Everyone complains, but no one complains as loud, as long, as much and as artfully as the Germans. This book covers all aspects of Germany's most beloved national pastime: Historical, literary, psychological, personal, local, political and sexual.
|This is from the book.|
The Cloud of Complaining
Moaning and Groaning in International Comparison
Everyone's gone through it. And if you haven't, you know someone who has:
You've just had the vacation of your life. Three weeks in New York. That electrifying city that can inspire even the dumbest yokel to dream big, to believe that that anything is possible. That city that releases some long-forgotten Just-do-it hormone, this place where everyone, even the most timid, experiences the urge to wade into the fray, to move and shake, to throw those dice if for no other reason than to find out if the other New Yorkers, all of them driven by the siren song of opportunity, will praise or taunt you.
On the plane back to Germany you're fidgety and full of energy. Back home, you will finally do what you have to do to make those dreams come true, and this time it's for real. You can't wait to finally get to it. Then you land in Berlin, in Munich, in Hamburg, or in Frankfurt. You disembark, you hear the announcements over the loudspeakers, you take a few steps and a deep breath... and it's gone.
You never noticed it before, but things are different here. They're somehow... slowed down. People don't waste their energy here. They hold themselves back, they keep their thoughts to themselves, they wear a stern, respectable look, they don't talk to each other, nobody wants to hear about new ideas, on the contrary, they don't want to be bothered with stuff like that. Instead of the New York buzz, something else hangs in the air:
That's the Cloud of Complaining.
"I know what you mean!" Elisabete Köninger from Stuttgart told me.
Köninger is Brazilian, a translator, interpreter and connoisseur of complaining. She has been living in Germany for 25 years. She's married to a German, has taken on a Swabian accent and had to laugh several times during our conversation. "Whenever I visit Brazil and come back to Germany, I come back with a lot of energy - but all of a sudden it's gone. This time I stayed in Brazil longer than usual, and I noticed it even more clearly. In Brazil, a kind of pioneering spirit is in the air. People are already forgetting the financial crisis. They expect the new year to bring good things. Here, it's the other way round. Everyone expects bad news. If you want to try something new here, they'll tell you, "In these difficult times? You'd better think twice."
Why is it that Germany, of all places, has been blessed so generously with the Cloud of Complaining?
I called several friends, all ex-pats who've been living here for quite a while and know what I'm talking about. I wanted to know if other peoples are as good in moaning and groaning as Germans.
"There is a kind of basic level of bellyaching in Germany," said Scott Roxborough, a Canadian and a journalist at Deutsche Welle radio. "It's a categorical disapproval of ... well, of everything. They're not necessarily unhappy here - they just don't expect anything good to happen. It's a basic attitude: I'm not so stupid as to think that something could turn out good in the end. You can't fool me, world!"
Sachiko N., Japanese artist and office assistant in Berlin, was surprised when she first learned what Germans consider nag-worthy. "Germans are even offended when we Japanese say, "Thank you' too often," she told me over a beer. "It's an old habit we have. I try to stop it, but it just comes out. I say "Thank you,' and they say: "Stop saying "Thank you" all the time!' Then I apologize: "Oh, I'm sorry,' and that makes them even more upset."
Everyone complains, but Germans seem to do it longer, more intensely and with more conviction.
"I was vacationing at Lake Garda in Italy," said Francesco D'Angelo, an Italian who runs a small delicatessen in Berlin. "We wanted to take the ferry across the lake and were standing in line for tickets. A German family stood in line in front of us, and in front of them waited a British family. The Brits started a real complicated conversation with the guy behind the counter, and it took so long that the ferry left without us. That meant waiting 45 minutes for the next one. The British family was cursing: "Shit, shit, shit!' But you know who was really pissed? The Germans. "Stupid Brits. And isn't that just typical Italian? They just left without us. They saw us waiting, didn't they?' My wife and I were used to that kind of thing. Not to mention the fact that ferry was running on a schedule. So we drank a cappuccino and waited for the next boat. We had a great view of the lake, the weather was just wonderful. We took the next ferry. The Germans were on board too, and the thing was: They were still complaining about the Brits. It had happened 45 minutes ago."
My bellyaching experts came up with a variety of theories.
"It's about values," said Victoria J. from New Zealand, who now lives in Munich. "In Germany, nagging is a sign of intelligence. In New Zealand, it's just a sign of bad manners."
Scott agreed, and added, "Bitching isn't just a sign of intelligence here, it's also a form of assertiveness, and a sign of a strong personality. For us, complaining is aggression, which is not considered positive in Canada. We are brought up to try to be nice, no matter what. You know, there is a saying about us Canadians, that we apologize all the time, even when we run into a tree. It's like that everywhere in the English-language world. The British started it. It's that whole stiff-upper-lip thing. When you complain, you show weakness. You show that you aren't in command of the situation, you can't fulfill the task given you. For Germans, it's the other way around: People who are nice and happy must be mentally retarded and can't see things as they really are."
"When I first got here, I thought the Germans were acting like babies," Sachiko N. told me. "They're always saying, "Shit' all the time, they always let their bad mood hang out. In Japan, only children are allowed to do that. When they grow up, they're expected to learn to be in control of themselves. Germans can't hide their bad moods - you notice it immediately. Even German politicians are like little children. They're very emotional. They argue on TV talk shows, they interrupt each other, and if you want to finish your sentence, you have to insist: "Now let me make my point.' When I saw that for the first time, it was so exiting for me, because they showed their anger. I was shocked."
Carrie D. is a Canadian journalist living in Berlin. I ran into her at a loud New Year's party on my way to the next Martini. "My husband is half German and half British," she told me when we talked later. "But he mainly grew up here. He keeps on telling me that I have to learn to complain in Germany if I want to survive. It shows strength. The whole Canadian thing about being nice and polite is considered a weakness. If you want to get anywhere, you have to complain. My husband does it all the time - he complains about food in restaurants, about politics, to bureaucrats. I'm different. My mother used to say, "You catch more flies with honey than with a fly swatter.' I try to complain and rant, and it's true what he says: It works. People respond to it. It's just the exact opposite of what I want to be."
She's not alone. Anyone who comes to live in Germany has to make the decision sooner or later: Do I follow the call of bitching or do I resist?
"I've come to act more German over the years, and you know what? It's not that bad," Scott admitted. "You don't have to hold everything back all the time. Germans consider themselves to be very rational and peace-loving, but the truth is, their culture is quite aggressive. Today, I can yell at snotty sales people whenever I need it. It's kind of liberating."
|Some notes on "The Art of Nagging."|
The Germans will tell you this themselves: They like to complain. In fact, they even complain about their love of complaining. Me too: In a way, this book is my proof that I can complain as much and as well as they do, if not better. In this case, I'm complaining about the complainers.
This was our third bestseller.
Here's what the taz wrote about it.
Here's a reading in German from the book on erlesen.tv.
Buy the book.
|Home • About • Books • Journalist • Astrid Ule • Miscellaneous • News • German • Shop • Facebook • Contact|