Before heading to Germany, I read a number of etiquette guides on cultural differences and how to behave...I'm a firm believer of the 'when in Rome' theory, or in this case 'when in Berlin'. A theme in these guides kept popping up...'Germans are very serious people' and 'Germans do not suffer fools gladly' and 'Germans speak better English than you do'.
I will admit, I became a little scared of the Germans, even though I'd seen them en masse travelling around Europe, laughing and having a good time.
I had spent a month or two learning German from a CD in the car so I could cruise around with a few pleasantries and ask for things. I'd booked a few restaurants before I left, and all emails returned only in English, though I'd made the reservations in both languages. I'd taken this as a sign that they were unamused by my poor attempts to write in their language.
So I landed in Berlin with trepidation.
What I found, however, is that Germans are fun, friendly and outgoing. They are playful. We were having post marathon drinks at a beer garden, and a German started chatting with us. He had a very washed out accent that I couldn't place. I asked where he was from, to which he answered Berlin. I pointed out his odd accent was not a German one, to which he replied, "Oh, I'm putting that on for you, because you're Australian". He proceeded to talk to the American with an American twang and the Irish with an Irish lilt, switching as the conversation moved around.
In shops, everyone would answer me in German, even though it must have been obvious that I had limited ability, by how dreadful my accent was. If I looked confused, they'd repeat in English then switch back to German, so I felt remarkably fluent, even though I wasn't. They were very good natured in humouring my woeful attempts at the language.
The taxi drivers proudly pointed out monuments as we drove past, giving us mini-guided tours and helpful tips.
Not once did we encounter these gruff, humourless beings I'd read about (well, once, but that was our fault for not knowing the etiquette). How does this reputation come to pass, when it's evidently so far from the truth?
It was a great reminder, that while worthwhile reading up about cultural differences, to always keep an open mind. This can apply to people too, whose reputation precedes them. Just because your friend has issues with a person, doesn't mean you will too.
Just because one person has a bad experience doing something, doesn't mean you will. Don't bring the problems to the party.
In all things, it's worthwhile to be cautious but always keep an open mind. That is a big lesson for me, and a reminder I need to get from time to time so I don't cloud my own experiences.
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