Take a closer look at 25 clichés about Germans

Discipline? Oh yes! Humour? Oh no! Are Germans like that? Take a closer look at 25 well-known clichés. Which ones are true?

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1. There are small figures in German gardens

The garden gnome is a classic symbol of German clichés. The first ones probably really came from Germany. They were made in Thuringia 120 years ago. Today, there are around 25 million of them in German gardens. But because they almost always stand together in groups, this means that there is no garden gnome in most of the 17 million gardens in the country. In addition, the figures are now also found in many other countries. The garden gnome is therefore not typically German, says the International Association for the Protection of Garden Gnomes. Incidentally, it is based in Switzerland.

2. Germans have no sense of humour

Germans suffer from weltschmerz (world-weariness), says cultural scientist Rainer Stollmann. There is no room for humour. After all, Romanticism is as typical for Germany as the Baroque was for Italy. And that was a serious thing. This seriousness is still typical of German culture 200 years later, says the expert. Nevertheless, there are many comedians in Germany. But because the world believes that Germans have no sense of humour, German comedians also have little international success, Stollmann believes.

Some of the things that are known as clichés about them are really lacking in Germans when they live in another country for a longer period of time.

3. Germans are hard-working

Germans don’t work that much at all. With an average of 35 working hours per week, they were below the European average of 37 hours in 2014. Much more work is done in Turkey, with almost 48 hours. In the Netherlands, people work less than Germans. There, the average is just 30 hours. With at least 20 vacation days a year, Germans have plenty of days off. But an international comparison shows that it’s not that much. The Brazilians, Finns and French have ten days more minimum vacation than the Germans. The Chinese and Canadians, however, each have only ten days of minimum vacation – and in the USA there is no minimum vacation at all.

4. Germans can’t party

Germans are lazy about partying. 62 per cent said in a survey that they go to a party less than once a month. Twelve per cent never go. Only two per cent attend more than four parties a month. And instead of going to one of the many folk festivals, Germans prefer to go to private parties. But: Once a year, nothing is the same in the Rhineland. That’s when people there celebrate Carnival more intensively than in almost any other German region. And in Munich, there’s the Oktoberfest. It’s the most popular folk festival in the world – and a big party.

5. Germans are tall, blond and blue-eyed

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote 2000 years ago: The Teutons have reddish-blond hair and are tall. That was the beginning of the myth of the tall, blond German. Whether Tacitus was right back then is not certain. What is certain, however, is that today Germany has all the hair and eye colours of the world. If only because one in five Germans now has foreign roots.

6. Germans are punctual

The clock dictates the rhythm of life in Germany to the minute: buses leave at 2:13 p.m. or 5:18 p.m., for example. If it becomes 2:15 p.m., 5:20 p.m. or even a few minutes later, the first people waiting at the bus stop get nervous. If the bus is late, this can be a problem for many Germans. Then they might be late for an appointment. This is considered very rude. Germans also like to complain about the unpunctuality of trains. In their statistics, trains that arrive up to five minutes and 59 seconds later than the timetable says are also considered punctual.

7. Germans wear traditional clothes

Dirndl and Lederhosen are really popular among some people in Germany. They wear them on traditional dates, in the Trachtenverein and sometimes on festivals. A dirndl at a wedding in Bavaria or at a folk festival is normal. But a look around German pedestrian zones shows what most Germans wear in everyday life: jeans and a T-shirt, like people everywhere in the Western world.

8. Germans let their hair grow under their arms

In 1983, Nena’s “99 Luftballons” was a worldwide hit. Her underarm hair was not. Nevertheless, the singer showed them off to everyone in the 80s. Today, the cliché of Germans with long armpit hair is no longer true. 71 per cent of women shave their armpits, compared with 43 per cent of men.

9. Germans wear socks in sandals

Hardly any clothing combination is considered as German as socks in sandals. The Germans themselves know this. They themselves always cite socks in sandals as an example when it comes to bad taste in Germany. On the street in the summer you really see people wearing the combination. And in a survey, ten per cent said it’s okay to wear it like that on vacation. For a few years now, a special version of the shoes from Germany has been popular in other countries as well: fashion fans in Milan and Copenhagen love the wide Birkenstock sandals from Neustadt (Wied) in Rhineland-Palatinate. But they don’t wear socks with them.

10. Germans love their cars

Every second German has his or her own car. “The German’s favourite child” it is, says a saying. Most get really emotional when it comes to an engine and four tires: “I love my car,” say 69 per cent. 18 per cent have a pet name for their car. But: for 71 per cent, it’s just an everyday, practical object. And in cities, fewer and fewer people have their own car.

11. Germans don’t make new friends so quickly

Getting to know new people? Just talking to strangers? Better not. Germans are considered reserved. And they are. At parties and festivals, they prefer to stick to people they know. In a survey, 83 per cent said that at parties they look for people they already know. They then spend most of their time talking to them. Less than half approach strangers.

12. Germans are poets and thinkers

58 per cent of Germans have more than 50 books on their shelves. People in the north and southwest read particularly much. One in five Germans sometimes writes a poem themselves. However, very few can make a living from it. Art is not particularly well paid in the land of Goethe and Schiller. And even thinkers in science don’t always have it easy: German universities do have a good image. But young scientists criticize poor working conditions. That’s why many go to Switzerland or the United States.

13. Germans organize themselves in clubs

There are more than 580,000 clubs in Germany – five times as many as 60 years. People meet to play music together, get involved in the volunteer fire department or share their enjoyment of sports. Most clubs are sports clubs, namely 25 per cent. More than one in two is a member of a club.

14. Germans prefer to drink beer and eat sausage and potatoes

Germans like to drink beer. But they like wine even more. In a survey, 57 per cent said they would rather choose wine than beer. In the same survey, 70 per cent said they prefer German food. But Germans also enjoy Italian cuisine. For example, the most popular vegetable is the tomato. Potatoes are also still popular. But not as popular as before. In 1995, every German ate an average of 73 kilograms of potatoes. In 2014, the figure was still 58.

15. Germans are a nation of savers

Interest rates are low. So those who save have little to gain from it. That’s why Germans now prefer to spend their money. They are consuming more than they have in 13 years. Experts say this is also because most people are not worried about losing their jobs. Because there are more and more old and fewer and fewer young people in the country to pay pensions, Germans will also save less and less money, say the experts. That’s why, in 2020, Germans will save an average of only seven per cent of their income. The figure is still around nine per cent.

16. Safety is very important to Germans

Better safe than sorry – that’s the motto of 52 per cent of Germans. 80 per cent have household insurance, which they use to insure the items in their household. 72 per cent have private liability insurance. It is supposed to pay if someone accidentally breaks someone else’s things.

17. The weather is bad in Germany

Germans like to complain about the weather. In summer, the sun doesn’t shine often enough. But when it does shine, it’s far too hot. And in winter, it’s too cold. The German Weather Service measured the most hours of sunshine in Arkona (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania): 1950. The fewest hours of sunshine (1197) were on the Kahler Asten, a mountain in North Rhine-Westphalia. For comparison: In the sunny country of Italy, the sunshine duration in the north is 1250 hours. That’s not so much more.

18. Germans get up early

Getting up early is popular in Germany. Saxony-Anhalt, for example, advertises itself with the slogan “Wir stehen früher auf” (“We get up early”). Most large supermarkets open at 7 or 8 a.m. – shortly after Germans are awake. The average German, in fact, gets up at 6:30 a.m.

19. Everything works in Germany

The new Berlin airport was a prestigious project: It was actually supposed to open in 1997. But there were problems again and again. To date, new dates for the opening have been given about 20 times. The costs rose from one to more than five billion euros. The airport is still not finished. The Germans wonder how something like this can happen to them. After all, they are proud that everything else is actually well organized and functioning.

20. Germans prefer to travel to Mallorca

Germans travel a lot. Last year, 80 million people in the country took 70 million vacation trips. Only China, which knocked the Germans from first place in the statistics in 2012, counts even more travellers. Every third person prefers to vacation at home. But the most popular destination for Germans abroad is really the Mediterranean. 4.1 million Germans spent time last year on the Balearic Islands, which include Mallorca, Ibiza and Formentera.

21. Nature is particularly important to Germans

Rubbish is a serious matter in Germany. It is precisely separated: plastic here, paper there. Empty glass bottles end up in containers along the road. There is a container for brown glass, one for green glass and one for white glass. Environmental protection is important to Germans in other ways, too: one in two buys energy-saving lamps wherever possible. When it comes to washing machines and refrigerators, 46 per cent want an energy-saving appliance. Almost one in five Germans buys ecological cleaning products.

22. Germans celebrate Christmas in the snow

Christmas is the most important holiday in Germany. Between the early afternoon of December 24 and 26, almost everything comes to a standstill. Even in the days before, meteorologists are in demand like never before. Will there be snow on Christmas or not? Many Germans want a white Christmas. For them, snow is part of the festivities. But on these days there is rarely snow. Of the major cities, Munich has the highest chance of a white Christmas. But even there, it only happens in two out of five years.

23. Germans reserve the best seats by the pool

Early in the morning, the alarm clock rings. Immediately, a group of Germans runs across the hotel corridor, making quite a bit of noise. As they pass, the half-naked men quickly take all the sandwiches off a waiter’s plate.  But when they arrive at the pool, they suddenly realize that today a sophisticated Brit is better than they are. He simply throws his towel from the balcony onto the lounger and reserves it for later. The short commercial for an English beer brand plays with the cliché. It is just one of several videos on YouTube in which people make fun of German territorial behaviour at the pool. “German Towel Brigade” is the name of another. But: A British vacation portal has taken a closer look at who actually reserves more loungers at the pool. The result: Brits are much more likely to reserve a lounger at the pool with their towel while on vacation.

24. Germans stop at every red traffic light

A red light is red light is red light. And Germans don’t drive through them. 14 per cent of Germans don’t drive even if the traffic light stays red for a very, very long time. They prefer to turn around. 22 per cent of cyclists and 71 per cent of pedestrians, however, see it differently. They sometimes simply ignore the red light.

25. The Germans know everything better

What’s next for Greece? The Greeks should leave the eurozone. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble didn’t just make friends with this idea in the summer. With his position, the minister fulfilled an old cliché: Germans know everything better. They like to tell others how to do things right or what not to do, according to the critical Bavarian singer-songwriter Konstantin Wecker. He sings, “Every German is a teacher and a recreational policeman.”

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Last update: March 10, 2023