Before coming to Germany, I was aware of all the stereotypes. Cold, aloof, unfriendly and efficient people who never fail to obey the law and like their beer and sausages…a lot. Also… nudity. Not being an overly friendly person myself (I suffer from a particularly nasty case of RBF-Resting Bitch Face, which I am told is incurable), I didn’t mind the idea of living in a nation of austere individuals. At least I’d blend in, right?
I’ve always thought it strange that we judge entire cultures or countries based on the few individuals we briefly interact with whilst visiting on holiday or business trips. I mean, what if one was unfortunate enough to bump into Jeffrey Dahmer on a trip to the US, or worse, Donald Trump? Anyway, I digress…
A few days ago I was standing shivering at a bus stop desperately trying to figure out if the buses and trams from this particular stop were going in the direction of my office. I couldn’t work it out, so eventually I awkwardly asked the lady standing next to me for assistance. She spoke no English and instead used her finger to draw the number of the bus I would need to take once I got to the main station. I thanked her profusely and then went back to the board to figure out how to get to the main station. I didn’t notice the tram pulling up behind me, and as I turned around I saw her face in the window. She was gesturing wildly that I needed to get on as the tram pulled away. Cursing myself and my ridiculously poor navigational skills (seriously though, they should teach this stuff in schools), I sat back down and waited for the next bus or tram. I figured I could ask the driver if the main station was on their route. About 10 minutes later, I looked up to see the same lady running towards me down the pavement. She had gotten off the tram to come back and help me get on the right one. I was floored, and humbled.
Germany is…The intense, warm and overwhelming kindness of strangers.
The truth is, as much as I don’t like new people…Okay fine, most people… We all need other people on a daily basis. The small and simple social contracts which make us reach out to strangers to help them on their way is what makes humanity progress. Well, unless you’re Jeffrey Dahmer or Donald Trump.
Those working on a cure for cancer do not necessarily suffer from the disease. Those working to save the planet are not necessarily saving it for themselves, as climate change and dwindling resources will likely affect future generations to a greater extent. Whether we think about it or not, we are all constantly doing things to improve the lives of others.
And it took a single woman on a cold morning in Germany, challenging every stereotype for me to see that.