Unsettled and never quite satisfied with job and plight, my journey led me to Germany in the spring of 2012. Though teaching brought me here, staying is a result of everything the country and continent have to offer, including love. Each new destination is an adventure. With camera(s) in hand, I hope to capture and remember every bit of what I am seeing and experiencing.


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​​​​​​​​Mark Twain and the German Worker

September 25, 2013

The Neckar River in Heidelberg


Lately I have been very busy with my brand new job in Heidelberg. Not only do I love my workplace, I love getting there. The blessings, honor and wonderful scenery are all mine when I "de-tram" at Brückenstraße ("Bridge Street") and walk across the large bridge toward school, with views up and down the Neckar River. To my left is the castle and Altstadt, and on the right, the river winds down valley to Mannheim and beyond. I could disembark at Bismarckplatz, the busy bus and streetcar station that is much closer, but I like walking my way -- the "back" way -- better.


 Heidelberg's busy Bismarckplatz

My ride to Heidelberg is almost an hour long, but it offers me the chance to read. Last week I began A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain. It is delightful, and I laugh out loud reading him. He can put into words a perfect combination of sarcasm and irony, without being too insulting, and he has a unique way of analyzing the working German people of his time.

"Let this be a warning to the reader," he wrote. "The Germans are very conscientious, and this trait makes them very particular. Therefore if you tell a German you want a thing done immediately, he takes you at your word; he thinks you mean what you say; so he does that thing immediately -- according to his idea of immediately -- which is about a week; that is, it is a week if it refers to the building of a garment, or it is an hour and a half if it refers to the cooking of a trout. Very well; if you tell a German to send your trunk to you by 'slow freight,' he takes you at your word; he sends it by 'slow freight,' and you cannot imagine how long you will go on enlarging your admiration of the expressiveness of that phrase in the German tongue, before you get that trunk. The hair on my trunk was soft and thick and youthful, when I got it ready for shipment in Hamburg; it was baldheaded when it reached Heidelberg. However, it was still sound, that was a comfort, it was not battered in the least; the baggagemen seemed to be conscientiously careful, in Germany, of the baggage intrusted to their hands." (Chapter XX)

My experience with the German Arbeiter is somewhat the same, even in these modern times. Germans have administrative processes. Unlike America, where everything is rush-rush, go-go-go, and overnighted due to extreme urgency, Germans take their time. Nothing should be rushed, because it must be done correctly. Why produce something prematurely, such as a driver's license that was promised within four weeks, before the four weeks have run out? One would not expect to receive it sooner, because one was told four weeks. Why would my Jobticket (discounted monthly tram ticket), which was submitted to the transportation authority on August 28 -- two weeks before I started work -- definitely not be mine until October 1st, though we live in the electronic age, the money has been removed from my account, the paperwork is in the right hands, and I need the ticket every day I go to work?

This is Germany. There is a required waiting time, and not because the people do not care to work. It seems to be simply a matter of prioritizing, and/or making people wait because that is what is expected.

Here's an example. Heinie has a garage door and metal-building business. Several of my new and good friends in Germany (one German and two Italian) have consulted him with regard to various metal needs around their homes: a kitchen stove ventilation hood, a copper pipe that will direct water away from a house on very rainy days, and several different awnings and garage doors. Because they like and trust me, they like and trust him. However, there is no immediate rush to get the work done for these friends. There is some kind of required German waiting time that they should already know about. It is hard for me to comprehend or explain to these people who have water pouring into their basements on rainy weeks and the haze of smoke from frying Schnitzel attaching itself to their kitchen ceilings. Heinie cannot be bothered to schedule a time to tend to their needs, though I make gentle suggestions at least twice a week for him not to forget about my friends' problems. He always has much bigger jobs to accomplish first -- jobs that have materialized from thin air; jobs that were ordered months before.

Couldn't a person finish a small job immediately to get it out of the way, and tackle a larger, newer job later? Wouldn't there be less stress and more successes if you finished the small things and made your girlfriend's friends happy, so they can tell their friends and get more business? In my world, accomplishing annoying tasks quickly makes them less painful. 


There exists an opinion and longstanding stereotype that Mexicans are lazy and take naps in the middle of the day, under a saguaro cactus. In my many years experience working with mexicanos at the restaurant and in other occupations, I found that they are on the job earlier, paid less, and work longer hours at crappier jobs. They are very hardworking people.




Germans are known to be hardworking, but men like Heinie cannot be rushed. Qualität braucht Zeit, right?


Perhaps it is just the women that move quicker and appear more diligent. Twain wrote about that, too, telling how male bystanders on the river stepped aboard their rafts often, but the women did not have time.

"Only the men did this; the women were too busy. The women do all kinds of work on the continent. They dig, they hoe, they reap, they sow, they bear monstrous burdens on their backs, they shove similar ones long distances on wheelbarrows, they drag the cart when there is no dog or lean cow to drag it, -- and when there is, they assist the dog or cow. Age is not matter, -- the older the woman, the stronger she is, apparently. On the farm a woman's duties are not defined, -- she does a little of everything; but in the towns it is different, there she only does certain things, the men do the rest. For instance, a hotel chambermaid has nothing to do but make beds and fires in fifty or sixty rooms, bring towels and candles, and fetch several tons of water up several flights of stairs, a hundred pounds at a time, in prodigious metal pitchers. She does not have to work more than eighteen or twenty hours a day, and she can always get down on her knees and scrub the floors of halls and closets when she is tired and needs a rest" (Chapter XV).

All the German women I know work very hard. My best German friend Dana started a new job in April, working 10 to 12 hours a day, and often on Saturdays. She takes the Straßenbahn to get there, so that adds at least two hours to her workday. On Sundays, she mostly sleeps, so you should not attempt to rouse her, and I don't. She won't answer her phone. She takes the Day of Rest quite seriously. But poor Dana hardly gets to see her boyfriend, and she still has to keep a clean house and manage all the other duties living requires, such as grocery shopping, meeting up with friends, tending to her family, etc.


Is it worth it? Well, she popped for ice cream the last time we were together, so her job is paying off in more ways than one, but I don't understand how she does it. Perhaps one of her best friends today is Mr. Coffee.

Am I spoiled or something? Am I paid enough to work 12 hours a day for weeks at a time? No way, José. Occasionally I must, and it would be worth it for one of an employer who pays well... and hourly.


Nah, life is too short, and I cannot be counted on to be diligent and fleissig like a German. Thank goodness my teaching job gives me a flexible schedule so I can stay home some mornings, sit at the computer, and write (like Mark Twain) about how hard the Germans work. 



Wörterbuch / Dictionary

die Altstadt - old part of the city, old town

der Arbeiter - worker(s)

die Brücke - bridge

fleißig - industrious, hardworking

Qualität braucht Zeit - quality takes time

die Straße - street

die Straßenbahn - streetcar, tram


NOTE: The German language has a double "s", or ess-tset: ß. Do not mistake it for a B. It is simply two S's put together into one letter, for efficiency. 

If you need more evidence about hardworking Germans, there is an old children's song to teach the young ones about hard work and who must do it:


Wer will fleißige Handwerker seh'n?
Ei, der muss zu uns hergeh'n!

1. Stein auf Stein, Stein auf Stein,
das Häuschen wird bald fertig sein.


2. O wie fein, o wie fein,
der Glaser setzt die Scheiben ein.


3. Tauchet ein, tauchet ein,
der Maler streicht die Wände ein.


4. Zisch, zisch, zisch; zisch, zisch, zisch;
der Schreiner hobelt glatt den Tisch.


5. Poch, poch, poch; poch, poch, poch;
der Schuster schustert zu das Loch.


6. Stich, stich, stich; stich, stich, stich;
der Schneider näht ein Kleid für mich.


7. Tripp, trapp, drein, tripp, trapp, drein,
jetzt geh'n wir von der Arbeit heim.


8. Hopp, hopp, hopp; hopp, hopp, hopp;
jetzt tanzen alle im Galopp. 

Hear it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i63doTso8FY

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Achtung! does not sound polite

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