At this point, I have lived in Germany for a little over a year and a half, and let me be clear, I love it. And even though there have been a lot of things over the past eighteen months that have struck me as weird, stupid, ridiculous, or just plain offensive, I've managed to get myself more or less squared with most of them in the name of open-mindedness. However, my year-and-a-half anniversary has caused me to reflect on a couple things about German culture that still baffle me, and at this point I've accepted that they will, in all likelihood, be beyond my comprehension for the rest of time.
Here we go. In no particular order:
1) Living in two cities
From what I understand, this isn't horribly uncommon, especially in academic circles. I know plenty of people who do it, and I cannot for the life of me fathom it. The game is this. You live in Berlin, which you rather enjoy. But then you get a job in Hamburg, which is a 6+ hour round trip away. In my brain, you have two options: a) move, b) make lots of mixed CDs because you've got a bitch of a commute. In Germany, however, there exists option c: get a second house in Hamburg, live/work there from Monday-Thursday, then go live at your other house in Berlin for Friday-Sunday.
I don't get it. I know people with children who do this, and it blows my mind even more, that instead of moving, they'd rather only see their families three days a week. I think to me personally, that would feel like a divorce more than anything. Plus, there is no place on the PLANET that I love enough to spend my life floating in limbo between it and a city that's not as hoppin. Sorry Germany, I will not ever get this one.
2) Washing dishes in dirty water
In all fairness, I don't think this is specific to Germany--I know Claire and I had a conversation once about how her English relatives do it. You plug the drain, fill the sink with water and dish soap, and then do your dishes. But after like two dishes the water turns brown and bits of things start floating in it and the entire dance really, really grosses me out. For whatever reason, it doesn't bother me when other people do it, and I'm never refuse to eat off your plate because you wash your dishes like this, but I personally cannot make myself do it. I know it's saving water and I'm being American and wasteful by only doing my dishes under a running tap, but I can't help it. I can't make myself put dishes in brown water, and I don't understand why this is culturally acceptable.
3) Refusing to form lines
Really, Germany? Really? Would it be so hard to form an orderly line instead of fighting over counter space at the bakery like hyenas over an elephant carcass? Aren't you guys the masters of order and efficiency? Why have you not figured this out yet?
4) Putting my change next to my outstretched hand
Jean asked about this one when she came to visit me, and I had no answer for her, but it irritates the CRAP out of me. You're a cashier. I have just paid you, and am holding out my hand for the change. Why, in the name of all that is holy, would you put that change on the counter, next to my hand? Seriously, how antisocial do you have to be that you would rather place my change next to my hand rather than take the risk that your fingernail might come into contact with my palm for less than a tenth of a second? It almost makes me want to start slipping cashiers a note with my money assuring them that my outstretched hand is not a bear trap and has not been dipped in poison. You can in fact put money in it without dying.
5) Being really health-conscious and then smoking like a chimney
But by far, the winner of the Things That I Still Do Not Understand list is how Germans can, on the one hand, be super duper health conscious and eat organic and wear tribal jewelry with their hand-woven garments of natural fibers, and yet turn around and smoke more than a fire made of rubber, wet leaves, and animal fat. I just don't understand how the turnabout happens. And I don't understand how and why everyone starts smoking when they're like, fifteen.