Why Germans Wear Eyeglasses

A German Shepherd wearing doggles. Even the dogs get into the act! Photo: Wikipedia

A German Shepherd wearing doggles. Even the dogs get into the act! Photo: Wikipedia

Here’s a short two-question quiz, the answers are at the end. First, name the last President of the United States who regularly wore eyeglasses while in office. Second, why do you think there have been so few?

Since I arrived in Munich as a permanent inhabitant of this wonderful country, there have been many things that I noticed which reminded me of the chasm between American and German culture. Some of these things have stayed with me while others have become nothing more than mile markers on the road, becoming either irrelevant or normal. One of the things no longer important or even conspicuous for me is that it seems as if about 85% of the Germans old enough to drink (legally) wear eyeglasses.

Can the eyesight of the people be so poor? Are they lacking adequate levels of Vitamins A, C or E? Is the lack of direct sunlight a cause?

The title is a double entendre. Twain never walked a step in the book. Photo: Wikipedia

The title is a double entendre. Twain never walked a step in the book. Photo: Wikipedia

Before I read Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad, I’d lived in Munich for about three years. What is so fascinating about the book for me is its timelessness, things he observed about the Germans in the 1870’s still hold true nearly a century and a half later. One of the funniest stories in a book filled with them is “Legend of ‘The Spectacular Ruin’”. Twain explains as only he can ‘Why Germans Wear Spectacles’.

After I began making acquaintances with locals regularly and had accrued a few score, I set out over the next decade to try and ask as many Germans as I could about this strange (to me, the American) phenomena.

Why do so many Germans wear glasses?

I can see purr-fectly now. Photo: http://blog.m-17.de/brillen-shooting/

I can see purr-fectly now. Photo: http://blog.m-17.de/brillen-shooting/

The answers are by no means unanimous or scientific, but there is a clear majority. The most popular explanation? Germans hate not being able to see everything PERFECTLY. As soon as their eyesight drops from an eagle-eyed 20/10 (6/3 in Europe) to 20/20 (6/6), it’s off to the optometrist and then the opthamologist (for a second, more expert, opinion). It is, afterall, covered by most health insurance policies.

After hearing the good news (I need glasses, finally!), it’s off to get frames for the lenses which cost about a gazillion euros. The shopping for frames for the eyeglasses has been known to take a half year, and usually involves girlfriends, boyfriends, siblings and any other confidants of the celebrant. A temporary pair of glasses are used (of course!) in the interim.

As far as I can remember the last president who wore glasses regularly was Truman. Before him it was the two Roosevelts (check it, I might have missed one). The reason? Again, this is by no means scientific, but I believe many Americans see eyeglasses as either a sign of weakness or age. Youth is king in America, in Germany the people prefer older looking politicians to run the country.

American politicians often refuse to wear spectacles on the stump or in front of a crowd, Rick Perry excepted. And he had to put them on so as to not look like an idiot, so you be the judge.

Rick_Perry_by_Gage_Skidmore_9

Rick Perry looking more cerebral after donning a pair of eyeglasses. Photo: Wikipedia

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Germans and Bavarians LOVE a Little Chaos

Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Bavaria, not a stone out of place. Not one single stone.

Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Bavaria, not a stone out of place. Not one single stone.

The Germans/Bavarians desire for order is legendary, and rightfully so. Few cultures place so much emphasis on punctuality, tidiness and ‘the plan’. Meetings are held to decide when the next meeting will be, begin promptly at 9am and end almost an hour later. They would end exactly an hour later but don’t because the next group has booked the meeting room for 10, and it would be impolite to have them begin at 10 with stale air and warms seats.

But there are a few instances when all of the ideas and rigidity of structure are lost like a scooter in a New Delhi traffic jam. The reasons for this lapse are very vague or possibly reside in a den with a Wolpertinger*. Either way, they seem as inexplicable as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or what specifically makes Germans love inclement weather*. (It’s good for the nature.)

As I’ve written about before, bread is as important for Germans as water is to most fish. They cannot and will not live without it. I have lived in Munich for more than a decade and have tried nearly every make and model. I am as close to being an expert as possible, having been raised on Wonder Bread or some other sponge in America. I can also say with certainty that the worst bread in Munich is better than the best bread in Florida. There is no such thing as bad bread in this city. And there’s plenty for everyone!

The Germans invented the paperclip, or at least were smart enough to patent it. 'Wer schreibt der bleibt'. He (who) writes remains.

The Germans invented the paperclip, or at least were smart enough to patent it. ‘Wer schreibt der bleibt’. He (who) writes remains.

This makes it all the more curious to me as to the reasons why the Germans/Bavarians sometimes cut in line at the bakery (or butcher’s) if the next customer delays saying his order by a nanosecond. The line jumpers will use their peripheral vision, they are experienced and adept at that too I might add, and pounce upon the unsuspecting. The shopkeeper does nothing to chastise such behaviour, and may even encourage. It is a rather boring job. Another observation is the better ‘the line cutter inners’ dress the more likely they are to jump in line.

The real arseholes even park their cars in the traffic lanes. On more occasions than I can remember-and usually on Saturdays, what started out as a slightly annoyed ringing of a bell on a tram by the driver in the background became an all-out blast of ‘fuck you’. I have even seen a few words exchanged and angry fists shaken between drivers of the trams and those who think their gout-racked knees give them ample cover for parking in the street while they run in to grab their baked goods.

Another example of chaos and disorder is the unloading and loading of buses and other modes of mass transportation. It’s every man for himself. And I do mean man. Bavarian and German men will stand just in front of the door and sometimes even push through the throngs if there’s an available seat to be had. Men here won’t and don’t think twice about giving up their seat to a woman. They stay seated. Their beer bellies say they could use the few minutes as an opportunity to burn a calorie or two. But there’s no chance. Perhaps it’s the ideas of ‘Vaterland’ or other men perks in this country where men still rule*. In London, they line up to the side to allow passengers to get off before they get on. Hell, even in Kyiv, Ukraine, they fucking line up. Kyiv, Ukraine!

No fun here!

No fun here!

The third illustration of pandemonium in German/Bavarian society is at the supermarket check-out line. First, one must realize that the whole check-out business in supermarkets is a complete clusterfuck. Why on God’s green earth should a person wait so long to give a company his hard earned money? The wait at the cashier sometimes takes double the time to fill up your shopping cart. And then, when they finally make the call to open a SECOND cashier, the levee breaks. All of the shoppers who were lurking NEAR the check-out line but weren’t actually IN the line make a mad dash to the newly opened cashier. For those who have been waiting the longest no quarter is given. It’s a Chinese fire drill in the heart in Munich.

My German/Bavarian friends are aware of the aforementioned examples I’ve given. Their response is to simply shrug it off. They claim that ‘perhaps the chaos stems from so much discipline and rules in their everyday lives’. I’m not buying it. Stress? Really? I lived in Ukraine. That’s stress. This is not because of stress but is some kind of game, the rules for which I am not yet privy to. It only reaffirms my belief that total integration into German/Bavarian is something that I can only hope for-for my grandchildren.

*future posts possible

A German Doctor’s Orders

Anything goes in Germany (nearly) when it comes to sex! Photo: wikipedia

Anything goes in Germany (nearly) when it comes to sex! Photo: wikipedia

I read this joke a few years ago and with all the grey weather in Munich recently I thought now would be a good time to post it. I added the part about the Russians.

The French have sex because they like it.

The Brits have sex because they drink too much.

The Russians have sex because the winters are long.

The Germans have sex because it lowers their blood pressure.

My First Three Sentences in German Unrelated to Beer

German words can confuse and confound, yet be so logical

German words can confuse and confound, yet be so logical

Much has been written about the German language and how difficult it is to learn. It’s all true. One needs to go no further than Mark Twain’s classic ‘The Awful German Language’, at the back of his hilarious A Tramp Abroad, to get an idea from a very smart man of how ‘slipshod’ (his word) it is. I would completely concur with him and everything else that’s been written about German except I lived in Kyiv, Ukraine, for a year. The Ukrainian and Russian languages somehow make German seem so much easier. Hell, they make every fucking language in Europe that much easier. Except Hungarian.

The first three sentences I learned weren’t necessarily because they had simple grammar structures (they do), or a lack of letters, as some German behemoth words do. Only in German can you find five different ideas tied into one word, which when broken down into its parts does little to help explain it to the learner. Think differential equations.

x^2 \frac{d^2 y}{dx^2} + x \frac{dy}{dx} + (x^2 - \alpha^2)y = 0

The reason I learned these three vocal jewels is because every German says them often, no, make that always, and whenever I said them I always got a chuckle. I still do. I’m not sure if the chuckles are aimed at me or in the same direction I am targeting, but anytime you can get a German to laugh you have to take it as a moral victory.

The first sentence I learned in German was ‘Es kostet Geld’. Yessiree, ‘it costs money’. Everything in Munich costs a pretty penny, except for food in a supermarket and a university education, which are two  examples of those strange contradictions that cloud German society and keep expats on their toes. Fortunes are spent on health insurance, mass transportation, parking, owning dogs, and are but a few. The list is endless. Every time I go back to the States all my German friends implore and grovel for me to bring a smartphone back for them. I would, too, if my suitcase wasn’t full of aspirin, cold remedies and other comforts to get me through the winters, and autumns, and springs, and ‘kostet viel Geld’ in Munich. Maybe that’s why they drink think tea is a cureall.

The second sentence I learned, and it’s as true as the first if not truer, was, ‘Alles ist verboten’. And it is. You’d like to have a bit of a different name shield for your office on the building? Forget it. Listen to music on your mp3 while riding a bike. Uh-uh. Vacuum on Sunday? Nope. Most things you think would be OK, normally aren’t. There have even been court cases pitting neighbors against neighbors who’ve had the audacity to snore too loud. It’s true. Germans have rules for everything.

German House Rules Photo: Germandeli.com

German House Rules Photo: Germandeli.com

The third sentence I learned was ‘Das ist mir Wurst’. It means ‘I don’t care’ in the ‘it doesn’t matter to me’ sense, but any electronic translation will give you something else entirely. The sentence has become increasingly popular since Lothar Matthäus, a god of German football (soccer) but a horrendous butcher of the English language, translated the phrase literally. Then it means ‘that’s my sausage.He probably had looked it up prior to an interview in the UK or something, and thought the silly Brits would have a similar saying. Anyway, it has nothing to do with sausage.

The good thing is, even if I never learn another sentence in German, those three arrows in my communicative quiver are sure to get me just about any and everything I could possibly need here in Munich. And a chuckle or two. That is, if the chortles don’t me cost too much and there’s not some unwritten rule forbidding it.

A Texas Two-step with German Beer, Brats, and Beats

A look at Texans who can trace some ancestry back to the Vaterland. Photo: lonestargenealogy.com

A map of Texans who can trace some ancestry back to the Vaterland. Photo: lonestargenealogy.com

Unbeknownst to many, there is a large group of ethnic Germans in Texas. Most of the first Germans arrived in the mid-19th century one of two ways. They either arrived by ship directly to the coast of Texas or they migrated north from Mexico City when Napoleon III landed French troops in Mexico.

Those that arrived in the Texas swamps near present-day Houston had been promised new land and a better life after years of poverty brought on by unseasonably cold summer weather in Europe, revolutions, and other internal issues. They literally had to hack their way inland to reach the lands they had been promised. Ill-prepared for the climate many perished but enough found their way to the Texas Hill Country. They founded towns such as Fredericksburg, Schulenburg and New Braunfels. Many of the older people of these towns still speak German at home, though it is an odd dialect and is quickly dying out.

Those Germans and other Central Europeans who migrated north brought their culture, including and especially, their music. Through the years this music synthesized with the Latinos’ music and Tejano Music was created. It sounds much like a waltz, or like some other Central European folks music but the lyrics are in Spanish. It remains very popular today throughout Texas.

In another sign of the strong German influence that lives on in Texas, one of the largest German festivals in America is the ‘Wurstfest’. If you’re in Texas the second week of November, perhaps you should have a beer and a brat. It’s a true Texan tradition!

You’re Shitting Me!

Toiletbrushuseinstructions. ( L to R) Completely wrong. Wrong. Almost correct. Correct.

Toiletbrushuseinstructions. ( L to R) Completely wrong. Wrong. Almost correct. Correct.

During my backpack tour of Europe in 1999, I took my first dump in Germany and I thought the toilet was broken. I asked myself where was the water? There was only enough for my logs, not more. Germans’ frugalness is legendary, might’ve their thriftiness perniciously crept into their toilets too?

The next time I found myself on the morning throne I noticed there was even less water than than the previous porcelain potty. Is there a shortage of water in Germany that I am completely unaware of? Certainly there was plenty of rain. Had the Germans not figured out how to collect it and it ran off into some rapidly roiling river? As I watched my handiwork spin down the drain I wondered what it was about toilets in Germany.

The reason I was Munich at all during that first trip was to cohabitate with a dame who I’d met a few days earlier in Italy. She also didn’t have much water in her toilet bowl. And to make matters worse, the hole was on the wrong side! My steaming pile of excrement sat atop a little ledge. As the water flowed during flushing the brownies slid down of their perch as if they were riding a flume at Wet-n-Wild. Yippee!

Naturally, my mess left skid marks around the toilet. I hadn’t cared to take notice of this and it was quickly brought to my attention by the dame.

Dame: “The brush tucked behind the toilet under the tank is used to scrub the toilet when you’re finished.”

Me: “OK, sorry. Why does my poopie sit on a ledge and not drop directly into the water like it does in America?”

Dame: “It is like that so you can inspect it for consistency, color and smell.”

Me: “You’re shitting me! You Germans sure are thorough!”

A Cold Harsh Economic Winter for Germany Is on the Horizon

Winter is coming, Game of Thrones

In the hit series ‘Game of Thrones’, one of the underlying themes of the first few seasons is that winter is coming. Winter in the show, however, is measured in years and not months. An economic winter is probably coming to Germany and the European Union (EU) soon, and it will be measured in years as well.

Some smaller countries in the EU have already felt the cold winds of austerity, blown in off the Teutonic steppes of Germany. A vicious circle has been created. Cuts to social programs have helped force economies to contract, which have lessened tax revenues, causing more unemployment and pain for the people. Another round of austerity is called for by Berlin and the European Central Bank (ECB)-read Germany-and the whole process is begun anew.

France has even begun to feel the sting, but may thumb their collective nose at austerity. They recognize that in times of economic malaise, spending increases do more quicker to relieve the pressure than cuts. Businesses in France want more flexibility to lay off workers, but the strong ideas of workers’ rights are imbedded in the French psyche and will be difficult to dislodge. The French are often portrayed as a people who enjoy a good work strike for the sake of it. Let’s hope they continue.

Germany's hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic always lurks beyond the surface

In the 1920s during the Weimar Republic, a loaf of bread in Germany cost a wheelbarrow of money on Monday and a truckload by Thursday. I have never sat in on any history lessons at a local school here in Munich but apparently this idea has been seared into the minds of all Germans at a most impressionable  age. Germans can be the most frugal fellows during booms, and hoarders during busts. And that’s putting it nicely.

I will not go so far as to say that economically the Germans suffer from Münchausen syndrome by proxy, like some on the far, far left of other EU countries have intimated. But it is out there.

If the EU’s economy completely tanks, or worse still, the EU dissolves, Germany’s currency will skyrocket in value and it’s exporting empire will crash as it will be unable to sell anything to anybody from this planet. Germans rarely spend money domestically on anything other than the most necessary items, so there would be little relief for the economy there.

A few months ago I recall reading in a British newspaper of how the Germans had fought for a year longer at the end of World War II than the Brits would have if faced with the same predicament. And it was not only because of a crazed dictator in a bunker in Berlin. The article stated that England would have sued for peace in the best terms available at the end of 1943 or the beginning of 1944.

After Allied bombings destroyed most of the trains, then the trucks, cars, motorcycles and even bikes, Nazi Germany still had postal service better than more than half of the world today. If a shoemaker’s shop was blown up, he simply made a sign and moved across the street and carried on about his business. History shows us that Germany will carry on until there are no more trenches to hold.

The tenacity of the Germans is a very commendable characteristic, but unfortunately, economically, it may be their undoing. The rest of the EU will be collateral damage if they don’t have the good sense to get off the current economic track.

Yes, winter is coming.

What do you think? Is fiscal frugality the way to go? Or is the Keynesian economic idea of stimulus pumped into the economy by governments a better way to go?