Observing decorum and playfulness in Germany
After my Philadelphia friend made an evening presentation to the campus community in her first week on the job of teaching summer school at Greifswald University in Greifswald, Germany, several students in the audience lined up to ask my friend if they could sit in on her Literature of War and Memory class.
In part, the Greifswald students were drawn to how animated and casual my friend presents herself in and outside of the classroom. The German professors, the students explained, are more formal and firmly believe in holding themselves with decorum. Perhaps that’s even truer here in the eastern part of Germany.
Respect for their teachers
The students, meanwhile, also present that decorum by respecting their professors.
My professor friend is quick to note that her students at Widener University—which is a sister university to Greifswald—also are respectful. But the German students at Greifswald University, she said, are even more respectful. The men are particularly so. Until a few years ago, German men were required to serve a brief stint in the military. As a result, many of the male students at Greifswald are mature and disciplined beyond their years.
Young Germans are particularly helpful to tourists
Middle-aged Germans I’ve encountered this trip and during my visit here four years ago are slow to warm up to at least this American stranger. The college-age Germans, on the other hand, readily acknowledge they speak English and eagerly try to help clueless Americans needing directions or help with one thing or another. My friend and I would have missed several trains, never found our Hamburg hotel and ordered restaurant meals not to our liking had it not been for some outwardly friendly people in their 20s.
Young or old, Germans, I’m told, like preciseness. Trains run on time—except when they’re not running at all. Immediately after my arrival in Greifswald, a weeklong strike halted the Deutsche Bahn trains, which are the long-distance trains akin to our Amtrak trains, and limited my own travel options within Germany.
While Germans are known for liking precision, order and decorum, they do know how to let their hair down in ways that might surprise Americans. Half of young German men, a Stralsund groom-to-be told me, follow a playful ritual as they approach their wedding day. Accompanied by friends wearing matching T-shirts saying something negative about marriage, like The End Is Near, the groom-to-be wears some silly costume like a bunny or dresses like a woman. They take to the streets, pulling a wagon of alcohol as the groom-to-be sells trinkets to passersby to supplement the wedding fund. I gladly paid a Euro to hear about the custom and have my picture taken with the groom-to-be and one of his friends.
Another custom I’ve heard about but won’t witness first-hand until the day I’m traveling alone on the DB train to the Hamburg Airport for my trip home is the May 15 national holiday of Ascension Day, which is also known as Father’s Day and Men’s Day. Unlike Mother’s Day, when moms spend the day with their children, on this holiday for men, men spend the day with other men, and alcohol is often involved. Essentially it is Drunken Men’s Day. Greifswald University students laughed at me when I called it as such, but the holiday—so I’ve heard —is an opportunity for groups of men to roam the streets with an alcohol cart in tow and flirt obnoxiously and behave badly. Not that I’m judging the holiday.