For my past two months in Germany I have been fed all sorts of claims about how Germans are punctual, orderly people who keep their private lives to themselves. I have been warned that if I act “out of line” I should expect to be corrected by someone. These cultural stereotypes certainly do have some truth to them, but for a nation that has been pegged as being structured and rigid, I have observed quite the opposite. My claim about Germans: They love public displays of affection. Everything from cuddling to kissing to groping in public locations ranging from Airport waiting areas to crowded buses to benches on the river—the Germans love to love.
In no way do I disdain these actions, in fact I am quite enviable of the couples I observe, but what is interesting is that no one scolds or even takes note of the very affectionate couples. The first time I noticed the prevalence of PDA here in Germany was during the mid-afternoon rush at the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station. A short woman was resting her chin on the bosom of her girlfriend and leaning up to make out with her, despite the fact that they were squished between other patiently waiting people. No one surrounding them cared about these women’s actions. I was amazed that no one was even watching them, like I rudely was. Since watching this couple, I have realized that every time I encounter couples lip-locked or otherwise I am the only person who stops and stares while everyone else goes on their way.
The biggest surprise I received was one Sunday afternoon when I was sitting on the bank of the Rhine next to parents play with their kids, teens slowly becoming inebriated and elderly couples sitting arm in arm. Less than five meters from me lay a couple, or rather, lay a man on top of a woman. Although all their clothes were on, their hands were exploring one another quite eagerly and their bodies moved in a suggestive rhythm. The parents with their kids and the elderly folk on their Sunday afternoon strolls again, paid no mind.
Maybe coming from a rural college campus I am surprised by this abundance of PDA because outside of drunken parties in the late evenings it is uncommon to see couples physically enjoying one another’s presence (can you imagine Battel Beach full of horny college kids on top of one another?!). At the same time, it does seem out of place to encounter so many Germans in such passionate embraces.
But let’s be honest, the Germans seem to defy stereotypes. Maybe I should not be that surprised, after all when Germans want to describe something as fun, they use the word geil. Geil is literally translated as horny. Perhaps when we take note of how a foreign language is used, we can learn more about the culture than we ever would have. And despite their seeming rigidity, maybe the Germans are always simply geil.