In a lot of ways Germans are just like Americans. The people are generally quite friendly, polite, and respectful. There are a few differences, however:

Germans are more obedient than Americans. The best example I can think of is the way the citizens of our two countries respond to the “WALK – DON’T WALK” lights at intersections. Instead of words, they use symbols here – a green man walking or a red man standing. These lights are found even at many lightly-trafficked intersections and on quiet side streets in Munich. When Germans come to such an intersection, they wait for the Green Man Walking – no matter what. Often there is not a single car within sight and a bevy of pedestrians will calmly stand waiting for the Green Man Walking. I have never seen a German jaywalk (cross a street where there is no crosswalk.) I wouldn’t be surprised if jaywalking is a felony here.

In the first place, American cities only put pedestrian lights at busy intersections and even when they do, many pedestrians will cross on a “DON’T WALK” if no traffic is present.

Possibly because of her nearly pure German ancestry, Mary insists on waiting for the Green Man Walking too. She initially thought there must be a steep fine for disobeying the Green Man but I think the real reason is that at heart she is just another obedient German who happens to speak English and has American citizenship. This German-like behavior of hers has resulted in a lot of impatient grumbling from me when we walk together. I insist that I am perfectly capable of judging when it is safe to cross a street. I don’t need a Green Man to tell me what to do.

So yesterday, when I got home from school, Mary had a little story to tell me: She had been returning from the grocery store and got a little impatient waiting for the Green Man. She looked both ways, saw no on-coming traffic, and decided to go for it – German ancestry or no. No sooner was she out in the street than an old man who had been waiting patiently beside her started yelling after her. He was obviously irate. He was chewing her out in German so Mary had no idea what he was saying but it was pretty obvious he was angry that she had disobeyed the Green Man. There were no other people present. Mary thought it ironic that on the rare occasion that she disobeyed the Green Man she got nailed while disobedient Lief always gets away with his criminal behavior!

A corollary to this obedient behavior is the public transportation system in Munich. It’s on the honor system. You can hop on any subway, tram, or city bus and no one checks for a ticket. The system isn’t free; tickets can be purchased just about anywhere, but no one checks to see if you have. (I have heard there is a 40-Euro fine if you are caught cheating but in the month we have been here I have never seen anyone question a single passenger.) I have no idea what percentage of my fellow passengers are freeloading but a significant percentage must be paying or the system would go broke.

I don’t think such a system would work in America.

P1030023.JPGMary Hatmaker

If you’ve been wondering what Mary has been doing all day while I’m in school, I now have Mary’s permission to let the cat out of the bag. Mary (whose maiden name is Hatmaker) has been knitting hats. Our children and grandchildren will all be receiving knitted winter hats or ear warmers upon our return.