What Two Years of Living with the Germans has Taught Me.

I have been living with the Germans for two years today. And I haven’t killed myself yet! In fact, I have learnt a lot from these lovely lot. Like…

English: high heels

The most un-German shoes ever. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Sexy doesn’t have to mean heels, mini-skirts and cleavage.

The only women you’ll see in Germany combining all of the above are the hookers. German women dress very conservatively and practically. Think rucksacks instead of handbags, terribly comfortable walking shoes for all occasions and Wolfskin jackets instead of stylish macs.  It is as if they are always anticipating the next hike.  I was by no means a terribly slutty dresser when I came to Germany, but my favourite FMBs have definitely not seen the light of day since I’ve been here. While I miss London’s vibe of fashion, individuality and style, I have learnt that flaunting it isn’t always the best look. Go Germans!

Germans' idea of going wild

To Get Out and Enjoy Nature

Germans love going for a hike or bike ride in the countryside on their days off. The roads around here are full of cyclists – including entire families – on weekends and holidays. Us Brits on the other hand prefer to spend our days off with our heads in the toilet nursing off our hangovers. We also spend far too much time in shopping centres or watching television in our free time compared to the Germans. This is evident from how quiet high streets are in Bavaria on Saturdays compared to those in Britain. Many shops close at 1pm on Saturdays – even just before Christmas – while in Britain high streets are heaving on a Saturday. Go Deutsch. Go to the woods instead!

Make Things Instead of Buying Them

These Bavarians are a crafty lot. Since arriving I have received hand-made woolly hats, a drawer full of hand-knitted woolly socks, hand-made greeting cards, home-made cakes, and a hand-crafted and painted one-metre stork (a gift put up outside our home after I gave birth here). While us Brits rush out and buy everything ready-made, the Bavarians try and make it themselves. They do a lot of home improvements themselves too instead of hiring the experts. My Bavarian boyfriend can’t understand why we have huge shops in England selling just greeting cards. “You English are crazy about buying cards. Just make them,” he says. Genau!

To Support Young People and Families. So they can buy more beer.

Young people in Germany are supported once they leave school, both by the system and their families. Many go into paid apprenticeship training or to university for free (sometimes for decades rather than three years). Many live at home for as long as they possibly can too. In England, it’s just not cool or acceptable to still be living at home in your twenties, despite the soaring cost of living.  Most people I know in Germany in their twenties are still living at home. It’s not uncommon for older people with children to still be living with parents here too, to help them save for their own homes. There is no stigma attached to that. New mothers are assisted to stay at home by the state and society does not look down them.

That Britain Is Still Great

The Brits moan a lot. They say there are too many immigrants, gas prices are too high, the weather is miserable and the health service is failing. But it wasn’t until I left England that I realised what a fantastic place it is too. We have an education system that helps the disadvantaged. We have a society that is generally very open and tolerant of others regardless of their race and sexuality. We have a health system available for all including free contraception and many other benefits you would have to pay extra for in other countries (in Germany you have to pay for contraception on top of your health insurance. A coil would cost you in excess of 200 Euros). There is a society, charity or support group for virtually anything.  We have a world-class media with high-quality journalists, TV and Film makers. We have charity shops. And the British weather isn’t that bad once you’ve experienced Germany’s. We also know how to get into the spirit of things (hello London Olympics). And most importantly, we have Digestive biscuits.

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Why Germans get Naked

Saturday afternoon. Prime time for family swimming back home in Britain. So I assumed it would be the same in Germany. With heavy snow outside and most other establishments closed, my German partner and I decided to take our baby son Max for his first dip in a swimming pool. What a lovely family occasion, I thought! We packed our swimming gear and drove to a small pool in a town not too far away called Peissenberg.

Twenty minutes later and there we were in the baby pool, surrounded by lots of naked German folk. Men proudly strode around with all their bits on show, while women sat on sun loungers having a good old chat over one another’s bosoms. Poor little Max didn’t know where to look! “Didn’t you know it was naked day?” I hissed at Markus. “It didn’t mention anything about it when I looked on their website!” he defended himself. “It’s Saturday afternoon!” I exclaimed. “Where are all the other families?” Besides Max, there was only one other child at the pools. She was aged about 7 and wore a swimming costume. She sat on the edge of the pool while a naked middle-aged man who she didn’t appear to know stood alongside her, waiting to dive in. A sight you definitely wouldn’t see in England. I remembered when I was about eight and my grandfather was almost thrown out of a swimming pool’s spectator area there for filming us diving with his video camera. “You might be a pervert,” staff told him. How different things were in Germany – over 20 years on. Having just had a baby, and more so for being shy and British, there was no way I was going to shed my bikini. But we were definitely the odd ones out for not going nude, and it seemed we were offending those there for wearing swimwear.

As we had paid to use the sauna I decided to pop in quickly. Bikini and all! I had it to myself until an older gentleman joined me. He was completely starker’s of course. We had a conversation which mainly involved me trying very hard not to look at his penis. “Ah!” he said, when I explained that I was English. He may as well have shouted “so that’s why you’re the only ones wearing clothes!” By that time I was ready to leave. Others joining us were giving me dirty looks for daring to wear anything in the sauna. To make matters worse I had committed a massive German faux pas by forgetting to bring a towel to sit on. Then I washed my feet in some sinks that I’m sure were actually for people’s faces. We left pretty quickly and haven’t been back since.

Besides the pool there have also been naked people discreetly sunbathing down at our local lake in the summer. Germans also seem to be obsessed with changing out of their swimwear the moment it gets wet. So expect to see lots of bare bottoms and other bits being flashed during clothing changes on the lakes. Then many other swimming pools have sauna areas where wearing swimwear is strictly forbidden. We obviously escaped lightly down at Peissenberg. Going naked in Germany does seem to be more popular among older people. So maybe this is a cultural difference that could soon die out.

I remember once in London I was in a gym’s mixed sauna when a man who had dared to go naked was chased out by another in trunks shouting “you bloody pervert!” I wonder if that poor guy was a bemused German. I think that helps to explain the difference between the British and the Germans when it comes to being naked in public. In Britain it’s seen as perverse. Sexual. We associate being naked with sex. We giggle about it like little kids. In Germany, they don’t. You’re naked because you were born that way. And it’s no big deal. At all! People do it. And it means nothing to them whatsoever. The Germans I have seen naked also seem completely happy with their bodies, no matter how ageing and overweight they are. They appear to have a better appreciation of nature, whereas the British wouldn’t dare to bare unless their bodies were magazine ‘perfect’. “Don’t they go naked in British saunas?” my Bavarian father-in-law asked me recently. “Only in sex saunas,” I replied. “No!” he said. “Here it is for freedom!” he added, raising his arms in the air like a flying bird.

I have also noticed that people in Germany are less paranoid about paedophiles than parents are in Britain. I’m not saying it is completely safe here, but we do feel a lot safer here in general.

What does surprise me is, why are many Germans happy to bare their bodies when many are also so shy about revealing their personalities? “Germans are generally very private people who don’t like others to know anything about them,” my German teacher once told me. I guess that’s another issue for another post. Please do enlighten me if you know the answer!

And although I haven’t quite worked up the courage to go naked just yet, I am warming up to the idea. Even if just for a very nervous British laugh.

UPDATE: I did it. Read all about it here.