Monday, January 28, 2013

Are you looking at me punk?!

Welcome to Germany. Welcome to the world of the continual staring contest. Maybe it's an exaggeration, but for me, it always seems that someone, somewhere in Munich is staring at me. Soon I am going to develop an image complex. Am I going out with chocolate on my face? Lipstick on my teeth? My knickers twisted? I sure hope not, but that's definitely how the Germans make you feel with their continual onslaught of intrigue that is painted so heavily on their otherwise innocent faces (always encased with long, flowing blonde locks).

In England it's definitely a heads down affair on the underground and pretty much anywhere else. Maybe for fear that if you do actually look at someone even in an innocent, indeliberate way, they will start on you. I like to think though, that other than the fear of being pounced upon, the English don't openly stare at people in the street and on the tube because…well…they have manners. The Germans don't have such things engrained into their being like the English do. I think for the English it's a birthright - you inherit manners, a tea-drinking and biscuit dunking obsession, a continual lust for bacon and an anti-jeans wearing policy before you have even fully formed in the womb. The English would NEVER stare the way the German's do. If someone did stare at us like that, we would meet them with an aggressive: "What you lookin' at mate?" or "Problem missy?". Here, in the realms of the Fatherland, it's an accepted part of culture.

So why, are the German's staring so much? Is it me? Am I THAT interesting / weird to them? For a long while I thought it was, but the truth is, the Germans are just nosey. The way politeness is a part of who the English are, nosiness is a part of the German make-up. It doesn't necessarily have to be a negative, malicious thing but they definitely do want to know or find out what is going on when they don't have all the facts. Maybe that's it, the German lust for information and facts to expand their knowledge and increase efficiency? Quite possibly. Sometime though it's just PLAIN nosiness. This spans the generations too and isn't discouraged by elders. Like, for example, when I was carrying a TV on the U Bahn…EVERYONE was staring at me. Including a father and his son who had a full blown conversation about my TV whilst standing next to me: " What make is it?", "I'm not sure son, I can't see past the girl carrying it", "Oh it's Samsung", "Sony is better". In ten minutes I had heard all of their opinions on my brand new TV, all the while with both of them staring right at me and my purchase. No shame! In England we are the experts, at least, of talking in hushed voices when we are talking about someone nearby to us. Sneaky? Maybe. A little more polite than loudly discussing every detail of the staring object? Most definitely.

Staring session number two: I was eating a pretzel and drinking a can of coke on the U Bahn. The amount of disapproving stares I got was off the scale. Ok, I admit, not the healthiest of choices, but I was hungry and feeling under the weather and needed sugar fast. Ok, I also admit that the bag the pretzel was in was waaaaaay too big for the pretzel in an almost comical way, but that's not my fault. I NEVER stare at the morning meatloaf sandwich munchers stinking out the whole S Bahn do I? No. Of course not.

Staring session number three: the changing rooms at the gym. Now, this, is the weirdest of them all. They are all women too, so what's the deal? I'm sure this is a competitive ego thing for sure. Seeing who has the least cellulite and the best undies. I've already told you that the German's love to strut their stuff in the changing rooms, so the staring that accompanies this should now come as no surprise to you.

Staring session number four: staring at police station posters. This is the height of nosiness. Never before have I seen someone so intrigued as to who the latest bad guy on the run is that they actually ascend the police station steps to take a look and peer avidly at the mugshot poster. It can only be one of three things: extreme nosiness, a fear of the world, or…they are on the run themselves and are hoping the police haven't wised up to their illegal wanderings. Hopefully not the latter – they were fairly close to my home…*gulp*.

Staring number five: the intimidation stare. Now, this is something new. I only experienced it today for the first time at the gym. Two women aged 60 or so, came into the running machine part of the gym to see that every one of them was taken. Now, if this were me (which it has been so many times), I slink away and go on the spin bikes and then come back later to see if there is any space. These German women? Oh no. Oh no, oh no. Wait? Them? Of course not. They then proceeded to embark on a 30-minute (no exaggeration) intimidating stare-a-thon at me and the other guy running away happily before their invasion. I've never experienced anything like it. They even walked up and down between our running machines staring at our times and distances on the screen. Unbelievable! It was like a silent staring interrogation room (I won't liken them to the 'unmentionable' In Germany that they perhaps could have been in a former life) - totally uncomfortable - but I was determined not to give in.

Unfortunately, this staring side of German life is not something that it is possible for me to change, so survival techniques are necessary. Only after making mistakes which induce extreme-staring sessions is it possible to learn what to avoid. Here is what I have learnt so far:

Do not go to ANY kind of fancy dress party and travel to said party on the U Bahn. White bunny ears and devil costumes will only cause staring trouble, no matter how fabulous and funny you feel in said outfits – the Germans will just look at you like you are: a) a hooker b) just let out of the loony bin or c) an English stereotype that gets drunk and dresses up.

Do not draw attention to yourself. Bright pink lipstick is not a sexy, style statement in this city – it's a staring magnet.

And finally, whatever you do…don't make eye contact with anyone, under ANY circumstances, whilst in the sauna area.

The stories behind the above learnings will have to be saved for another time. Meanwhile, enjoy the stare-free freedom of your home countries.