Oktoberfest in Munich is well underway, so it’s a good time to get a few misconceptions about Germany out of the way for anyone planning on going.
For all intents and purposes, consider me German. I can hear my Austrian family’s sharp intake of breath from across the Atlantic, but despite my Austrian passport I grew up in Munich, lived there for most of my life, and consider it home.
In any case, as an expat who’s been in the States for almost a decade, I hear a lot of silly questions about Germany (the most memorable one being, “so, those kids with guns, are they still around?” She meant the Hitler youth), but I’ve found that aside from the occasional blatant ignorance, some stereotypes are steadfast, widespread, and unshakable, whether they are true or not.
Here’s my attempt at dispelling some of the more persistent falsehoods.
1. The German language is harsh
OK, so it’s not French, but most people’s frame of reference for having heard German are old videos of Hitler. No one talks like that. In fact, I’ve often had people tell me “oh, you make German sound so nice” after overhearing me on phone calls. No, Hitler just made it sound ugly. German’s not terrible, it’s actually incredibly descriptive and really beautiful (ever heard of some guy named Goethe?).
2. There are no speed limits in Germany
Sure, 60% of our autobahn indeed does not have a speed limit, but the other 40 does (it’s somewhere between 60 to 75 mph).
3. Germans are rude
We’re honest, not rude. Germans are straightforward, truthful, and don’t beat around the bush – but it’s never done with malicious intent. We simply don’t like small talk of any sort. Consider it another type of efficiency – one stereotype that’s actually true.
4. Germans wear Dirndl and Lederhosen. All. The. Time.
We’re actually not uni-cultured, no. Sure, Bavarians wear those things occasionally, but that’s Bavaria. In other words, only about 12.5 million Germans out of Germany’s 80.62 million. That’s essentially like saying everyone in America wears Yankees caps or cowboy hats. And no, we don’t frolic across fields with flowers in our hair while wearing out little costumes.
5. Germans eat nothing but wurst and sauerkraut
Actually, we eat a lot of bread and potatoes too. Alright, so the German diet is indeed very heavy, and traditional cuisine is so laced with lard and pork that vegetarians shouldn’t even bother trying to find something to eat, but the cuisine has been reinventing itself to accommodate Germany’s increasingly international population, and has lightened up significantly.
Plus, it’s not like we eat only German food, another cliché.
6. Germans drink nothing but beer all day
It’s true that Germans are the 3rd biggest beer consumers per capita, but (contrary to what the Oktoberfest’s debauchery makes it look like) it’s not about quantity, it is most definitely about quality. We take our beer very, very seriously. The Reinheitsgebot (German purity law) that states that beer can only be made with water, barley, hops, and now yeast, is a giveaway, but we generally also scoff at wacky flavours and cannot stand the idea of a light beer. And yes, while we enjoy every beer as if it were our last, and have no problem with a beer at lunch during the work day, we also having thriving wine regions and excellent schnapps. Next time you’re in Germany, try a glass of Riesling, a white wine from the Rhine region.
7. Germans are straight laced and orderly
Anyone who’s ever been in line at a ski lift knows that’s not true, and has the elbow marks to prove it.
8. Germans have no sense of humour
We’re hilarious. In line with the whole “we’re not rude, we’re honest” argument, if you think we don’t smile enough you’ve just gotten too used to the phony smiles dispensed by anyone working in retail or hospitality in the States. The standard American “how are you” is a greeting, not a question, but will launch any German into a summary of their day. A decade in America and it still trips me up into answering “I’m good, thank you, how are you?” before proceeding. Every. Time.
9. Germans are strict
Maybe this idea comes from our efficiency. Sure, we like to get things done, we like knowing the exact minute the next U-Bahn will arrive, we like things a certain way. But strict? Isch don’t think so.
10. Germans are naked all time time
Yes, Germans have a thriving Freikörperkultur (the German movement that endorses a naturalistic approach to life), but FKK is contained in certain areas, people aren’t naked just anywhere and all the time.
11. We love David Hasselhoff
How did this start? Where did this come from? Why do people always always ask me if I like David Hasselhoff? Sure, “Knight Rider” and “Baywatch” were awesome, but Germans are no more into David Hasselhoff than anyone else. This misguided notion may stem from the fact that he was indeed popular in Germany right around the time the Berlin wall fell, thanks to his then chart-topping hit “I’ve Been Looking For Freedom,” which simply happened to air at the right time and happened to echo popular sentiment. So essentially, Germans love Hasselhoff about as much as Americans love Poison (who dominated the US charts in 1989 with “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”).
Oh, and he’s not German (his great-great-grandmother was). He is from Baltimore and his German skills are mediocre at best.
12. Arnold Schwarzenegger is German
He’s Austrian, and so is his accent.
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