The Myth of German Efficiency

If someone were to ask you to name the nationality you thought was the most efficient in the world, you’d probably put the Germans pretty high on your list, right?

Well, you would be wrong, so very WRONG. The reason you might think that is because you’ve never actually lived or worked here. I, too, once held Germany up as a beacon of all that is organised, systematic, logical and good. Ha! What a fool I was!

Listing the failings of state institutions such as the Bürgerämter would require a novel, not a blog post, so I’ll put them to one side. (Frankly, how any of these harridans and jobsworths are even in employment is beyond me.)

The funny thing about the Germans – yeah, another one – is that they actually think they’re hard-working. (Excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor and wipe my eyes.) You see, the EU-standard 4-week holiday is not good enough for our German friends. No, most German workers get 6 weeks, some even more than that. I know one woman, who’s on an old contract with one of the major banks here, who gets a whopping 34 holiday days a year.

Maybe that doesn’t sound so excessive (except to any Americans or Canadians reading), but when you factor in that she’d already taken at least two weeks’ sick leave in the first half of the year and will probably take two more before the end of the year, that’s almost eleven weeks off work – or, if you look at it another way, she’s not in the office one fifth of the time.

One thing Germans are truly excellent at is taking sick leave. They’re so well protected, and the health insurance here is so good, that a trip to the doctor for something vague like a bad night’s sleep and a bit of stress will probably result in a week or two off.

There’s even a programme called “Die Kur” (the cure) where, if your doctor has exhausted every possible avenue of treatment for your imaginary illness, you can apply for “resort therapy”. And yes, it is exactly what it sounds like – an all-expenses-paid trip to a spa for an indefinite amount of time which, of course, doesn’t come out of your annual leave. That just wouldn’t be Germany…

In the unfortunate event that you’re not actually sick and lack the imagination to make something up, fear not! This is where “Kind Krank” comes into play. Kind Krank can be directly translated as “kid sick” and, from what I’ve seen, entitles the parent to as much time off as they like.

A typical email exchange might go a bit like this:

Me: Something incredibly efficient and professional.

German 1: Out of office reply.

Me: (Waits 2 – 4 weeks)

German 1: Oh, sorry for the delay, I was on holidays! But I don’t actually deal with that. That’s German 2 who sits beside me. 

Me: Oh, right. Can I have German 2’s email address? 

German 1: Sure, but she’s off work at the moment. Kind Krank, you know?

Me: Right. 

Me: (Emails German 2. Waits 2-4 weeks.) 

German 2: Oh, sorry for the delay! My kid was sick. But it’s not actually me who deals with that. That’s German 3.

Me: (Emails German 3.)

German 3: Out of office reply. 

Me: (Waits 2 – 4 weeks.)

Anyway, you see where I’m going with this.

The nice thing about being a German in full-time employment is that you pretty much have to murder a colleague to be fired. The laws here are so strongly in the workers’ favour that it’s virtually impossible to get rid of someone.

I have actually heard of people who’ve done zilch for years. Instead of sacking them – far too much trouble – the company will leave that useless lump sitting there filing their nails and hire someone else to do exactly the same job. I doubt it’s a couple of isolated cases either. This basically means that all over Germany, you’ve got thousands (if not millions) of people who are essentially being paid to do nothing.

I recently had a lesson where I got the students to talk about what they do on an average day.

Me: So, Gudrun, what did you do today? 

Gudrun: Well, I checked my emails, forwarded some to other people, collected the mail, distributed it, and set up the conference room for a meeting. Then it was time to go to English. 

Me: Our lesson is at 4.15…

Gudrun: (Chuckling contentedly) Oh my, you’re right! It doesn’t really sound like I did much, does it? 

Me: I could have done that before the kettle boiled for my first cup of tea of the day. Then done the work of everyone in your entire department and possibly the department next door and still have been finished by lunchtime. 

OK, so I didn’t say it out loud – unfortunately, I can be fired.

Even when Germans think they’re being organised, what they’re really doing is over-complicating everything in a sea of graphs, charts, spreadsheets, and documents that often run to several hundred pages. Information that could be delivered in three sentences takes months of meetings, labyrinths of red tape, and possibly a mental breakdown or two. Thank God for “Die Kur”…

Anyway, enough ranting for one evening. Tomorrow and Wednesday, I’ll get up at 6am for the students who probably won’t show up due to holidays, Krankheit, Kind Krank, or the myriad other reasons Germans find not to work. After that, I’m on holidays for a week. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Cock of Kochstraße

Just in case you missed the massive penis the first time round, here it is again 🙂

eyeonberlin

After living in a city for close to two years, you might think that you know all of its little quirks. Berlin, however, is the city that just keeps giving on the weirdness front. Located not far from Kochstraße*, in the centre of Berlin, is a sight that will leave most men feeling shrivelled and inadequate.

Without further ado, I give you…

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This art installation is called “Peace Be With You” by Peter Lenk and was erected (snigger) in 2009. It’s located on the wall of the Tageszeitung Building on Rudi-Dutschke-Straße, directly opposite the offices of Bild – two major newspapers. The main figure (the one with the big penis, in case you missed it) is said to bear a striking resemblance to Kai Diekmann, former editor of the latter.

DSC01418 His penis reaches to the very top of the building, passing various placard-holding figures along the way.

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Although I can directly translate the…

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Germans will be Germans…

I know a lot of people don’t believe me when I say this but the Germans really are very funny people. Unfortunately, most of the time when they crack me up, they’re not actually trying to be funny.

A few weeks ago, I had a lesson with a really nice group. So, I thought I’d torture them with the third conditional, my favourite conditional and the bane of every English language learner’s life. You know the one I mean – if I had stayed in Latvia, I would have gone mad – that sort of thing.

Just kidding Latvia, I love you really...
Just kidding Latvia, I love you really…

Anyway, we’d got the tedious, learn-y bit out of the way so I whipped out a fun exercise I’d found on the internet. At least I thought it would be fun. It should have gone like this: the students brainstorm reasons someone could end up homeless, for example, gambling or drinking problem, financial difficulties, etc.

Once I’d written them all up on the board, the “homeless” students would then make a chain of third conditional sentences in order to convince a wealthy-looking passer-by to give them some money, e.g. If I hadn’t started gambling, I wouldn’t have lost all my money. If I hadn’t lost all my money, my wife wouldn’t have kicked me out. If my wife hadn’t kicked me out, I wouldn’t have ended up on the street. And so on.

The only thing I hadn’t factored in was, well, Germans.

Me: OK, so I’d like you to brainstorm some reasons that someone could end up homeless, like a drinking problem or relationship troubles…

Student 1: Some of them want to be homeless.

Me: OK, but let’s assume for the sake of this exercise that they don’t want to be homeless. Something bad happened.

Student 2: But some of them really do want to be homeless. 

Student 3: Yeah, they want freedom. 

Me: OK, but let’s assume…

Student 4: You’re right. I saw a documentary about it. 

Me: OK, but…

Student 5: And you know what I really hate? When people ask me for money. I mean, I work hard for my money. I have bills to pay. Why should I just give my money to someone on the street? 

Me: I think we’re going a bit off-…

Student 6: Oh! I hate that too! I mean, I’d give someone a sandwich but I’m not giving them money. 

Me: Sigh. Well, it looks like we’re out of time. Good job, everyone. 

He's there because he wants to be. The Germans saw a documentary.
He’s there because he wants to be. The Germans saw a documentary.

A few days later, I had a conversation class with a couple of ladies who are going to England at the end of September. For the first four days, they’re staying with an elderly English couple and they’ve hired me to make them sound normal.

Me: OK, so when you get to the house, she’ll probably put on the kettle.

Frauke: What’s a kettle? 

Me: What? Oh, it’s the thing you use when you want to boil water. 

Frauke: Not a water cooker? 

Me: (Snigger) No, it’s a kettle. So anyway, they’re English. They will put on the kettle. Tea is a national hobby.

Heike: Ugh, black tea. Probably with milk. 

Me: Probably.

Frauke: But we won’t want tea at that time of night.

Me: You’re arriving at 8pm…

Heike: We will be tired. We will want to sleep.

Me: You can’t just walk in the door and go to bed. You’ll have to talk to them for a little while. She’ll probably have made some sandwiches or bought a cake. 

Heike: But I will not be hungry. I will just want to sleep. Can I say I don’t want it? 

Me: Well, you could but it’s probably not the best start. 

Frauke: (Huge sigh) OK, then we will eat A sandwich and have a cup of black tea. Maybe I could ask if she has fruit tea. 

Me: Yeah, good luck. So, when she asks you if you want a cup of tea, what will you say?

Heike: NO.

Frauke: Oh, that would be loooooovely, thank you!

Me: Wow, yes! That’s perfect!

Frauke: Yes, in English, everything is “lovely” – lovely tea, lovely weather, lovely house, lovely, lovely, lovely…

Me: Yeah, you should probably lay off the sarcasm a bit. Are you bringing them a gift? What do they like? 

Heike: The husband likes photographs. Last time, I bought him a book of black and white photography.

Me: OK, nice! What are you going to get this time? 

Heike: A book of colour photography?

Me: Creative.

Heike: Well, what do people think of Germans? Maybe I can get something traditionally German?

Me: Honestly? Beer, sausage, Lederhosen.

Frauke and Heike: BUT THAT’S NOT US! THAT’S THE BAVARIANS! 

Me: Yes, I know that but, you know, people are stupid. 

Frauke and Heike: BUT THAT’S NOT US! THAT’S THE BAVARIANS! WE DON’T WEAR LEDERHOSEN!

Me: OK, you can educate the English when you get there. Anyway, what will you say when you hand them the present? 

Frauke: I AM VERY HAPPY TO GIVE YOU THIS GIFT. ARE YOU HAPPY? 

Me: Jesus.

Sometimes, I really do earn my money.

 

(If you haven’t checked out my new blog yet, head on over there and let me know what you think.) 🙂

 

New Blog (blatant plug)

So, I know what you’ve all been thinking: “I just wish there was some way I could get more of Linda…” (Ahem.)

Well, it’s your lucky day! After much pondering and faffing around, I’ve finally decided to start a photographic blog of Berlin.

As you know, I’ve been more of a “words girl” up to this point so the photography thing is pretty new to me. I’m not even sure I’m terribly good at it but I want to be, and just getting out there and seeing more of Berlin is so much fun.

How my morning looked...
How my morning looked…

The blog tagline is “From the pretty to the gritty” and that’s really what it’s about. I don’t just want to show the beautiful bits (of which there are plenty, believe me) but more the everyday, the quirky, the weird and the wonderful.

For the most part, I’ll be keeping the words to a minimum – the world breathes a sigh of relief – but of course, I’d love to hear from you lovely people. Any comments, suggestions, criticisms and crap jokes are always welcome. Or, if anyone wants to tag along on a Fotowanderung (still making up German words), just drop me a line.

Obviously, there’s not much on the site at the moment but I hope to update it twice or three times a week so bear with me.

In the meantime, I’d be delighted if you’d hop on over to Eye on Berlin and let me know what you think.

(Yes, I’ve decided to stick with the “eye” theme – it’s worked for me so far!)

Thank you all in advance!

Linda.

 

 

 

Adventures in Alsace (3)

One of the things you must do when in this part of the world is take a trip to Haut Koenigsbourg castle. The road up there is a bit of a roller coaster with sharp turns, steep drops and mad people hiking, cycling and jogging to the top. Having me singing “I’m on the top of the world looking down on creation…” at the top of my voice in your ear will make the whole experience even more enjoyable.

Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg

We parked the car and walked to the castle, stopping to take photos every couple of seconds. The views over the Rhine Valley from this vantage point are nothing short of spectacular.

On the way back, we took a spin to Colmar but, it being Sunday, practically everything was shut due to the French doing whatever it is they do on a Sunday – or any other random day.

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Still, we had more important things to think about. Ireland and Germany were playing that afternoon and we had to hightail it back to Ribeauvillé to find somewhere to watch the matches. In Berlin, this wouldn’t have been a problem. Every bar, restaurant, café and even Döner stand has a TV set up so you don’t miss a minute of the action. The only place we could find that was showing it was Bar Streng, our saviour yet again.

Allez!
Allez!

We made it just in time for kick-off, ordered some wine and settled in for the afternoon. The French were out in full force to cheer on the home team and cries of “Allez les bleus!” rang out from every corner. I waited for a pause before loudly interjecting, “Allez les garçons en vert!!” After a brief stunned silence, the French took it in their stride and some good-natured banter sprang up. I guess they knew that the Irish were never going to be any real threat… Sure enough, they won it with relative ease and I didn’t have to take on a bar of angry French football fans. Phew.

If this had been Ireland or Germany, the bar would have been packed for hours afterwards, but the French cleared out tout de suite. In fact, by the time Germany kicked off, there was only me, Manfredas and one other guy left. Still, we didn’t need much company to enjoy watching Germany hammer Slovakia. At least one of my home teams was through.

Since the town was pretty dead, we picked up some takeaway and headed back to our little garden for a chilled evening of wine and conversation. I must be getting old.

The next morning, we found the one patisserie that was open – maybe the French had continued celebrating in their own homes? – and popped in for breakfast.

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I ordered a pain au chocolat and a cup of tea and Manfredas, a coffee and a couple of croissants. This was clearly too complicated for the girl behind the counter. She proceeded to painstakingly write everything down, longhand, then look up the prices for each item and add them up on her piece of paper, carrying the one wherever necessary. While it was a little embarrassing to watch, we got our order in the end.

Yum :)
Yum 🙂

On the agenda for our last day was a trip to Kaysersberg, another ridiculously pretty town not far away.

The French are pretty chilled about road safety
The French are pretty chilled about road safety

We passed through glorious countryside along the way and finally rolled into town about an hour later.

Pretty, pretty
Pretty, pretty

We spent a wonderful few hours strolling through the town, marvelling, yet again, that places like this still exist.

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Sadly, after some lunch, it was time to hit the road and head back to the airport. But, not without accomplishing one of my dreams along the way. Yes, we stopped in the baddest of all the BAD towns – Baden Baden.

BAD hotel :)
BAD hotel 🙂

The town itself is quite lovely but the crowning moment for me was this one:

BADASS!
BADASS!

Merriment achieved, it was time to head to the airport. Karlsruhe-Baden Baden is probably the only airport I’ve been to where there were no queues and you could practically sit on the runway while enjoying a last glass of wine.

Note the extraordinarily relaxed man in the hammock
Note the extraordinarily relaxed man in the hammock

Thankfully, this time round, our flight existed and we were soon airborne, waving goodbye to all of the prettiness below and wondering how we were ever going to readjust to being back in Berlin…

A bientôt!
A bientôt!

We coped.