Germans are a strange people. This may not be news to you, but it needs to be said. And it is news to Germans, because we Germans tend to think of ourselves as the most rational and easy to understand people in the world. We also like to think of Germans as being direct and honest, that we always say out loud what we think. And it is true, that we will tell a business-partner (or a friend), that what he or she just said is a bad idea, because …. Or we might say: “I don´t think this will work, but maybe we can make it different.” it is not meant to offend or insult, as many (maybe most) cultures would understand, it is meant to help. Just cut the bullshit and say what you mean – that´s german, right? (German is also the language which sounds as if people are having an argument or are about to start a figh, but that´s just the way we talk and not the point here). To sum it up: there is this image of Germans to be (painfully) honest, (stupidly) direct and (boringly) rational. And we are, in a way. But if you think this is everything, I would recommend you never drive a car in Germany.
People are different, when they drive a car. Driving with my wife in Brazil is the best way to learn portuguese swearwords and insults, even though she is pretty much friendly and relaxed outside the car. She is nevertheless a Brazilian, so it can be expected of her to blow off steam here and there. Maybe it tells a lot about a people, how they behave in traffic: there are many videos of road rage from the US, Australia or Russia on the internet. That also fits a clichee. But what about traffic and drivers in Germany? Of course, there is the Autobahn, but this thing only works when everybody drives somehow safe. And compared to many southern countries we tend to drive according to the rules indeed: stopping at red lights and only using the horn in emergency situations. But here comes a very peculiar thing.
If you drive a car in Germany, there is a good chance you might encounter something like it happened to me this morning. I was driving on my motorcycle to work on a nice, sunny and warm summer morning. Not far from home I have to take a left from one street into another. It´s a T shaped intersection, where I turn left and since there was nobody except me and a car in the street I wanted to turn into – the right of way was obviously mine. (We have the rule that “right goes before left” as long as there are no signs indicating otherwise.) Being on a motorcycle I drive defensively nevertheless, so I looked at the driver of the car to make sure, that he had seen me. Then I turned left. But this driver did not stop to let me pass. The car was rolling into the intersection slowly, and I had to make an extra swerve to avoid collision. At my swerving the driver realized, that he obviously underestimated the space I needed to make this turn, and he stepped on the brakes and stopped the car immediatly. I looked at him again and the most natural thing (and maybe what I expected) would´ve been to see him smiling and waving his hands in a kind of “sorry” way, and everything would´ve been fine. But he did not. In fact, the driver sat in his stopped car, not moving, trying very much not to look at me at all, but rather sat absolutey still, staring straight ahead. Only when I cleared the way, life went into him again, he checked left and right and continued his way, just like I did.
I have seen this peculiar behaviour many, many times on german streets and I call it the german guilt-absentism. For example: a car is blocking an intersection, because the cars in front of it didn´t move far enough for him to clear the intersection. Other cars approaching and honking, but the driver in the blocking car does nothing but stares straight in the very childish attempt to ignore what is happening around him. Imagine this scene in, lets say, Brazil: either there would be nothing happening, because this is the way they drive. Or people would be shouting at each other, waving their hands: “hey move your car!”, “and where exactly shoud I move it to, you moron?”. Things like that. But in Germany you can experience the power of denial behind the steering wheel: if I don´t look at it, all of this is not happening. It´s this childish way of trying to ignore an unpleasent situation by doing as if nothing happend, even though everybody around knows exactly, what happened.
I find this reaction most peculiar an interesting, and it says a lot about Germans. Our government is openly and with false arguments trying hard to destroy the relationship with the countries in the European Union, the basis of Germany´s growth and wealth in the last decades. Our chancelor (Teflon-Angie) is either blatenly lying or openly populistic in her choices. Every person capable of thinking can understand this. But Teflon-Angie still has high approval-ratings, because most people are too afraid to look at the mess, that she (and therefore we as the voters) are producing. Maybe it will all go away if we ignore it?
And it is far but not a very far stretched to think about how the holocaust could happen in a country like Germany. Of course there was a kind of brainwashing by very strong social movements and so on. But when after the war people were asked, many responded: “We did not know! We did not know, what terrible things were done to Jews.” Even back then everybody knew, that ignorance is a choice, that every person could´ve known, if they cared enough to find out. Today this is more true than ever: everybody who wants to know, can know. Ignorance is a choice. And this is one more (sad) truth about Germans: never underestimate their power of denial – not only historically, but also on an everyday basis.