Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Wait 'till the green light says go..."

David is often blocking my attempts to cross the street when the light is red.  Its not German.  Its not proper.  Its not the right way to do it.  Despite the fact that Germans aren't always the rule-abiding citizens that people often make them out to be.  They aren't always punctual (see post below) and they don't always do what's right.  (They are human after all.) Yet, it is fair to say that its not an odd sight to see a handful of Germans standing on a street corner, without a car in sight, waiting for the light to change--one minute, two minutes--just standing and waiting.

As a German-in-Training, my stance on this issue fluctuates.  Depending on my mood, I either wait ("so as to be a good example for kids" as David explains) or cross, depending on how many times Deutsche Bahn has tried my patience during my commute.  Sometimes I just can't be bothered to stand there for two or three minutes, and then again at the next crossing light for two or three minutes (because it seems that the lights are not coordinated to go off at the same time--often you cross half way, and then wait in the middle to cross the other half of the street--but I digress).

Yesterday, I had two different encounters with angry Germans, within less than 24 hours of each other because I was not following the "wait until the light is green" rule.  The first a child, no more than 7 or 8 years old, who sounded like I had just stolen his Kinder Surprise egg and whined a loud "NEEEeeiiiiN!!!!" when I stepped into the street to cross. Later an old man, with eyebrows raised and a smug, self-righteous voice turned to me and said (this was at another crossing) "Wir müssen ein bisschein warten, oder?"  (We must wait a little, or?) After his beady eyes penetrated my head, his eybrows came down and he turned to a friend and continued to talk.

In theory, both the young and the old man were in the right--but I just cannot imagine someone scolding me in NJ or NY for crossing the street when the light is red. I tried to recall in my 22 years living in the US something like that happening, but I couldn't think of a single instance.


  1. This jives with something I remember my high school German teacher commenting on oh so many years ago. He told us that the general public made no bones about the correction of light misbehavior — especially that of young people. Toss a gum wrapper carelessly onto the street, run up the downward escalator, or do something equally out-of-line, and you can expect a talking-to in Germany. Whereas in the U.S. most adults would rather merely roll their eyes or pretend they didn't witness the infraction for fear of (the appearance of) trampling the kid's or parent's liberty. "You're not the boss of me!" or "Don't tell my kid what to do!" come to mind as likely American responses to a random person's authority assertion in a matter like that.

    So it apparently doesn't bother the old or the young in Germany at all to remind you of The Rules for crossing the street. What I wonder: do they think they are doing you a favor ("oh look, that woman doesn't realize she's making a mistake!") or are they truly worried about impressionable street-crossers following your example and marching to their death in front of a bus? Or are they secretly envious of your confidence and independence in personal local pedestrian settings and bitter that someone stifled their own self-deterministic aspirations, such that they cannot allow you to proceed unreprimanded?

    Or maybe they're just nosy. :-)

  2. this is something i wouldn't have thought of. the way you described the kid's whining made me laugh.

  3. this is something i willl not forget