The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 15, 2001

While in Germany, do as Germans do
Anjali Majumdar

HE stopped his scooter and beckoned to us to cross the road, a busy and narrow one. His wife got off the pillion but he stayed put, helmet on. He wanted my husband to report on some trouble at the bank’s zonal office. He is a doughty union leader, and knows that we both write on bank matters.

It was only afterwards that his breach of good manners struck me. He is years younger than I; he wanted us to do him a favour; and yet he did not get off his machine; and Parsi are generally known for their manners (and their integrity — ‘Parsi-owned’ is a term often to be found in classified ads.)

Suddenly — and rather surprisingly, to me at least — books on good manners and etiquette are enjoying a vogue; and there are often articles to be found in Britain’s broadsheets. (There was an error in a recent one that I spotted. What is the correct form of address on an envelope to a widow? The answer: Use the late husband’s name or initials before her surname. Wrong, it’s always her name or initials before the surname.)


Since many software hands will soon be leaving for Germany what follows may be of interest to them. Though I have not been there I do believe that they are more formal — as are most northern Europeans — than say the Americans and even the English.

I recall a Swedish girl who occasionally came to my mother’s place for lunch during her holidays. When we got up from the table, even though she was not leaving just then, she always thanked us. Before saying goodbye, she thanked us again.

Here goes: never be even a minute late for an appointment; it is just not done. Always take a bunch of flowers or a box of chocolates for your hostess. Remember to remove the wrapping from the flowers so that she can put them right away into a vase. I always shudder when I see a picture in our newspapers of someone presenting a bouquet still in its cellophane wrapper.

Now here are two instances related to me by a friend whose daughter lives in Germany. She was told by her German friends that empty tins and jars must always be rinsed clean before being put in the garbage. And do not leave anything dirty in the sink; a man was woken up at midnight in a youth hostel for this solecism and made to clear it.

I wonder if the companies in India responsible for sending our young people out to work in foreign parts ever give them a few hours on etiquette. We are not known for our being generous with the common courtesies of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’; we never unwrap a gift at once when given it, and say a few words of appreciation even if it is the very last thing you would like. We often chew with our mouths open, and worse still with a loud noise.

Please, never leave anything on your plate; you have served yourself, so finish it all, even if it is unpalatable; and if you are a vegetarian, please tell your hostess — the Germans are great lovers of sausage and other meats. Remember to call and thank her the next day.

As for manners in the bathroom, how many of us leave it clean and dry? Do we remember to wipe the wash basin clean; and do put the lid down after using the loo.

Lastly, please remember to watch your intake of alcohol. I am told that there are some rather strong brands of beer and the delicious wines can go to your head. Good luck.

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