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Out of Line in Germany
Boarding buses in Germany is like playing rugby. Waiting in line in a German supermarket can be a nerve-racking ordeal. Everyone is in an awful hurry here, but nobody seems to know where they are going.
You already knew that Germans are famous for being a very orderly and organized people. Germans are disciplined. Germans are organized and methodical. And they are very well-behaved, of course. But did you also know that they are disorganized, anarchic, chaotic and bad-mannered at the same time? Well, they are when it comes to standing in line.
Britons queue up, you see. And Americans wait in line. But the Germans do something else. There isn't really an accurate word for it, but the rugby world has a term that comes pretty close, I find: Scrum.* Scrums are vehement and violent contests of brute strength. And this is precisely how Germans board a bus, for instance. Only without the ball or any of the teamwork, of course.
There is no queuing system in place in Germany, in other words. You don't stand in a line here. You stand in a mob. And I often get the eerie feeling that it is always the same mob I am standing in. Whether waiting in the bank, the post office or at the movie theater, the behavior is always the same. And it is always bad. And the "Grundlage" or basis of this bad behavior is anxious and edgy impatience.
German mobs are always in a hurry to get away, you see. To get away from wherever or whoever it is they are currently mobbing, I mean. None of these mob members would ever be able to tell you just where it is they must get away to, but get away they must, and pronto. It is a German predisposition. It is German instinct, even. Some say that Germans rush spontaneously ahead in lines to escape all the other Germans who are caught there in unproductive and hopeless inactivity so they can move on to what will be the next line to be caught up in unproductive and hopeless inactivity there. In my view, Germans are just always trying to go nowhere fast. Wherever that nowhere might be, I am confident that science will someday solve this mystery. They found out where the salmon go, didn't they?
So what is it about standing in line that makes Germans so nervous? I think I know. As stated above, when it comes to formal matters of organization in the broader sense, Germans are world class leaders. When, however, it has to do with spontaneous organization on a smaller social scale and at an individual level, they are absolutely clueless and often behave very similar to cattle.
One of my personal favorites is waiting in line at the supermarket. If you have ever wanted to see an indignant German mob in a hurry to go nowhere fast, please go wait in line at a German supermarket. They don't actually cut in or resort to physical violence here like they will a little later outside at the bus stop, but the stress level is so palpable you could cut it with a knife. And it keeps rising the closer those waiting in line get to the cash register.
And once the cash register is reached, the stress level goes off the scale. This is because everything has to go perfectly to plan now or the one whose turn it is will become a social outcast. Germans don't know what a grocery bag boy or girl is. Baggers are nonexistent in this country so you have to bag everything yourself, as quickly as inhumanely possible. This costs precious time, you see, and the Germans behind you are still waiting, some foaming at the mouth, and watching your every move. One false grip and all is lost. The cash register ordeal will only last longer than it already has (I guarantee you that it has been much too long already) so it is absolutely imperative that every move be executed perfectly. At one point you will have to pay, too, so you will be packing and paying at the same time, preferably with the exact cash amount, before tossing your bags back into your shopping cart and rushing off through the store's exit hyperventilating as you go.
This is anarchy, of course. And this is because Germans are anarchists at heart (but more about that later).
And that is why this anti-social behavior is not anti-social behavior in this context.
It all may have a certain logic to it. It just doesn't make any sense.
*A scrum is a rugby play in which, typically, three members of each team line up opposite one another with a group of two and a group of three players behind them, making an eight-person, three-two-three formation on each side; the ball is then rolled between the opposing front lines, the players of which stand with arms around a teammate's waist, meeting the opponent shoulder to shoulder, and attempt to kick the ball backward to a teammate.