Australia vs Germany. Cultural Differences. Part Two.

Ever wondered about the differences between Germany and Australia. Planning a trip there or recently been? Here are some cultural differences from the perspective of an Australian. You can find part one here.

Feel free to comment below with your thoughts, abuse, or to add any other differences or peculiarities about either country.

6. Customer Service

Australia vs germany cultural differences

Germans have only very recently discovered customer service and it exists in some small, clandestine, underground retail circles. For the most part though it is non-existent, especially at one particular company that you may or may not come across called the Deutsche Bahn. The first and most important rule of the Deutsche Bahn human resources department is that it is forbidden to hire anyone a) under 43 years old and b) anybody remotely attractive. They must also require a keen and ruthless hatred for anyone who has ever caught a train or considered catching a train, or just thought about trains.

If you have the misfortune of not booking your ICE (Inter-City Express) train from the internet then you must go to the Deutsche Bahn Reisebüro to do it. It doesn’t matter which city you’re in or Hauptbahnhof you’re at, the process will be the same. You queue for anywhere up to 45 minutes but never less than 10. When you reach the purple haired lady at the counter she will look you with great scorn as if you’re an estranged sibling who stole the inheritance she could have bought more cigarettes with. You’ll then tentatively make your request for a ticket to Berlin on the soonest available connection and she will wait a full five seconds, emit a sharp sigh and shake her head as if that’s simply not possible today. Then she’ll stare at her computer screen and just at the point where you think that she’s experienced a small stroke she’ll print a timetable out, put it in front of you and say “there’s one leaving in 10 minutes from platform 5…”. “…GREAT!” You’ll say. She’ll charge you a punitive rate for your foolishness at not having used an internet discounter and you’ll be on your way to Berlin, albeit slightly confused. Deutsche Bahn.

7. Street drinking

Berlin Street Drinking

In Germany you are allowed to drink on the street and rainbows follow the footsteps of semi drunk revellers everywhere, it’s 100% paradise. In some cities you can even bring your drink with you onto the train. In Australia street drinking is illegal and if you’re unlucky the police will hit you up with a $200 fine for the pleasure, usually though, they’ll just ask you to tip your $7 beer onto the ground, it’s awful.

8. Kiosks / Spätis

Berlin Späti

Speaking of street drinking, it’s much easier in Germany because of all the wonderful kiosks (in Berlin they call them Spätis because they are open late, it’s a better name). Kiosks line the streets and are packed with unbelievable amounts of alcohol. They sell beer for as low as 70 cents or a bottle of vodka for 8 euros. In the clubs you should be indignant if your beer costs anything more than 2 euros ($3).

Ausralia’s alcohol laws are bewilderingly prohibitive and the tax is sky frikken high. A six pack of beer will cost on average $15-$20 (about 12 euros) and the only place you can buy it is a bottle store (supermarkets and petrol stations never sell alcohol). If you go to a pub or a club it gets worse, your beer is going to cost you $9 (6.50 euros) on average.

Despite all these liquor regulations Australians seem to get much drunker and more aggressive than Germans, and alcohol tends to cause more problems… the answer? More regulations of course!! Maybe the aggression comes from drunken frustration with all the rules? Who knows.

9. Coffee

bad-coffee

Germans don’t know what coffee is yet. They make black liquid which they put into burnt milk which is vaguely reminiscent of coffee… sort of like a facsimile of an etched painting of a cave drawing… but it’s not coffee.

Australia on the other hand is the hands down, irrefutable and indisputable world leader in crafting rich, beautiful, brown espresso that seeps into our souls every morning and makes us such benign, supple and wonderful creatures who cavort majestically over and under our beach strewn urban landscapes calling out to our dogs in the balmy, crepuscular madness of the dusk… I think I’ve had too much coffee, but for more information please see my article on the flat white.

10. Not saying how good everything is all the time

Delighted Person

In Australia you can’t go to the beach with someone without them saying “how nice is this!?”. You can’t go for coffee with anyone without hearing how nice the café is at least 3 times, and family lunches/dinners consist only of everyone exclaiming how nice and fantastic everything is for 2.5 hours before everyone goes home, and nothing of any value gets said for the entire time. If one ever has the gall to point this ridiculous behaviour out to the Australians they’ll defend themselves with something like “oh well we’re just being positive!!”.

Germans, on the other hand, tend to take a more traditionalist approach to socialising and actually hold substantial conversations with each other. I think the real key to this is that they’re not afraid to talk about uncomfortable or serious issues without instinctively changing the subject as quickly as possible to ‘anyway that’s all very horrible, but isn’t this just a lovely dessert!!”.

Note: this point could be applied to most European countries.

For the first instalment of this article click here or go and find out what the best cafés are in Hamburg and follow me on facebook, darnit!

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Australia vs Germany. Cultural Differences. Part One.

I’m going to start writing a regular series of articles about the interesting little differences between my life in Germany and my life in Australia. I hope that I offend neither country in doing so as there are positive and negative aspects about all countries… If I do offend though, you know that the concept of a country is an imaginary one anyway, right? #leftistideals

Feel free to comment below with your thoughts, abuse, or to add any other differences or peculiarities about either country.

1. Supermarkets

In Germany, you'd better be an efficient shopper at the checkout.

In Germany, you’d better be an efficient shopper at the checkout.

The typical stereotype of Germans is that they are ruthlessly efficient and have little time for superfluous activity and silly behaviour. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve found this stereotype to be betrayed time and time again. Germans are actually fun-loving, silly yahoos like the rest of us. EXCEPT at the checkout of the supermarket. In a German supermarket the stereotype of efficiency, robotic behaviour and humourlessness blips terrifyingly to the surface.

It took me about 6 months before I started feeling comfortable in a German supermarket, at first I didn’t know the protocol and this had drastic and violent consequences. The main difference is that whoever is on the checkout is about 7 times faster than our checkout chicks and chickens in Australia. They have to be, because often only one checkout is operating for the entire supermarket (they haven’t started using self service machines yet, Germans probably wouldn’t trust them) and they CERTAINLY won’t ask you “how’s your day been?” or “planning anything fun for the weekend?” like we do for almost every customer; they don’t have time and what’s more they find the very notion patently absurd.

Also, you know those wacky shopping seperators that no one in Australia uses or even knows what they’re supposed to be for? In Germany they sure as hell use them, and if you don’t then the customer behind you will almost certainly slam it onto the conveyer belt pointedly and look at you as if you’ve just spat on his Birkenstocks. They don’t have time for the “oh no sorry, that’s not my bread…” routine.

At Edeka this effect is not so bad, but once you hit the discounters (Aldi, Penny, Lidl, Netto etc) you’d better have your wits about you lest you want to screamed at by a 50 year old checkout operator with purple hair and incorrectly applied make-up.

3. Recycling

Germans do a better job at reducing this kind of abomination.

Germans do a better job at reducing this kind of abomination.

This leads me to my next point; recycling. Germans take recycling seriously!! 10 points for the Germans!! If you go to a supermarket be prepared to BUY your bag and damn well pack it your self!! No one seems to remember but before about 2007 you were expected to pack your own bags at an Australian supermarket, but now without exception the checkout operator will do it for you; and this has dire consequences for the environment.

I was at an Australian supermarket the other day and I bought a watermelon and three bananas. The boy behind the counter asked me “would you like your bananas in a separate bag to your watermelon?”, I said “no, that is the singularly most irresponsible and wanton thing I’ve ever heard” (I didn’t really I just said that I didn’t need any bags). What happened Australia? You would think that our pristine beaches would remind us of the importance of preserving their natural beauty but apparently not. I suppose this boy asked me if I wanted them in separate bags because he has to deal with other customers’ ridiculous bagging OCD and arbitrary rules for what belongs together in which bag, he’s just preempting what I might want based on his previous experience.

No in Germany you buy plastic bags, and even then your German friends will guilt trip you about not having brought your canvas bags from home. Not to mention the awesome nation wide Pfand or deposit system for plastic bottles and cans that Germany has, or the fact that they derive such a huge portion of their energy from wind farms and don’t have their most important politicians denouncing the sight of them as ‘offensive’. Germany is a real country when it comes to the environment.

2. Water with Bubbles

Well… at least they recycle the bottles?

Germans don’t drink normal water, they find it ‘disgusting’ and most refuse to drink anything at all unless it has bubbles in it. There’s not much to say about this, except that it’s suspicious.

4. Sitting outside at cafés

If it's sunny, the Germans are outside.

If it’s sunny, the Germans are outside.

Right now I’m sitting in a café in Leederville, Western Australia, it’s 32 degrees, no wind and there’s not a cloud in sight. 7 tables are occupied inside the café and 1 outside table is occupied. This is unheard of in Germany. If it’s remotely sunny and the temperature is above 12 degrees (it doesn’t matter how windy it is) they will be at an outside table and the inside of the café will be deserted. When you suggest to your friend “hey… it’s awful outside… do you want to sit in here maybe?” they’ll say “haha, you are so funny, it is sunny!! Don’t you want to enjoy the sun? We only get 2 months of summer here so we need to enjoy it!!” (they actually get about 5 months of sun, even in Hamburg, but they’ll without exception tell you that it’s 2 months). No Australian boy, you’re sitting outside today.

5. Electro

Germans are more hardcore than Australians and can control their aggression and drinking.

Germans are more hardcore than Australians and can control their aggression and drinking.

Germans don’t know about the existence of other forms of music yet, and any club worth its salt will be playing 4/4 electronic music at about 114 BPM all night, every night. For the less musical of you that’s pretty slow!! And some people find it difficult to dance to. Not the Germans though, they need it that slow because they’re awesome and will be partying until 8am, anything faster would wear them out sooner and make them less energetic for loose sexual encounters. Also it makes for a great social atmosphere on the dance floor because no one is too physically involved in the dancing and people are happy to be approached. Germans are approachable and friendly, not cold and reserved as the stereotype would have you believe. I’ve been told to ‘fuck off’ when I’ve been out in Australia, but not in Germany, so…

Now go and find out what the best cafés are in Hamburg.

Europe’s search for the flat white

The ‘flat white’ is taking British and European cafés by storm and it has come to be seen as a mark of sophistication on the board of any eating establishment that values being up with the current trends. The only problem is that very few people seem to know what it is.

In Australia the flat white is almost synonymous with the word coffee and has been since the late eighties when it was developed between then coffee hot spots Wellington and Sydney. Very few foreigners will believe you if you tell them that Australia is the coffee mecca of the world. Germans will say “oh… I don’t think so, I will have to check” (always thorough), South Americans will laugh casually, make one of those amused and amusing noises that South Americans often make and say “no we make the best coffee in Colombia, man” (what they mean is they farm and roast the best coffee, which is true), and Italians will give a disapproving “no!”.

Italy is key to understanding Australia’s intense and perfectionist coffee culture. Australia had a huge influx of Italian migrant workers who were struggling in their homeland after the war, and they brought with them a wonderful sense of humour, an accent that mixed delightfully with our own to create something new, home orchards and coffee. Gino’s café in Fremantle (Perth’s coffee/Italian hub) is historical evidence of this. Gino, the son of Italian migrants, had been working in Fremantle as a tailor for 30 years. Sick of the sub-standard coffee on the main strip, he told the owner of a local café that if they didn’t want to start making good coffee he would set up his own café nearby and do it for them. He absconded to Italy for six weeks and learnt as much about the black brew as was possible. When he returned, much to the chagrin of his wife, he opened up shop in 1983 and started extracting. Proof that a better quality product brings in customers, the business was a success and it still stands today; iconic.

This is now known as third wave coffee, a term coined in the early 2000s to mean an attitude towards coffee that views it as an artisanal beverage to be perfected, an art to be admired, a revelation, something sacred whose secrets reverberate silently at nightfall between the concrete walls of those modern churches that crochet the streets of Melbourne and New York City; cafés. It is the worship of coffee, rather than seeing it as something mindlessly whipped up haphazardly to get people through the morning or to use as an excuse to meet each other on the corner.

One thing that’s very odd is that excepting Italy (though I suspect they may have rested on their laurels a bit), this ‘third wave’ attitude has been almost completely non-existent in Europe until quite recently. It doesn’t matter where you go; Spain, France, Portugal, Germany or Croatia, unless you do some serious research before heading out, you’re likely to be served a bitter, over frothed mess in a cup every time you order a cappuccino. Even in Berlin, until about 5 years ago most cafés would serve a cup filled with froth that they tried to make as high as possible over the edge of the cup (because it looks fancy?), the froth didn’t just sit over the brim but all too frequently extended deep within the cup to provide you with the least amount of actual milk possible (to save on overheads like… milk?). God forbid you asked for a strong coffee because you wouldn’t get an extra shot, no, they would just hit the extraction button again to give you some overdrawn sludge with your long life milk that had the consistency of shampoo.

A ridiculous cappuccino I received in Paris circa 2012

A ridiculous cappuccino I received in Paris circa 2012

This abominable behaviour, this nonchalant, downright disrespectful and dangerous attitude towards the sacred art of barista… er… -ing… -hood…? Whatever. Still occurs if you have the misfortune of walking into the wrong establishment on the Skalitzer Straße.

Enter: The Flat White. The flat white is seen as a sort of badge of honour for European cafés that should tell the consumer that “it’s ok, we’ve got you covered, the baristas here know what they’re doing. Gino took care of that a long time ago.” But unfortunately it doesn’t seem to necessarily have been adopted with the aforementioned sacred ‘third wave’ attitude that it should represent in every case. Anyone can talk the talk but can they extract espresso properly into a pre-warmed cup and add correctly steamed milk at 65-70 degrees celsius? The answer lies in how serious the café’s head barista is about nurturing his or her staff’s respect for the process.

A good cappuccino from Barista Kaffeekunst, Cologne

A good cappuccino from Barista Kaffeekunst, Cologne, 2012

The flat white is an unmistakably Australian (*cough* slash New Zealand) creation. So there should not be much confusion as to what it is, there’s no room for subtle shifts in intercultural definitions here. It is a mixture of milk (yes, I’m vegan and I don’t take it from a cow) slowly heated to form a film of tiny bubbles known as ‘microfilm’, poured onto two shots of perfectly extracted espresso in a ceramic cup. It should not have a ‘head’ of foam and it must have an emphasis on the espresso so as it has a strong coffee taste and a nice caffeine kick. But today, at an unnamed establishment in Hamburg, I received a flat white served in a glass cup with about 2.5 centimetres of head… more head in fact, than I would expect from a cappuccino! Who’s running the joint!? At least it tasted good. I’ve had similar misadventures with the ever more ubiquitous flat white in various establishments around Hamburg and have a good mind to make a list. Watch out, I’ll make a list!!

The offending 'flat white'

The offending ‘flat white’

It’s good to see Europe finally coming around to truly respecting coffee, in fact it’s not just good, it’s relieving. But if you’re reading this, baristas of Europe – when it comes to the flat white, I say to you in typical Australian fashion: “get it right”. Gino went to the other side of the earth, all you need to do is a lazy google search and an hour of research: minimum.