Posted by: Lawrence D. Elliott | December 7, 2012

When in Germany…

"Knigge" were  the rules of manners in Germany

Is “Knigge” dead?
“Knigge” were the rules of manners in Germany. Many women believe it died when they became more liberated in the mid-1970′s. Either way, it’s seems DOA.

Back home in America, I’ve always seemed to be the outcast. In many groups, I’ve been the only black guy. I make some people uncomfortable because I don’t know how to “stay in my place”.

In my own predominantly black neighborhood, I was an outcast there, too. I was often seen as “too white”. And when folks heard I was taking German in high school, the comments came!

“Brothas’ ain’t supposed to speak German!”

“Man, you really trying to go white, ain’t you?”

“German?! Negro please!”

When I’d tell people I’m a writer, they just couldn’t grasp that concept, no matter what their color. One person even told a group of people, whom we’d just met, “This is Lawrence. He thinks he’s a writer.”

Yeah, after being published in 8 books, I’ve fooled a few publishers into believing my BS, too,

There’s this wonderful story I heard many years ago. Perhaps you’ve heard it, too. There are a number of versions floating around the Internet, but this is the one I know:

The Parable of the Poisoned Well

There once was a wise king who ruled over a vast kingdom. He was feared for his might and loved for his wisdom. In the heart of the kingdom, there was a well whose waters were pure and pristine from which the king and all the inhabitants drank. When all were asleep, an enemy entered the kingdom and poured seven drops of a strange liquid into the well. And he said that henceforth all who drink this water shall become mad.

All the people drank of the water, but not the king. And the people began to say, “The king is mad and has lost his reason. Look how strangely he behaves. We cannot be ruled by a madman, so he must be dethroned.”

The king grew very fearful, for his subjects were preparing to rise against him. So one evening, he ordered a golden goblet to be filled from the well, and he drank deeply. The next day, there was great rejoicing among the people, for their beloved king had finally regained his sanity.

This story is a greatly illustrates the dangers of nonconformity and it sums up my life perfectly. People love you when you fit into the box they’ve built for you. But the moment you don’t, they look down their noses at you. To them, you’re some sort of freak to be shamed and ostracized.

Here in Germany, it’s no different. After all, they’re people, too. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of the German people have been in nice to me. However, to many folks, I’m an African with average language skills and strange habits. (For some reason, African is the first thing that pops into their head. American never doesn’t.)

I get absolutely wonderful looks when I pull out a chair for a woman or open a door and allow the woman to enter before me. And when I put on her coat…wow! It’s like I was standing in the room naked. They think I’m strange or I’m some sort of B.E.N.

It’s just not done here very often, at least not the areas I’ve been. One evening, I sat in a restaurant and counted. Out of thirty accompanied women, only two men helped a woman on with her coat. One of them was me.

One guy put his coat on, went to the door, and waited impatiently as his partner struggled to put her coat on. He even looked at his watch, as his demeanor betrayed his thoughts:

“Will you hurry? I don’t have all night!”

But the saddest thing about it is the women have grown so accustomed to it. To them, it’s normal. I’ve pulled out the chair for a woman, only to have her sit in one next it. Afterward, she looked up at me as if to say, “What are you waiting for. Sit down so we can eat.”

One winter day, a woman was taking out a bag of trash and it broke open. The contents were all over the sidewalk. She bent down to pick everything up as not a single passerby stopped to help. And most were men. When I came over to help her, she wore a shocked expression. She couldn’t believe it. She thanked me.

Okay, not every American guy is like me. I know this. American women can attest to this. But it seems like the lack of gentleman skills here have been kicked into overdrive. I once watched a woman walk out of a grocery store in the pouring rain carrying her items in her arms as her husband sat comfy and dry in the car. In Germany, if you don’t bring your own grocery bags, you generally carry your purchases to your car in your arms. But her dear, sweet husband…he let his poor wife do a balancing act on her way to the car. But no worries. The love of her life did push the door open from inside. Unfortunately, he was such a wimp, it took him three tries to get it open wide enough for her get in.

And there was the time when a German guy showed me what he does when he wants his wife to get him another beer. He just snaps his fingers. By the way, this wasn’t an old guy. This dude was under thirty!

And there’s the ingenious practice some men use to notify their wives when their beer supply needs to be replenished. Taped to the wall behind the bottles of their favorite brew is a note:

“If you can read this, you need to buy more beer.”

Warning: Guys, DO NOT try this in the US, especially those of you in my native Southern California. You might find a special note taped to the wall above your bed: “If you can read this, you need to use your hand.”

note-if-you-can-read-this

I once tried to assist a woman who walked down a steep, winding set of stairs holding a tray full of food. All the other men just stood there and watched. I, like an idiot, went over and offered to help. She looked at me and asked, “Why?”

“Why?” I thought. “Because I’m not interested in watching you fall and bust your ass!”

Perhaps my life would be easier if I were like the King and I drank for the poisoned well. Countless times

I’ve been given the shop-worn advice of, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.”

Hmm…when in Germany, do as the Germans?

However, my mom gave me different advice. “You have to be who you are. You couldn’t live with yourself if you didn’t.”

I smiled. Then she added, in a way for which she’s always been known:

“But if you do as those German men do, you leave it there in Germany when you come home.”Nope! I think I’ll drink from my own well. It’s safer. Snapping my fingers at my mom’s house could be dangerous.

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If you liked reading this post, please take a look at my books and singles. My most recent release is a collection (only $1.99!) titled Christmas Stories from my Heart: Four unforgettable holiday tales from my life . In fact, you can find all of my work listed at my Amazon.com author page here, or at my website here.  Thank you so much for reading my blog.

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Responses

  1. What a terrific writer!

  2. Gosh I really recognise this… I’m over 40, female, white, have two small children, and live in Germany. I’m not German, but Irish. I think we’re so ‘emancipated’ here, or think we are so, that we often forget what’s normal – common courtesy to help others who might simply appreciate it. In Ireland, it’s no big deal for a man to open a door for a woman – or vice versa. It’s also not an issue for men to run around assisting women with shopping, kids, jackets etc. It’s not because we know the other person can’t do it themselves, but it’s simply because we’re being considerate and nice! In Germany, the thinking is truly backward. Everyone has two hands and should fend for themselves, even if they need four… and two hands beside them are empty. Luckily … there are a few people like Lawrence (and I hope me/my family) who don’t accept it and want to pursue our own values. It just makes Germany a nicer place to be in.


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