˶Das ist so was von unlogisch. That’s so illogical.”
“Hm?” I looked up from the postcard I had been writing. Svenja was looking down at the row of coins laid out on our sticky table. We were sat in a pub overlooking the Thames, just next to the Golden Hinde replica. We had been taking turns writing postcards, passing our only pen back and forth. I had laid the coins out for her in order of their worth so that she could familiarize herself with the local currency.
˶Die sind alle verschiedene Größe. They’re all different sizes,” Svenja continued. Unlike the Euro cent coins, which progress in logical size from smallest to largest along with their worth, British coins do not. If you grew up with the money, I can see this not being a problem; for foreigners, however, it’s quite confusing. Why is 10p larger than 20p? And why does the 50p, quite large itself, combine elements of the 10p and the 20p? And what’s perhaps most perplexing? The lowly 2p is by far the largest. So weird.
Britain has no shortage of such oddities, at least to the Canadian gaze. I can only imagine the aneurysm Germans must get when they take a trip across the Channel. Immediately upon arrival you find yourself facing one of the largest cultural differences: driving on the left-hand side. Contrary to established practice in the rest of the civilized world, the British insist on driving on what is undeniably the wrong side of the road. Traffic lights meanwhile seem to be little more than a suggestion, for both pedestrians as well as motorists. Well, in London, but still. Road users proceed with an utter disregard to the lights. And don’t get me started on their taps in washroom sinks.
Now, I shouldn’t be too unfair to Britain. At the risk of insulting my German friends as I no doubt already have those from Britain, I’d point out that there are some things Germany might learn from Britain. For instances, Brits have a natural tendency to queue at times where Germans would rather push and shove. That may have worked for their Teutonic forefathers, but today it just comes across as ill-mannered. Svenja and I prided ourselves on what practiced queuers we had become by the trip’s end. I would recommend that Germans adopt this practice for their bakeries, Ausländeramte, or just about anywhere.
It’s not just the queueing, though. Queuing reflects a patience and willingness to wait one’s turn, paradoxically democratic in a land ostensibly a monarchy. In Britain I get the impression that people are quite happy waiting around, less likely to force themselves before someone else (ironic when you consider Britain’s colonial legacy, but na ja). Perhaps because of this Britain manages to avoid the pretentiousness that the Germans might call Besserwisser, that they’ve got it all figured out. Despite their tendency towards pomp and ceremony, Brits have a certain humbleness about them.
Let us compare the experience of grocery shopping in the two countries. Britain resembles Canada, in that you patiently queue, perhaps taking a look at the magazine covers at the checkout, maybe even making small talk with the other people in line before your turn, for which you wait patiently. After all, we’re all in this together, right chappies? At the cashier you greet them and smile and chat, and perhaps someone bags your groceries or perhaps they don’t. It doesn’t really matter. You don’t worry about it.
Not so in Germany. Here you quickly realize that things operate differently. You are not chummy with the people around you. You despise them, and they despise you. Eye contact is not just discouraged, but grounds for calling the police. They whip your groceries across the scanner as quickly as possible, before throwing them as far as possible down the conveyer line into the bagging area, where you struggle to bag as quickly as possible under the scornful eyes of the people in line behind you. You can see everyone else rolling their eyes at you, amateur.
Then it’s time to pay, and the cashier demands your money and oh you’d better not pay with card, that takes too long, so out with your coins and notes but you panic and just thrust a 20€ note into their hands when you know for a fact that you have the 3,50€ in change in your hand but you just don’t have time and then everyone else rolls their eyes again (careful, I hope they don’t get a cramp) then the cashier hands you back your change COINS ON TOP OF BILLS and what’d you know the coins slide off the bills and fall everywhere and way to go this is all your fault you can see it everyone else’s eyes as they sneer at you and you just know you’re inconveniencing them all.
And then you stumble outside, shaken by the experience, glassy-eyed and dumbfounded, a notable knock to your self esteem. What just happened?
Then you realize you forgot the milk. You start to go back in, but you hesitate. Then you head home.