Sunday, September 4, 2016

Why Germany Must Be Confusing

In my youth....on my first 'tour' of Germany....I could probably make up a list of a thousand things which simply didn't make much sense or were fairly confusing.  Most of this....had little to do with the language....which was ten times over more confusing on the language aspects.

Unlimited speed limits on the autobahn?  Traffic circles with double lanes?  Beer which came in one-liter steins?  Trains that actually ran on time?  German women dressed in ultra tight leopard-colored 'tights'?  Sand-paper-like toilet paper on trains?

You could write a thousand page book on the various things that I came to note or observe.  The sand-paper-like toilet paper did eventually disappear.....so I didn't have to waste analytical time trying to figure that one out.

I came to some opinion several years ago that the Romans are part of the blame for this....in dragging the Germans into some modern trading era and suggesting improvements on society.  I suspect that after a while....especially as the Romans packed up and left....that the Germanic people adapted enough and just started to ask what else could they improve?  As each month went by.....they sat around and looked at things....from the language itself....to manufacturing processes.....and even onto the dynamics of communication and technology, and just continued this trend.

Years ago, when I had to make this transition from American-pay to German-taxation.....there were roughly forty little things that I came to discover were part of this process (car-tags, vehicle inspections, TV-tax, etc).  There was no checklist in existence, with the names of offices or paperwork required.  At the time, I thought.....each German must go through this stuff and it'd make sense to have a checklist for each community listed somewhere, but no.....no one wanted to make it that simple.

The driver's license office in Kaiserslautern had a certain procedure on the manufacture of the license....which required a picture of you....the applicant.  No one said much when I picked up the form....and I went to some professional photo-shop in town to have the picture made.  The guy asked (at the photo shop)....what the purpose of the photo was?  And I responded.....for the driver's license.  He looked at some note and had me gaze at some red flag on the wall in a unique pose.  I thought it was stupid and made me look like some fake 'Duke' or such.  The next day, I went back to the license shop and waited in line.  Three guys in front of me....all with applications and photos.  First guy....failed photo....they wouldn't accept him or the application.  Second guy.....failed paperwork...re-accomplish and bring back later.  Third guy.....2nd bad photo attempt....failed.  The third guy went ballistic (he was Austrian or Swiss from the accent), and started yelling at the two ladies in the office.  Fairly loud criticism.  Boss came out....called the cops and the dude disappeared real quick.  Me?  My photo was ok....from that stupid pose, it was acceptable.  Totally confusing, if you ask me.

I had some history professor doing an explanation to the class on the Nazis and he could only start the conversation or story from 1932.   You could tell....nothing about his explanation really worked well, and some folks wanted him to stop and go back twenty years to give a better explanation.  His explanation was that this would only make things more confusing if he started in 1919.   Later, after a lot of reading.....I came to realize he was right, but you really needed to go back to the mid-1800s for a better explanation....but this would only make things far....far....more confusing to the typical average guy.

If you've been around Germany for a while.....you would observe that almost every year....the book on confusing details of German life, culture and living standards....just gets more and more complicated.  Things change almost every year with driving rules, grocery products, garbage disposal, telephone operations, public transportation, safety standards and what's legal or illegal.  For example.....if Huns (your local small-time electrical shop sales guy)....were to try to sell you a vacuum cleaner from his back-room which had more than 2,400 Watts of power.....Huns today, would be in trouble with the law because of the new EU rules.

For a German who has gone off to Australia for eight years and come back....it's a bit of harsh episode because things change all the time.

Into the mid 1980s....commercial German TV came along and started to offer game-shows which featured 'booby-ladies'....(topless gals).  It was after 10PM and the public generally thought that was great.  If you were from the US....you would have sat there and been confused how this got approved and accepted so easily.  Six years later?  The network kinda dissolved the 'booby-lady' game shows and moved on.....which would beg questions on confusion but hey, this is Germany.

American humor?  Some shows work.....most don't.  When they first brought Hogan's Heroes to the German market....it failed in a major way.  Twenty years go by, and they go and do a different voice for each character....with the Klink and Schulz characters now having deep Bavarian-type voices.  Oddly, this is hyped up and everyone wants to watch the show with the changed voices.  Married with Children?  One of the top shows from the US to make the transition......but you can't really explain why.

Behind all this remarkable confusion....one has to wonder if it's not just hype and intentional confusion....to keep outsiders from easily integrating into German culture.  You can pick out a hundred things which make little sense....like the die, das, or der language episode, and ask a fairly clever German to explain why you have to make three versions of "the" and they just grin.   They can't explain it....even if they have a degree in Germanic languages....without using a 200-word explanation which does little to nothing in solving the confusion.

So as you sit and try to analyze the 1,500th German thing that has occurred (some new dog-leash law, or a new beer stein standard, or a new method to enter the Oktoberfest grounds via a secure fence, or get a 700-word paragraph letter from your village on new garbage pick-up routines).....rest assured, it won't be simple and you will waste some time analyzing it.  It's a very clever society, and they'd like to ensure it stays that way.

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