What really fascinated me though was a Canadian called Erving Goffman. He was into micro-studies, meaning he was closer to psychologists than sociology... in a manner of speaking. He observed actual every-day life and then extrapolated some highly interesting things. For instance, he had similar thoughts than Judith Butler. Men and women act differently in fields where different actions are not required. There's no need for men to treat women differently when it comes to greeting women in formal set-ups, such as welcoming them onto a stage; yet we do. The observation itself is not that important in the context of Goffman, it's more of his way to look at what we actually see. Goffman describes reality as theater of a kind, in which we're all actors. We play our roles in a way that fit ourselves the best way. By understanding several everyday actions this particular way, you can not help but find some traditions very amusing. Really, if you have the chance, give his papers a go. It's highly surprising and no botherful read at all.
Anyway, before making the intro too long, I couldn't help but remember Goffman's methology in the past weeks. Currently I'm all over the place, looking for job(s), moving and stuff. Since my grandfather passed away earlier this year and my parent's moving into my grandma's home, we have to clean up two houses. It's a ghastly issue, really. There's ton of things you throw out, especially with goods from two households at hand. That's the reason I started discovering the micro cosmos that is German way of waste disposal. It really is fascinating. It doesn't end here, not sure how many observations I'm about to list, I'm bored...
According to dict.leo.org „Bauhof“ has to be translated as „building yard“. It's one of the words you should know as German, but which you are never tought. Basically, it's a place you get garbage to. Not everyday garbage you get from consuming groceries or something, but like broken furniture, old [and useless timber], electronic devices and whatnot. Since that's out of the way, I don't know where to explain the magical atmosphere of these places. I really don't, because I have to assume you're an alien, or so into German ways, that you don't see the funny parts.
Well, let's start differently. I'm sure you have heard about the legend of German waste disposal and our passionate way to re-cycle everything. We do not throw away any glas (bottles, jars, broken window pieces, …), we do not just throw old news papers into the trash bin and we most certainly use an own trash bin for biological waste (fruits, grass, …) and plastic stuff (packaging, bottles, …).
Really, depending on your area you might mix some of that stuff together, but it is a sin to not try to recycle. Let's stay with the funniest example of all. A friend of mine lived very close to an industrial site – and several containers in front of her house, which were there to recycle your old glass. Now, you have all kind of glass waste over the course of a year. There's the occasional jar you throw away, and most bottles for oils, beer and whatnot. All of them have a different color, e.g. bottles containing salad oil and vinegar are mostly green or brown, whereas the average vodka bottle is just transparent. In Germany you do not only separate these bottles (glass) from the waste, you have to throw them into special containers. Each container is for different coloured glass – one for green glass, one for brown and one for transparent (white).
And here's where our experiments started. Since you don't have much to look at from my friend's house when you study for exams, you'd watch people throwing away their glass. Sooner or later we started – out of boredom – to really pay attention. If people came alone and they felt as nobody would see them, they'd throw away their bottles into one container, not making any difference between colors. Because why would you? It's pointless. Yet, if more than one person was there, people VERY CAREFULLY paid attention to divide their bottles.
The most interesting part was whenever some person (usually older ladies and teenagers) ignored the color containers, the reactions where superb. There are basically three kind of persons.
1) Ignorants: People who similarly do not care. About 25%. At first they are surprised someone would violate the container policy on colour, but then either ignored the violation and/or did ignore it as well; but only after someone started to break the invisible rule. Mostly females of all age groups and young adults.
2) The jealous and surprised. These recognize the violation and commit to visible reactions – mostly males of mid age. They'd frown, they shake their had, they'd stop to throw away their things. About 60% of all observed people. However, once the violator went away, about two thirds would violate the colour policy as well.
3) The dictators: The rest. Mostly old men, sometimes old women. They'd not only stop to throw away their own things, they'd also give a speech. In many cases they'd also start to frantically wave their arms and get loud, it's not educational, it's pure rage.
Now to the fun part. Eveytime these containers are emptied, the personell just comes, lifts away ALL containers and throws away all glass into one giant container. No more separation. It's very German. So, if you plan to move here, separate your glass if you want to show how good you're integrated. People will be pleased and nod. If you want to have fun, wait for old males to throw away glass and violate the rules. Then ask why separation is a requirement.
Old Clothing Incident
The German mentality to recycle isn't bad, don't get me wrong. I fully support it, especially when it comes to things that can really be used again. For instance organizations like the red cross started to put up containers all over the country. In these you can throw old clothing you do not need, but which could be donated to the poor and to foreign countries in need. This would be still wearable shirts, or old blankets. Obviously the institution would select aftwards and throw away what really isn't usable anymore. It's a good idea overall.
So, only last monday I had about 30 kg of old clothes, including blankets and shoes, which we really didn't need anymore. They were too old to sell, yet too good to just throw out. Why not use the containers? The problem was, that I was up at 6:30 already and sought for things to do already. I decided to just drive to the next super market, get a coffee and throw away the clothes before the store opened (7:00).
At 6:45 I was there and just threw them in. I turned around and faced a very, very, very angry old male aged around 70, maybe 80. He was leaning on his cane and glanced at me, furiously, and then gave me a speech. About I, who was so young, should have enough eye sight and a brain to note the sign at the container. I turned around yet again and saw what he meant, it said „container open from 8:00 – 20:00 each day“. Wtf? It was a funny conversation though, since I asked him why I wouldn't do it now, before I have to go to work. He ran out of arguments soon („the noise“ - the only other thing around was the grave yard) and we agreed that the old times were the best times. Again, discussions with salle paid off, I know my way around the elderly.
Der Bauhof – Dictatorship
So let's get back to the Bauhof. I hope you realize how waste disposal and orderly conduct when disposing waste is very important and serious business. It also is annoying and shit, and nobody below the age of 60 does it if he has some excuse at hand. But sometimes you have to visit these places, and in my case since my parents can't life heavy objects because of health issues, I was forced to go to them at least once per week. It's alway a stunning and mind blowing experience. But not a unique one, more like... universal.
In rural Germany any Bauhof is run by honorary supervisors, who – in all cases - „recently“ retired. They do it to earn a few bucks, at least in theory. In reality they are Hitler and have a Napoleon complex. I never met any supervisor who was taller than 170 centimeters. Not one, and I have been to at least seven different sites at arbitrary times. They all have their own thoughts on waste disposal and not one is like the other.
1. I was throwing away an old cupboard. The first question arising was to destroy it or not. Some supervisors force you to destroy it, because else it would take away too much space. Some insist you do not, because else it would fit into your own garbage bin. Moreover, it's not glued, it's nailed. Some, the minority though, will insist on the ridiculous excerise to remove the small nails from the wood, because „it's not wood garbage, it's metal“. In all cases they will watch you in awe how you get annoyed and have to carry the objects around, with each part being heavier than 25 kg and large enough to cause you backpain by simply looking at it.
2. Plastic: As mentioned earlier, plastic is a special issue. You sometimes have plastic waste, which exceeds the limits of your trash bin at home, regardless if you have a garbage bin for plastic only or not. This is especially true if you went through an attic and two basements. Now, you have to accept dictators gripping the plastic from your hands. They usually browse through it, point at some pieces and mumble something. Then they look at you, furiously, and tell you that plastic a) belongs in the trash bin and b) you better make sure you get the correct containers in the Bauhof. There are about three different containers, which just MIGHT be the correct ones. The best thing is for you to wait for someone else to arrive, then use the distraction and pick one container at random. Then get into your car and speed off.
3. Heavy objects. I had to carry some objects which were like really, really heavy. I picked my cousins and get rid off a fridge, an old stove and some other large pieces of wood. Dictators love to see people with that. They will turn red and start to cricle around you like vultures waiting for an animal to die. They will make a huge show off trying to help and show you the way – by standing in the only direction you have to run over them. Then they will shout at you for going around them, until you're bound to literally walk over them.
The other observation is that nobody gets a special treatment in the Bauhof, except the elderly. The main population at a Bauhof are elderly people. Once you are retired and a German, you are forced to run out of WÖRK. So WÖRK garbage at the disposal site. The upside is that you find other retired WÖRKERS, who complain they have nothing to do and thus drove to the Bauhof to throw away three AAA-Batteries in their tractor, their Mercedes or their Audi. At 25 km/h, because speeding is prohibited. They will gather in large groups around the most popular containers and only shuffle away if someone needs to use another container for heavy objects (see above). Dictators love them and try to organize them, if they're not temporarily occupying your car's luggage trunk (they crawl into it to see if you have plastic in them). Holy mother of Christ, these people are annoying like shit. By the way, if you wonder where their wives are – at the Doctor or in the Super Market. But only in hours the working people would be there. These are the places to be if you are a retired WÖRKER. Oh, they are all very skilled in paying attention while not paying attention. They won't move if you have to access something, but they will suddenly attack you, if you picked the wrong container. The Bauhof GESTAPO.
However, I accidentally found a very interesting way to distract them. Some of these vultures, if not all of them, are recyclers. Natural born recyclers. You need something which isn't really useful. Like tools, like a hammer with a splintered handle, a screw driver, which is slightly bend, or saw that's somewhat, but not completely stump. Carry ONE tool with you. Wait for some group to form and the dictator inspecting his helpers. Then step into the circle, hold up the tool and ask „someone interested in that? It breaks my heart to throw it away“. If you don't have a tool, try to make use of some wood, like pieces of broken furniture, which looks still somewhat usable. Now you have to wait, they will start to discuss if your piece of garbage is still usable (obviously not) and then get in each other faces discussing the potential use. You're free, you gave Dobby a sock. Or something. You also went up in the helper's eyes, because „you are not a wasteful person, like the other young [below 65 years] people“.
Right, here we have something not related to waste disposal (and switch subjects), but another VERY German thing. Private space is important, everyone of you (99% should be males) know what I mean – in the bathroom. Like, think about where you go if you have to piss in a public rest room. Get it? Hence, the observation that the intrusion of private space is not seen positiviely in most societies is a given and boring. Yet Germans have another very interesting tradition I could neither observe in the following countries: France, Czech Republic, Austria, Spain, Italy. I haven't been to other countries long enough to shop groceries in a super market, sorry. I however assume it really is a German thing. Maybe the Swiss are like us, but fuck the Swiss, seriously.
Back to the issue. The „Warentrenner“ is a word not many Germans know, but they know the device. It's a small piece of plastic, you lay onto a conveyor (?) in super markets. It's there to show the world that from Warentrenner 1 to Warentrenner 2 groceries are yours. Like that the cashier knows where the shopping of one customer ends and the shopping of another starts. It makes sense if you there's a lot going on and people shop goods for several weeks. Yet, any shop that thinks it's worth something has Warentrenner; not only super markets, but also hardware stores and health food shops.
If you can't understand what I'm trying to describe do a google image search. I have a data cap right now, sorry for that, if it was different, I'd include pics on my own
The thing is, if you are shopping outside of the regular times – like shortly after office closing times / the rush hours, the big super markets are empty, if it wasn't for the elderly and some other customers. They usually shop small scale, so maybe three or four items in average. There's so much space on the conveyor, that you really do not need the Warentrenner at all. Yet it is used.
I started to test people around me. At first I would totally ignore that Warentrenner are there and wait how long it would take for the people in front and in the back of me to put them on the conveyor. Like I was getting a Coke, put it on and then just ignore the Warentrenner. It usually takes less than five seconds and then there is a Warentrenner on the conveyor.
Then I started to wonder if it was the space between my coke and the three itmes before and after my Coke... maybe people thought it really might be a problem. Apparently, if there is more than 70 cms (! almost the entire conveyor length), nobody seems to mind. The person right after you will still use a Warentrenner, regardless. The time for other customers to put on a Warentrenner decreases the shorter the space between your good and their items is. If, for instance, you put your fictional coke in the insane distance of 20 cms, people will instantenously put up a Warentrenner. Also, the shorter the distances, the more worried and unnerved people are. If you want to stress out a German, you do not use a Warentrenner in any case. It's funny that way.
Also, and I only did that twice, because it gets you in dangerous situations, if you put up a Warentrenner RIGHT BEHIND a Warentrenner in front of you, people will freak out. They're super confused all of a sudden and look at you as if you are brain dead. I never dared to tripple the Warentrenners.
To end this blog, once I slightly overdid my experiment, since I overestimated the cashier woman. She accidentally scanned my item and put it on the list of the customer in front of me. This was the apocalypse. It was an elderly lady, the one you get in grocery shops. As I mentioned*, these are there to meet other elderly ladies once they retired. I mean the kind of woman you have all over the world, well not woman, but customer. She had her wallet and was collecting each coin, because she caculated how much she had to pay before she left home, only to make a show when paying. It would have been 2,79 without my item, now it was 3,29. Doomsday, really. She already had about thirty coins out and was standing there in shock. Something went completely wrong, the Warentrenner did not only not work, it caused her to have NOT ENOUGH COINS TO PAY. SHE MIGHT HAVE TO USE PAPER MONEY. It took me and the cashier about ten minutes to convince her to accept my 50 cent coin. This was a horrible breach of custom, tradition and most likely the law. It was just one coin, not the usual twenty coins required to pay 50 cents. I felt really bad afterwards.
*+ Show Spoiler +
Supermarkets realized that and expanded with bakeries / cafés, even though the markets in an industrial area in the nowhere of rural Germany. So you can get a coffee while shopping. This made some bakers really rich and now you have homes for the elderly
doing regular cruise trips to super markets. Really, no shit, this is a thing now.
I'm not sure, maybe I'll write some more about other German things somewhen in the future. Like Beamtensprache. Or something more fit to Southern Germany only, like ordering a wrong brand of beer in my home town. Or speaking in Saxonian dialect in a Franconian pub. … have a nice day and be a good German. Wörkwörk >_>