October 27, 2010

Common Decency Not So Common

Much as we might like to dwell on the finer points of holding open doors for ladies, unfortunately we must complain in general of people and doors. Although I tend to moan about London, at least the vast majority of Londoners understand that in a very difficult and crowded situation, it’s better to let people off the train before trying to embark. However much we may like to confine our lives to the ethereal world, we humans are irrevocably and cumbersomely solid: no amount of pushing will propel us through oncoming persons, and we realise that less haste makes for a speedier, and more civil, commute. This is not the case in Germany.

Unknown in Germany: the orderly queue

I think it’s probably something to do with population, or the lack thereof. Such boisterous pushing and jostling would end in tears before bedtime in Blighty. On the whole, I must say that Germans know very well how to be civil, and would out-compete most nations at the Being Civil Olympics. Politeness is built into their language; the laws are strictly observed (try crossing the road on a red man and listen to the gasps of disapproving locals); little rituals hold sway in everyday life (church, Kaffeetrinken, customer service); everything is on-time. And yet, and yet… Today I was pushed in the back by an old woman who was concerned to beat all the young tykes to a seat on the tram. Everyday, the fit and agile push their way onto the U-Bahn trains before anybody has managed to disembark. A man recently served me with a full body-check as I attempted to leave a carriage carrying a heavy suitcase. I thought we should come to blows, but I held myself in check. One mustn’t sink to their level. And bus queues? Don’t make me laugh! There is a semblance of order, but only until the bus appears on the horizon. Then there is manoeuvring, pushing and place holding like nobody’s business. The fittest survive. The weak, the old (except for today’s grumpy granny), the infirm, the with-child – they all eat dust and end up standing in the aisles. It’s all pretty ordinary, as the Australians put it.

Also unknown in Germany: the consequences of the disorderly queue

I confess I do not understand why Germany can’t get this right. This and looking after their dogs. Domesticated canines seem to defecate willy-nilly in Berlin, and no one bats an eyelid. Everything else is just tickety-boo, and by-and-large we’re getting on swimmingly. I just can’t help the feeling that such things as these are the cornerstones of civil society. They are the things that, if done properly, help us repress the misanthropic feelings that inevitably arise from living among the urban. Just a semblance of the urbane softens our ire, cools our jets, waters our whiskey. When the common little courtesies among strangers are not observed, we wonder what else is awry, and before we know it we’re in a world of paranoia. So, sort it out please you lovely Berliners. Imagine everyone you see on public transport is your mother and behave accordingly. And clean up after your dogs!


  1. Indeed, to their eternal credit, the Brits do get entering and exiting mass transit spot on. Persons attempting to barge on the train before passengers have exited is a pet peeve of mine. In Canada (or, at least Vancouver, which I can speak for), I think we have worked out a good "adaptive" system. That is, sometimes the strict "queue" forms in high-traffic situations, because it is easier. And sometimes there is a sort of free-form "organized gaggle" in low-traffic situations. The idea being that one is courteous and reasonable and respects the general order in which people arrive to wait even if it is not exact. Yet problems arise when only a few people fail to observe the general rules. At times I see people barging onto the Canada Line, even where I usually get on (at the last stop when there are generally only a few people waiting and many seats available on the train). Even if 15 other people are waiting patiently it somehow seems to only take one to gum up the works!

  2. Oh, but vir beatum - Berlin is not Germany (and being a Düsseldorf native, I may add: fortunately). The Berliners cultivate a character of being rude but kind and honest. In how far this is really the case, or only pretence, I leave to your judgement.

    As my grandfather used to say: "Hamburg has style, Munich has 'Lebensfreude', and Berlin has an astonishing amount of dog excrement on the sidewalks."

    Post scriptum: May I also recommend the blog "Ich werde ein Berliner", although the Germans humorously pictured there will hardly be your company.

  3. Thank you for this, Till79. I take it as encouraging news. And thanks also for the blog tip. I do hope to see you around here again in the future.

  4. I will certainly. I am enjoying your blog very much, not only for its interesting and unusual topics, but also for its language, which is a welcome change from the usual tone on the internet, and very educational and inspirational for a non-native speaker.
    Since each of your previous posts has been a pleasure to read, I am very much looking forwards to your future thoughts, and will certainly be around.

  5. You are too kind. It is a pleasure to have you here. May I also compliment you on your English. Bravo!


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