Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In Which I Return (Covertly) the German Stare

Moo works on his German stare...WITH LASER BEAM eyes! File this picture also under Places in Which Moo Really Doesn't Belong but He Goes Anyway.

Across the expat in Germany universe, there are continued reports of the German Stare. It really throws some expats off-kilter. What happens is that Germans, probably quite curious, are very direct in staring at those who have reported it. One might instantly think: is the person receiving the Stare behaving in an odd manner to warrant the stare? Is the person out of line? Those reporting the Stare say that they were just going about their business, such as walking or driving down the street, and locals stop dead in their tracks to give a good look.

Some expats find it very disconcerting. One gentleman, fed up with the Stare, took matters into his own hands. He was driving down the street when a local was staring at him quite adamantly. The expat, not able to contain himself, stopped his car, backed up, and stared back. It might not have been the most mature thing to do, but he did feel a bit better. I have to admit, I giggled furiously over this story.

I spoke to another expat, and she made note of the staring, too, and found it a bit disconcerting. She is from the UK, so we had a little bit of US-UK bonding over how this is new to us. I suggested that she wear some of those googly-eyed glasses to better return the Stare and report on how that went.

I actually took part in some staring myself on Saturday. I was going to meet her at the store, and I wanted to do some "anthropological research." In other words, I needed to do something to occupy my time before meeting because I was early. Also, I wanted to observe the locals to get a feel for how people dress and act here. I'd like to fit in a little bit better so I thought it might be helpful. Of course, I'm not a totally rare bird in this area because there are 50,000 or so Americans already living here.

Anyway, as I waited, I observed the locals as they ran their errands. To be honest, I felt like a major creeper! No one seemed to give me much of a second glance (haha, no German staring at me!) as I took covert peeks at what people were doing. Maybe people thought it wasn't weird to have someone staring or maybe I didn't look that threatening. Who knows.

From this experience, this is what I gathered about this area, or, at least, what people shopping at this ALDI were doing:

-I saw a lot of people wearing jeans. Phew! In many European countries, people tend to dress up a bit more, even while running errands. I was glad that I could run errands in something more casual.

-It was so casual, in fact, that one gentleman was wearing plaid pants. They weren't even suit style pants; they might have even been the more pajama-y type kind or the ones like Skidz from the early 90s. Remember those? File those under the Oh, My! category.

-I saw more women with brightly hued hair. Locals seem to really enjoy maroon, for some reason. This is one area that I will not modify to fit in. However, the younger ladies don't seem to do this; it's more of the pensioner age damen.

-I tried to watch people inside the store return their Pfand bottles; that is, the ones that have a deposit. I was curious about what was returnable. I have heard rumors that even some yogurt containers are returnable. This warrants further research because I felt that I couldn't watch people inside the store too closely because that felt really creepy.

My question is: do Germans stare at each other, too, or is it only reserved for the foreigners?


  1. Too funny or maybe you're a tad bit paranoid??

    m o p

  2. No, just mention the Stare to expats and you'll get them going! :P

  3. I have to admit I did some field research recently. It seems as if the German Stare is something they do in Southern Germany. Up here (Lower Saxony) there is nothing like that. Funny thing anyway.

    1. Sorry for having to burst your bubble. But they do it more up here in Lower Saxony than in Bavaria. I (German) lived in both areas with my husband (American). On top of that Northern Germans in general are far more rude than Southern Germans. We tried to figure out what causes it. But so far we haven't come up with an answer. Cross the boarder to Austria and there is no staring anymore at all.

    2. No, Austrians stare a lot too! Not as much as Germans but quite a number here enjoy a good long stare as well. Eastern Europeans too. I think it's just a thing in this part of the world, something these societies never made a firm "rule" on, whereas in the English speaking countries the British concept of manners probably influenced it (or not doing it).

  4. I'll tell you what, now that I live on the upper floor of building on a somewhat busy street, I do enjoy doing a little bit of staring myself. It's interesting to see what's going on down there. I do need to resist the urge to holler at the people who litter, though.

  5. LOL.
    Integration accomplished...

  6. Hi,

    I'm German and suffer from the stare as much as all the foreigners who complain about it. Living in Berlin it seems to me that here it is like people's sport (Volkssport). Actually, I guess, it is blunt and dull curiosity. But what does it come from? Well, some theory about it: we lost a common , mainstream style - everything from clothing , housing, eating and the like has become such individualized that there is no longer a common consense, a custom.
    It roots in german history where German identity was smashed with the outcome of WW2 and the holocaust. Common rules, a common culture hence gets partly replaced by individualism. To stress that Germans nowadays like to dress clothes which do not fit together by ordinary standards. And it makes them curious about others - how did they dress today, how do Americans do it, the English and so forth. How do they behave, look, speak..? Some of them probably are even not too self-confident in what style is a good style - they just compare.
    Be it as it may, I just stare back, tell them sth, or ignore completely, depending on the day. In xchange I love berlin for being so colorful, stylish-unstylish, manifold.. come to Berlin and enjoy it!

  7. Great information! Thank you for sharing your perspective. When I was sick and had to stay home, I did find it interesting to watch outside my window because it was almost like a soap opera outside; there were so many interesting things going on.

    I think that Americans do look at things too, but we don't tend to use a strong, persistent gaze. We're a bit more sneaky about doing it ;) Doing heavy duty staring in the US might get a person in trouble.

    I've been to Berlin twice and absolutely love it. In August, I was introduced to Friedrichshain, which is my favorite part of the city now. I look forward to going back, sometime. Heck, I'd love to live there!

  8. Germans stare - especially in small towns....In bigger cities like Cologne and - for some odd reasons - in Lower Saxonay - staring is not that intense...I am German and I do suffer from these (in my humble opinion rather offensive) stares and obstrusive (bored? stone age?) people too...it can be exhausting, not only to me but especially for my UK friends whenever they come around. And wonder. Apart from that, my friends from England always wonder why Germans have no concept of personal space and no awareness at all, that their behaviour is...odd...Along with staring, this seems rather self-centered. I live in a small town in Germany, where everybody looks pretty much the same, women over 40 have short hair with blue or marron details, wear "funny" coloured glasses and have harsh lines around their mouths. Any variation is not tolerated, resulting in the usual stare (up and down) and negativity - pure social control...my advice is to either ignore it, stare back, smile or wave and greet them. Love the confusion on their faces (every other nation might as well smile back, but Germans tend not to;). Stay positive;))))

    1. Man, do the ladies LOVE the maroon. I am curious why it is such a popular color.

  9. I'll tell you a secret. Germans don't even know they're staring.

    The one cultural difference between Anglo-Saxon and German that nobody has told you about is this: In Germany, strangers are not individuals. They're part of the landscape.

    German look at people pretty much the same way they look at buildings, plants, landmarks and the like. If something is interesting enough to somehow catch the eye while they're going about their daily doings, they keep looking. Anything that stands out in the monotony of everyday is being looked at, be it a particularly ugly (or beautiful) structure, a flower breaking through the asphalt, or an interesting new style of clothing. Anything.

    The trick is, that they never meant to even communicate with you by looking at you. They do not mean to intimidate anyone, they do not mean to flirt. They do not mean to stare you down. It's not a matter of dominance at all. People on the bus just look at you the same way they'd look at the goddamn seat pattern if your seat was empty. Deal with it.

    Most Germans, when on the receiving end of the stares don't even notice. If you stare at them, they don't think more of you than they'd think of, say, a building that had windows "looking" in their direction. Or of a mannequin looking at them.

    If you're a stranger, you're part of the landscape. You're part of the "Stadtbild". You're a flower. You're a lantern post. You're background noise. Your eyes can do whatever they like. Everyone can look at you. You can look at everyone.

    All in all, I'd say that in German culture there is a different way of communicating. Anglosaxon people see an attempt to communicate as soon as someone is looking at them. Germans don't. Germans don't consider the "communication channel" open until they have a clear singnal from both people that you have each others current attention.

  10. It's a lack of empathy, basically. When a stranger is part of the "stadtbild", like they are a thing, not a person.

  11. The German Stare is all too real.