Paul Stewart, "Tea-Break" vs "Kreislaufstörung"
Many features of our private lives or of the society we live in seem perfectly normal to us - we take them for granted. Seen through the eyes of a foreigner, these things often appear in quite a different light.
I came to Germany. To a city known best for its university, duelling scars and Student Prince: Heidelberg. Nestling in its valley between hills clothed in beech trees, on the River Neckar which "looks" clean from a distance, with its spires and warm sandstone churches and castle, it is as delightful as the tourist brochure claims. A couple of walks around the winding cobbled streets and a glass of the fruity wine is enough to fall in love with the city completely. I have been here now for nearly three years. Most people come for two days. There are tens of thousands of tourists here all through the summer; predominantly American and Japanese. "Where's the schlob?" (Wo ist das Schloss?) the Americans ask breathlessly - misreading the German double-s for a B - in their efforts to "do" everything in a strenuous afternoon. The Japanese on the contrary seem to know automatically where everything is and shuffle silently (except for the gentle clatter of the casters strapped onto their mammoth cases) through the town in large groups, ticking off their list this old building and that famous church, culminating their visit with a walk along the noisy banks of the Neckar - fortunately the sound of the traffic does not come out in the photographs.
Germany is, of course. the source of envy and wonder for a certain section of the British
populace who see in her economic success a model which, if we could only follow would lead us out of our present misery, and indeed judging it once again as an outsider - this time also
through the eyes of a foreigner - Germany is a very successful and wealthy country. I was welcomed here as an Englishman partly because of their friendliness to foreigners. (The Turks get a somewhat rawer deal. In cities with large Turkish communities such as Berlin and Frankfurt, overt racialism has been much in evidence particularly over the last twelve months.) For obvious historical reasons the German is conscious of his attitude towards foreigners, and for many years after the war Germany was the only country with open borders for people seeking political asylum. (There has been in the last years some tightening of these laws.) It is not however a friendliness born of guilt alone: the Germans are very aware of being European and although figures show that in the last decade the support for a united Europe has diminished, this is due more to the nationalistic intransigence of their neighbours than a change in their own dreams. ...
Industry in Germany is efficient because they have new machines and a well paid shift system. The German worker does not work harder than his British counterpart. From my experience of work in England, Greece and Germany, it is here that I have found the easiest and best paid jobs. Only here have my work-mates constantly told me to "take it easy,"take your time" - although when I pointed this out to them they always commented that in England no-one needs to be told because "you are always taking the tea-breaks, ha ha." The stereotypes persist. Further, holidays are increasing here at a rapid rate. In 1975 no workers had six weeks holiday, last year, a quarter of the work-force had achieved the desired thirty days off - and this being quite independent of time spent ill. The German doctor seems increasingly willing to pander to the hypochondria of his patients and the average worker takes a further fortnight's sick leave per year. Partly, the over-prescribing of antibiotics is at fault and one doctor I spoke to said that colds, flu and so forth tend to persist far longer now because German bugs have become so resistant. The Germans also have mystery illnesses - everyone I've ever met here has at some time complained of Kreislaufstörung, or has been taken to bed at the doctor's orders because of the problem. It sounds dreadful, but the nearest translation is "disturbance of the blood circulation," an unknown ailment in the British Isles, but because the word exists here it is something which assails Germans by the thousands each year. For those who can avoid the virulence of the super-viruses and problems associated with a disturbed circulation there remains yet a worse fiend: the Föhn. This is a warm southerly wind which blows over Germany on occasions, causing pile-ups on the motorways, an upswing in the crime-rate, migranes and murders, strikes (yes, even here) and suicides: general irrationalities in fact - enemy of the Germans and therefore treated with fear and loathing. Once whilst working part-time in a bank the Föhn came to my rescue: having been working on a chart of figures for several hours I discovered a huge error right at the beginning, meaning I'd have to start afresh. A sudden fit of rage and a second later correcting fluid had turned the carpet into a snow scene. The Germans nodded and tutted sympathetically - it was the Föhn at fault, you see. ...
It is always dangerous and often quite useless to attempt to talk of national traits, and yet
comparisons are inevitable. A small yet essential difference exists between the Germans and the British: for me this is exemplified by their different reactions to snow. In England, if you clean the pavement of snow badly and someone twists their ankle in front of your house you are liable for damages - if you leave the snow untouched the law cannot touch you. In Germany you can be prosecuted for negligence however much or little snow was involved in the case of an accident. The net result being that in England the snow remains whereas here, the least flurry leads to anxious men and women rushing back and forth clearing the snow as it lands. The winter air is full of an almost constant sound of scraping spades and shovels. It is this hundred percent dedication to the prevention of possible ills which separates Germany from Britain. The problems might be similar but the approach to them is different.
duelling scar ['---]: Schmiss (Narbe eines Säbelhiebs
Student Prince: German operetta,"Der Bettelstudent'"(1882), by Karl Millöcker, performed in Heidelberg in English every summer for tourists
caster: small wheel
intransigence: unwillingness to change one's mind
pander to the hypochondria of sb.: jn. in seiner Einbildung, (schwer) krank zu sein, unterstützen
bug: bacterium, germ, virus
fiend : evil spirit
tut:mit der Zunge schnalzen
be liable for sth.. be legally responsible for sth.
Talking about the text
1. For Paul Stewart, Heidelberg is representative of two faces of Germany: the romantic, picture-postcard Germany and the Germany of the "economic miracle". What aspects of the two does he point out in this excerpt?
2. According to the writer, how do Germans react to different kinds of foreigners? What reasons does he give for the Germans' attitudes towards foreigners in general?
3. What is the significance of
a) the "mystery illnesses" , and
b) the "reactions to snow" in this text?
4. Point out some of the stylistic devices used by the writer and explain their effect.
5. The title of the text reflects the clash between two heterostereotypes. Briefly explain the two.
6. How would you describe Stewart's attitude towards the Germans? Do you think a text like this one helps to reduce existing stereotypes or to reinforce them? Give reasons for your answer.
7. Have you ever spent time abroad? If so, did your visit to a foreign country change your attitudes towards that country, or did it confirm what you thought about that country before your visit? Write an expository* text of about 250-300 words.