German Caution and Spontaneity
Lately I have been thinking about the paradox of German caution (which perhaps I should just call perfectionism) on one hand, and German spontaneity on the other hand.
First example: Today a friend of mine was discharged from hospital after two days of admission for an unexplainable, excruciating stomach ache. She is somewhat better now, and will go for further tests over the weekend, but the doctors were unable to pinpoint what the exact issue is. Yesterday, at some point when she was in a lot of pain, a nurse offered her a painkiller, which my friend took gladly. However, when my friend mentioned it (in passing) to the doctor doing rounds later on, the nurse was called in and reprimanded – for offering pain medication when they were not yet 100% sure what the cause of the pain is. Strange, no? So it seems that it would have been preferable for the patient to keep suffering….. Well, I am learning to accept that as the German style of doing things – at least in professional settings – the mantra seems to be ‘do not do anything unless you can do it perfectly’, or, ‘act only when 100% sure’, as opposed to innovating and picking lessons through trial and error. On a lighter note, much as my friend and I were frustrated at getting no clear answer or solution after two days of hospitalisation, we did agree that perhaps it is just that the medical folk here don’t mind admitting that they don’t know! Rather than trying and failing.
Second example: Today the sun came out, and oh lala! There was a whole different mood on campus! People smiling at each other, taking long walks after lunch, sitting on the stairs outside the student cafeteria in the afternoon to absorb the sun…..the transformation was remarkable – from the usual purposeful strides to and from library to sauntering and lingering outside chatting.
On one of my first summer days in Germany, I found it bizarre when I spotted someone lying on a blanket in the long, yet-to-be-trimmed grass of the local park, engrossed in a novel in the afternoon sunshine. I wondered what kind of desperation would make someone insist on lying on semi-damp grass just for the sake of catching a few sun rays. After months of clouds and cold, that enthusiastic response to sunshine now makes sense. It reminds me that despite technological advancements, humans are still dependent on forces of nature which they have no control over, such as rain and sunshine. It has also made me learn to be more spontaneous and appreciative of the weather, as I have seen my German colleagues do – unless really pressed by deadlines – when the sun is spotted, adapt your plans for the day to enjoy it! Work outside or at least near the outdoors. Or schedule a long lunch break. Or take a walk. (For there will be many more dull days on which you cannot do much outdoors.)
The paradox is interesting to observe – on one hand, so flexible and spontaneous about the weather, on the other hand, so pedantic and cautious about work! Indeed, this is Germany 🙂