I have to say, after a year in South Africa where “just now” could be anytime between this afternoon and next month, I sometimes long for German-style efficiency. A place where rumor has it they announce 2-minute power outages on the radio ahead of time. For weeks before the event.
This just goes to show that reputations don’t always reflect the truth. For instance, you would totally expect your bags to get lost in an African airport, right? But every single time we’ve arrived at O.R. Tambo International (or when visitors have arrived) the luggage was there promptly.
Where it didn’t arrive promptly, however, was in Hannover, Germany, on our recent trip. It took about 45 minutes for four of our five suitcases to trundle in at baggage claim in Hannover, but number five was nowhere to be seen. It took another 30 minutes to report this and then it took two days to have it delivered. Then, in Frankfurt, the luggage did arrive very promptly, but that wasn’t any help, because then there was no rental car. At least not one that fit five people and five suitcases, including a big crate. Even though we had requested just such a car. We were told to “wait for 15 minutes” but this turned out into 45 minutes. I was briefly wondering if we hadn’t accidentally returned to South Africa.
Efficiency: South Africa 1 – Germany 0
On other fronts, things were more as expected. Something else I had been looking forward to was summer weather. We had been freezing our behinds off during winter in Johannesburg for more than a month, so July in the Northern hemisphere sounded divine. Except I should have known better. We were in Hannover for 2 days before the sun even made an appearance. 14 degrees without sun and a wet drizzle instead sounds awfully close to the definition of winter, doesn’t it? By my calculations, we missed at least 20 hours of sunshine in those two days. The boys claimed that they loved this German weather, nice and cool and more humid than Joburg, but I am writing this blog and get to give out the grades, so:
Weather: South Africa 1 – Germany 0
The one thing you would NOT necessarily come to Germany for is humor, but again my prejudices were upended. I switched on the TV in our hotel room and was surprised to find Comedy Central. That is probably the single biggest thing I miss in South Africa. I’ve tried watching Jon Stewart online, but the internet is too slow. The comedy at places like Parker’s Comedy Club at Montecasino is great, but Multichoice’s TV programming is not. So I inhaled about 2 hours worth of sit-coms, until I got tired of listening to what was undoubtedly American slang translated into High German (I was constantly translating in my mind what each line might have been in English, because it just sounded too weird in German). Still, I have to say,
TV Programming: Germany 1 – South Africa 0
How did this get to be an international contest? I really didn’t have that in mind when I started this post, but now I might as well keep going. Let’s talk about the people. If there is one thing that Germans love to do, it is criticizing others. Especially if you didn’t ask their opinion. We were standing on the side of a street, waiting to cross. There was a traffic light – robot – with a button for pedestrians to press. Which we did, except the entire light wasn’t functioning, neither for the cars nor for the pedestrians. When I saw that nothing was happening with the button pressed, I took the smaller kids by my hands and we all made a dash for it after the last car had passed. In a nasty tone, the elderly gentleman waiting at the light with us called behind me: “Crossing the road without waiting for green in front of kids, what mother would do that?” We didn’t wait to see what happened to him, but I’m sure he is standing there still, waiting for the light to turn green. He should read up on Dr. Seuss and the Zax story.
It doesn’t take long for me to feel nervous and defensive when I’m in Germany. You always wonder what you might be doing wrong and are waiting to be reprimanded. That must be the effect of my German upbringing, but the kids are much more carefree. Jabulani, as is his nature, was happily walking through town greeting everyone with a friendly “Guten Tag,” only to attract the most malevolent stares. You just don’t greet people you don’t know. It is very suspicious. Whereas in South Africa, it would be rather rude NOT to greet people you pass. It made for a very entertaining game to keep doing it anyway.
At the Lufthansa check-in counter in Hannover, I was chastised that I hadn’t removed the old tag off of one suitcase. Which is actually unusual, as I love nothing more than tearing those away as soon as I arrive. But this was the suitcase that hadn’t, actually, arrived together with us, remember? I refrained from pointing this out and reprimanding the lady for reprimanding me, however. In defense of Lufthansa, I have to say that their overall service was excellent and the flight attendants very friendly and great with the kids. Oh oh oh, and then in Stuttgart checking in on our way home, the attendant asked me if all those kids were mine, and then looked me up and down and complimented me on my slim figure. But despite all flattery, overall,
Friendliness: South Africa 1 – Germany 0
I think the above might also be the result of an aging German population. When you come from South Africa, which is such a vibrant and youthful country, it is very noticeable how many old people there are in Germany.
Germany definitely beats out South Africa in terms of grocery shopping. In fact, I think Germany beats out the entire world in terms of competitive prices. The stores were open at 7:00 am and in some places didn’t close until nearly midnight (this wasn’t the case when I grew up there and restrictive laws made it an absolute circus when everybody filed into town during the few hours the stores were allowed to be open). We had an absolute blast at the Milka outlet store where you could buy a four-pack of 300g chocolate bars for €5.99 (just to compare, my favorite Lindt chocolate bars of 100g each cost ZAR50 at Woolworth’s, which makes it over ten times more expensive than those Milka’s). Needless to say, we almost filled an entire extra suitcase with these bars, including – you guessed it – Noisette for Noisette.
Food shopping: Germany 1 – South Africa 0
One last thing I have to say: Nothing beats driving on the Autobahn (when traffic permits) at 220 km/h, which is only possible because those roads are impeccable. So,
Roads: Germany 1 – South Africa 0
Finally, the two countries are not so different after all, as I found out when browsing and comparing some pictures I took: