Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Tale of Two Wohnungen

In a May 2006 survey, German citizens were asked to name specific qualities they associate with Germany and the German people. Here's a list of the most frequently mentioned qualities with my translation:

fleißig = industrious
pflichtbewusst = dutiful
gut organisiert = well organized
pedantisch = pedantic
genau = exact
akribisch = meticulous
akkurat = precise
pünktlich = punctual
ordnungsliebend = tidy
sauber = clean

I'm not particularly meticulous and my sloppiness causes me some anxiety living here. When we first moved in to our Wohnung, I immediately saw a notice posted by the mailboxes giving information about the waste receptacles. Building residents share one for package materials, one for recyclable paper and one for garbage. Each must be brought out to the street on a specific schedule. Bottles need to be taken separately to a recycling center. I wanted to be well organized and dutiful. I was afraid I might make a mistake with my trash responsibilities. And each time I read through the notice, I was confused. The dates seemed wrong and the notice mentioned bringing out the Verpackung on Thursday, but I saw the containers on the street on Tuesday. Finally I asked our downstairs neighbor, I'll call her Helga, for an explanation. "What notice?" she asked? When I showed it to her, she said, "Oh, no one pays any attention to that. It's two years old. The people on the second floor usually bring out the trash. I'm not sure of the right days."

So, it's clearly not a super precise building and Helga doesn't have an overabundance of the above mentioned characteristics. Phew! What a relief. Since then I've had the honor of meeting a man (we'll call him Fritz) who lives in a building whose residents could easily be described as tidy, and now I know the difference. The basement laundryroom in his building is SPOTLESS. The entryway is immaculate and woe betide the resident who mounts the stairs without wiping his/her feet. Fritz neglected his Treppendienst (cleaning of the common stairway) during the first week after he moved in and immediately was blessed with a visit from a neighbor who informed him of his negligence. I wouldn't last a week in his building.

So which of these two buildings is "typisch deutsch?" The answer is: my building is typical. The ordentlich building is not exactly rare, but it's not particularly common either and it's getting rarer. This is my opinion. Not everyone agrees with me. And I think I'd have to agree, if I'm right, it appears paradoxical to say the least. But here's the catch. The characteristics listed above aren't really typical at all: they're stereotypical. Anyone who has ever looked for a cherry yogurt in a German supermarket knows I'm right. The dairy case is about as precise, about as well organized, about as meticulous as the Augean Stables.

But the characteristics listed above aren't wrong. I don't feel they describe the average German, but they're an excellent description of the archetypical German, who is as familiar to the average German as archetypes such as the Child, the Hero, the Great Mother, the Trickster are to the rest of us. To Jung's list, we could add another archetype: The Spießer! And what is a Spießer? That's a topic for another posting. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

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