The German tendency to have everything well-organized and structured has irritated me ever since I can remember. To be fair, amazing things come of this kind of ingrained discipline. German craftsmanship, efficiency, and timeliness, for example are indisputably amazing.
I see my German roots in my own behavior. Always on time. Perfectionist. Disciplined. Hard working. Stubborn. Overexplaining. Straight forward. Many of those things not bad things at all. However, my free spirit bristles when I observe people following everything the authorities decree. Growing up, how often have I heard the sentiment, “Yes, it’s not good and it’s annoying. But the government is keeping us safe and we are so well taken care of. It’s ok. Let’s just go along with it.” Me, personally, I’d rather have a bit of discomfort and less security, but have my life less regulated in turn.
When it comes to apocalypses and pandemics, however, I must admit the German sense of obedience comes in quite handy. For the last few weeks, the local populace in my dad’s county (and the rest of Germany, too, according to the news) followed all new rules to a T. Everything deemed mandatory was dutifully adhered to.
Recommendations, however, were largely ignored. My fellow countrymen and women are precise even then. Words matter. Be careful how you phrase them. Be clear. Because they’ll take you at your word. Which, again, isn’t a bad thing at all.
Masks were one of the recommendations. Because we Germans have a thing about masks. Even politicians. They didn’t want to wear them either. So, they only recommended them as a voluntary precaution. Masks make us feel uncomfortable. We are not used to wearing them. So why should we do so now? Or so the thinking goes. And, anyhow, masks don’t help at all. It’s just a myth. Right?
Having traveled extensively through Asia, as well as having lived in Hong Kong and Macau for many years, I try to explain to people that, no, Asians in general are not paranoid. They are not strange for wearing masks. For decades now, they have gotten used to wearing them. It’s not even to protect themselves from someone in the crowd who sniffles and coughs. No. Most times it is quite the opposite. As soon as a person feels ill, they put on a mask. Immediately. To protect others.
I have only the deepest respect for this level of thoughtfulness and politeness. Taking responsibility not only for your own life, but also for the lives of the human beings you meet and, possibly, infect, on a daily basis.
We Germans, well Central Europeans in general, can learn something there.
None of the positive arguments presented by anyone were enough to break through the inherent German stubbornness though. People were religious about the two meters distance as soon as it was so ordered. They gave each other dirty looks if someone came too close. I was surprised to not see them carry measuring tape to make sure the distancing was adhered to as precisely as possible. Astonishingly, in this case, eyeballing it seemed to work well enough for all involved.
But masks, no. Endless discussions on TV argued the pros and cons. I got so exasperated, I wanted to build my own cabin in the woods. On the other hand, it was a mirror, helping me to better understand my own need to repeat myself. Or, rather, I had to admit I was far more German than I’d like to be. This is exacerbated by growing up with parents who always lived so much in their own world that we didn’t have proper conversations. Rather, I grew up listening to monologues. My own thoughts and opinions mostly discredited. It’s a work in progress. Training myself to overcome. To allay my need to be heard. To not regurgitate things over and over. To simply say them once and trust them to be acknowledged in a conversation. Or not. In the end, what I have to say doesn’t always have to reach everyone. Or it will be received by the right people. Trust is key.
But I digress. Thousands of discussions later, masks became mandatory in Germany. A week ago, actually, to be Teutonic and precise. And… lo and behold… everyone is wearing masks now.
For the first time, I am glad to see German obedience in action. Because even though the majority of the population still hates wearing masks, this needs to be done. I don’t like wearing them either. I feel constricted and dangerous somehow when I do. Like I won’t be able to restrain myself from robbing a bank if I just wear the mask long enough. But, if I can protect someone else as well as protect myself in the process just now, it’s well worth wearing it nevertheless.