're under 40, add the Nazi time. Not much Russian (unless you're from the
east), Chinese, or Latin American.
- You expect the military to fight wars, not get involved in politics. You
don't even have former war heroes or high-ranking officers dabbling in politics.
You may not know the name or even the title of the highest military commanding officer.
- If you're male, you have to spend almost a year in the military
(the time usually gets shorter every couple of years),
unless you do community service instead or exercise some more exotic options.
- Your country was conquered by a whole group of foreign nations in 1945, as well as
several times before in history. You can make a difference between "good"
conquerors, who don't harm the conquered countries too much (the Western allies) and
might even give them chewing gum, CARE parcels and economic aid (Americans), and
"bad" conquerors, who rape every woman in sight and force strange political
systems on the conquered country (Russians).
- You're thought you had a wide variety of choices for almost anything you buy
(there are even some imported beer labels that somehow keep themselves in the market)
until you first went to the USA or heard someone who was there talking about shopping.
- You measure things with the metric system, like all sane countries do. The only exception
is that a Pfund (pound) is half a kilogram or 500 grams, although there's no such
unit in the official metric system.
- There are very few regions of your country where you can travel more than 5-10
kilometers without passing a town or village.
Looks like they have Springer too
- The French are a people with an easygoing mentality, who make good breakfasts, are
often associated with love, and invented the snob way of life-- they run the most
expensive restaurants, think they're too good to learn foreign languages, and are
- The Dutch are a people with a funny accent who make cheese and live in trailers.
(At least, that's how they appear on German streets.)
- Italians are very passionate people-- especially when they talk-- who make good
food but can't get anything else done. Poles are the ones who steal everything,
especially cars. The Swiss are OK but veeeeeeerrry slooooooowww.
- 'Ossies' (East Germans) are-- to Westerners-- backward, narrow-minded people who
can't get rid of their nostalgic memories, and the young men are all dumb
aggressive Nazi skinheads.
- 'Wessies' (West Germans) are-- to Easterners-- arrogant spoiled yuppies who
think they know better about everything, and always try to betray the Ossies.
- You think of Americans as people with a high technical standard who are generally nice
but all somehow crazy. They live either in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, or on a farm
in the middle of nowhere, and seem to think of themselves as cowboys.
However, when politicians or journalists talk about
Amerikanische Zustände (America-like situations) on topics like juvenile crime
or urban poverty, they usually mean something very bad.
- Jokes about dumb people are usually about people from other parts
of Germany-- the most common targets being Eastern Frisians,
followed by Bavarians.
Bundle up for the fireworks
- The people who appear on the most popular talk shows are rather strange individuals
arguing about their rather strange problems. On somewhat less popular talk shows, it's
politicians, entertainers, and sometimes authors.
- Comics basically come in two varieties: newspaper comics and magazines; unless you're a
fan, you see them as something for kids.
- You are not a farmer.
- You drive on the right side of the road. You stop at red lights even if nobody's
around. If you're a pedestrian and cars are stopped at a red light, you will fearlessly
cross the street in front of them.
- You consider the Volkswagen Beetle to be between a small and a medium-sized
- The police are armed, but not with submachine guns.
- If a woman is plumper than the average, it doesn't improve her looks.
- The biggest meal of the day was traditionally at noon; now
whether it's at noon or in the evening depends on the household.
- There's parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night.
- You feel that your kind of people aren't being listened to enough in Bonn-- oops,
it's Berlin now. Your favorite saying on that topic is "Die da oben
machen eh' nur, was sie wollen (Those up there just do what they want anyway).
- You wouldn't expect both inflation and unemployment to be very high (say, over 15%)
at the same time.
- You don't care very much what family someone comes from, except where you or the
someone are an aristocrat.
- What happens with their estate when a couple dies is so complicated that you need
a lawyer to explain it to you.
- You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments. It's likely you don't
see that many plays, either.
- Christmas is in the winter, which means that if you're very lucky, you'll have snow.
It's the main holiday of the year. Unless you're Jewish, you spend it with your
family, give presents, and put up a tree. In the time preceding it (originally some weeks,
now at least three months) there are special christmas sweets and bakery in the shops,
special markets and stalls that aren't there for the rest of the year.
- The day for fireworks is New Year's Eve. If you're a child, you probably look for
Easter eggs at Easter, or you might go to an Easter fire. Other official holidays
are simply days when you don't have to go to work or school, although there
are some regional festivities.
- You may think the church is too powerful, or the state is; you are used to not having
a state church, but there's a lot of cooperation between the state and the two main churches.
Perhaps you don't like that.
- You'd be hard pressed to name the leaders of all the nations of Europe; it's not as
difficult with the capitals.
- You are familiar with Asterix, Lucky Luke, and perhaps Tim und Struppi (Tintin);
you probably aren't familiar with Mafalda, Corto Maltese, Milo Manara, Guido
Crepax, Gotlib, or Moebius.
- You've left a message at the beep.
- Taxis are sometimes operated by foreigners; taxi drivers used to know the city, but
it's getting worse now. However, the more common (and sometimes true) stereotype about them is that they're academics who studied the wrong subject.
- You are probably distrustful of welfare and unemployment payments (people should
earn a living and not take handouts), but you accept them as a necessary part of the system--
if someone talked to you about eliminating the retirement funds and guaranteed medical insurance,
you'd ask what planet he comes from.
If you don't earn a lot more money than the average, you find it annoying that these days
you have to pay part of your doctor's bill on your own.
- The name of the first academic grade depends on the subject; in the natural sciences, engineering, business management and some of the social sciences it's a Diplom, in the humanities and some of the social sciences it's a Magister, and in medicine, law and teaching it's a series of state examinations. In many subjects, you can also study for American-style bachelor and master degrees.
- Changing your name is very difficult.
It takes a lot of paperwork, and you need to convince the authorities that you have a
good reason to do it.
- If male, you are uncircumcised, unless you are Muslim or Jewish.
- You know lawyers mainly from American TV series. For that reason you might know the
American justice system better than your own.
- (There's no significant different from the American versions
of the space and time entries.)
Everything happens on November 9
November 9 is a sort of magic date in German history.
[ Back ]
- On Nov. 9, 1918, revolutionaries (most of them naval mutineers) overthrew the
emperor and proclaimed the German republic, leading in a few days to the end of
World War I.
- On Nov. 9, 1923, Hitler tried for the first time to seize power, in Bavaria.
His putsch was put down by the army and police.
- Nov. 9, 1938 was 'Kristallnacht', a coordinated mass attack on Jews, synagogues,
and Jewish institutions throughout Germany. This marked the beginning of the most
violent phase of the regime's persecution of Jews.
- On Nov. 9, 1939, Georg Elser tried to kill Hitler with a bomb at a ceremony
marking the events of 1923. Unfortunately, Hitler left ten minutes before the
explosion because of a "bad feeling".
- On Nov. 9, 1989, the East German government decided to open the doors for
emigrants, and the Berlin Wall fell.
- For hopeless history freaks: On Nov. 9, 1799 (the 18th of Brumaire),
Napoleon took power in France-- an event which would have enormous repercussions
for Germany. And on Nov, 9, 1848, the Austrian government executed a member of
the German National Assembly despite his parliamentary immunity, which has been said
to be the beginning of the end for the German revolution of 1848/9.