I've recently been confronted with a few (for me at least) jarring examples of what I suspect are cultural differences between New Zealand and Germany. Basically, it all relates to being assertive or not.
The first thing that happened was that (as an every increasing in size pregnant person) I was curious to see whether people would give up their seats on public transport or not. It turns out, not. I always jump up and offer my chair when an elderly person gets on the tram or train, and I just assumed that this was normal behaviour. not so! After a few months of putting up with this (internally seething about it), I found out the reason. Boyfriend and I got on the tram together one day after a walk along the Isar and I had particularly bad round ligament pain and really wanted to sit down. Nobody got up and offered me their seat, but after a stop, a woman sitting in a window seat left, and boyfriend asked the person sitting in the aisle if I could get past and sit in the now free seat (I could go off on a tangent here about how in New Zealand taking up the aisle seat while the window seat is free is frowned upon). She immediately leapt up and exclaimed, "of course! she's pregnant! if only she had said something!". This triggered a long conversation about how if you want to sit down on the tram, and there are no seats available, you should ask someone if you could have their seat. Unfortunately, I don't think this is something that I am ever going to be able to do. I tend to think that if a pregnant (or old) person gets on the tram and you don't give them your seat, it's so unacceptable, that there must be a reason (say, an injury) - and asking them to give up their seat is actually rude, because it draws this into the light. I've polled a few New Zealanders on this and they all agreed with me.
I recently had a visit from a friend who was infuriated by the lack of awareness that people here have for personal space. I have to say I don't really notice this anymore, but one thing I do notice still, is that when you're in the supermarket, and someone is blocking your way, they almost never move until you ask them. I think in New Zealand, we tend to be much more aware of the potential to be in someone's way and are more inclined to leap out of it, before being asked.
This reminded me of another situation that I think goes along similar lines. A few years ago, I was at an asian restaurant in Bern, and I gleefully ordered my favourite starter, Tom Yum Goong soup. Now, it's important here to note the (very large) difference between Tom Yum Goong and Tom Kha Gai. Anyway, the wrong one came out from the kitchen. We pointed this out to the waitress when she brought the soup over, and she apologised and offered (not very enthusiastically) to take it back and bring the correct soup, although it would take awhile. I of course said not to worry and that it was a mistake and I understood and would just eat the Tom Kha Gai. After she left, boyfriend saw my sad face and asked me why on earth I hadn't sent the soup back, if I was so sad about it? Which is a completely fair question. The problem is that I am just not programmed to be able to do it!
The most recent example of this was this week. I have been trying to find a new hairdresser in Munich (which takes a long time) and I thought it would be a good idea to try the one just around the corner (partially because they sell Redken and I needed shampoo, I must admit). Anyway I explained what I wanted (the same haircut I've mostly had for the last 10 years or so) which is super short at the back and gradually longer towards the front until it's about chin length - basically a graduated bob. She nodded confidently and set to work. After she had cut it, she styled it beautifully and I went home happy. However, the next morning when I did it myself, I realised that she hadn't cut anywhere near enough off the back or behind my ears, and not only that, but had actually shortened the front enough that I couldn't tuck it behind my ears anymore at all. Boyfriend said, "just go back, tell her you're not happy, and get her to fix it". Cue shock and dismay from me. Do people really do this? I would never do that. If this had happened to me at home, I would go to a different hairdresser (paying again), get them to fix it and then repeat as necessary until I found one who just "got" what I wanted. But boyfriend dragged me back to the hairdresser and she did what I wanted and didn't charge me the second time.
I suspect there is a lesson here about being polite to the point of being too timid. Or rather not asserting myself enough for things that I should really be able to. But I do suspect this is a common trait amongst New Zealanders.
(Featured image via Flickr user Philipp Messner)Share on Twitter Share on Facebook