The Road to Hanover
After staying in Braunschweig for a few days, I started hitchhiking to Hanover.
That was a sunny morning and I did sufficient research about where to stand and what to expect. I found a perfect spot near a tram stop and started hitchhiking.
For two hours, people passed by, with vehicles of all kinds, vehicles with four wheels, three wheels, two wheels, one wheel and well, no wheels but two legs. The only one who stopped was not going to Hanover. Seriously? Nobody was actually going to Hanover? I was puzzled and checked the road sign in front of me again. It indeed said ‘Hanover’, so that was the right direction to Hanover then……
The sun was getting stronger every minute and I started to melt like a piece of glistening chocolate. I had a huge sign with the word Hanover and it was getting heavier every minute. Since this sign did not work well, I wrote another sign with the name of the highway.
This one worked better! Soon a luxurious shinning convertible with 3 young guys stopped.
They: Hi sir, where do you want to go?
I: As long as you are heading for this highway to Hanover, it’s OK!
They: OK! Come in!
The car rolled on. They were all about 18 years old. The car belonged to the father of one of the 3 boys. They were all studying in a school nearby, decent and polite kids. One of them was from Malaysia and moved with his mom to Germany a decade ago. We had to make a stop for him to pick up something from home and then they drove me to the highway.
Their English was not that great but they were trying their best. They insisted on taking me out of their way to a gas station along the highway, where I would have better chances.
The wind was blowing with the aroma of alms along the way. All our hair was flying like crazy octopuses in the air. I then realized that convertibles, although cool-looking, could be so uncomfortable. Hair got into noses and everybody started sneezing. We could not talk without shouting and even we shouted, we could not hear each as the mouths were instantly filled by hairs and sometimes passing insects.
Finally we arrived at a gas station with a fast food restaurant. I thanked them and we said goodbye.
So, the Germans……
I thought: now this is a good location, a perfect one actually, let’s ask some nice people and do some serious hitchhiking!
I went into the fast food place and saw this young couple eating there. I politely approached them.
I: Excuse, do you happen to be going to Hanover?
Man: Eh…… Yes……
I: Great! You see, I am hitchhiking and trying to reach my friend in Hanover, do you think you could give me a ride?
Man: NO! (then he continued eating without any facial expression)
You see, the Germans are really direct people. They never think that saying something harsh would hurt your feelings. For them, feelings are not that important and the same should be for you. What? You happen to be different and feelings do matter for you? Well, then be careful in Germany. The Dutch can also be very direct but the Dutch still have a good sense of humor and empathy. Also, the Dutch are much more open-minded. On the street in the Netherlands, strangers will smile to you and you can safely smile back. In Germany, when you smile at a stranger on the street, they would look around with suspicious eyes to check if you are smiling to somebody else. When they are sure that you are actually smiling to them, they will slant their eyes like screening you for massive destructive weapons and think you are either suffering from some mental disorder and have just escaped from some mental institution, or you want get something from them. In either case, they think it will be necessary to take extra precautions and report to the police immediately.
So much for the German spontaneity.
Of course there are exceptions, one of them being Berlin. As I mentioned before, culturally Berlin is not Germany, but its own country. In Berlin you can smile to strangers on the street and they do smile back. The Berliners are so much more spontaneous than average Germans that regular Germans experience heavy cultural shocks when they visit Berlin. In Berlin, you meet strangers in a pub, of which Berlin has a lot, you talk with them and you say: ‘I know this cool underground pub in a deserted East Berlin factory! Let”s go there and have fun!’ In any other city in Germany, people would look at you with rolling eyeballs and shocked faces as if you just lost your nose and become Voldemort, but in Berlin people would actually say: ‘Great! Let’s check it out!’
Of course, the Germans are known for other admirable qualities, such as precision, organization and dedication. Together with the Nordic peoples, the Germans are the most rational beings I have ever seen on our planet. That is why they have such high quality industry. Germany is essentially the biggest job market in EU. People from all EU countries, especially the PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) where their own economy is shit come to Germany to look for jobs. Germany has been ranked again and again as the economically most attractive country in EU. However, it has also been ranked again and again as the least sexy country in EU. If you go to any country which shares border with Germany, you would hear loads of stereotypical jokes about Germany and how strict and stiff the Germans are.
A: Why do they bury Germans 20 meters underground?
B: Because deep down they are really nice.
A: How many Germans does it take to change a light bulb?
B: One! We are very efficient and this is not a joke.
A: What does it mean when a cow is nicer than a woman?
B: You are in Germany!
Caution: These are just jokes, not facts. There are many lovely German women. 🙂
There are also facts instead of jokes. My Mexican friend Cesar used to work in a software development company in the Netherlands and they had collaboration with a German company in Cologne. Every now and then Cesar would go to Cologne to discuss software design with them. There was this one software designed by the Cologne company. The idea was good but the interface was really user-unfriendly. As a responsible collaborator, Cesar commented: ‘Eh… The idea is good but don’t you think we should make its appearance nicer and easier to use for clients?’ The German colleagues replied sternly: ‘Why! Why should we! There is a manual. They should read the manual! If they don’t know how to use it, it’s their problem!’
For technical sectors, the Germans are great but for anything related to human-human interaction and service, the Germans are really terrible.
All right, enough complaints about Germany. I have many lovely German friends with big hearts and great spirits and I still needed to find a ride from some kind Germans.
There was a gas station nearby which was on the way to Hanover, a small one but that would do. I walked there and saw this gas station had cars coming in every 15 minutes. However, there was also a traffic light in front so many cars had to stop and wait for the green light. It was a perfect spot. I held my sign and walked to all the cars stopping there, literally hundreds of them. After one hour still nobody stopped. As after the traffic light the road immediately got on the highway to Hanover, I was certain that half of the cars there were heading for that direction. Some of the cars even had Hanover licence board (letter H). However, when I showed my sign to these drivers with such licence boards, they simply turned their heads away and pretended that they did not see it.
Just when I was stuck and enjoying the German stern faces and the sunshine and the nice smell of flowers and gasoline, two girls were also dropped a few meters from me. They were hitchhiking to Berlin. You might think that it would be much easier to hitchhike for females. It is true for most countries, but in Germany it is not that much. Inside Europe, the female touch works the best in Muslim countries, such as Bosnia, Albania and Turkey, second best in Latin countries, Italy, Spain and so on, then in Slavic countries, Poland, Czech Republic and so on. In countries with much better gender equality like Germany and Sweden, the female touch does not always work out well. I saw a car with Hanover license board stopping at the gas station. There was a young fellow just returning home from work, he agreed to take me after 4 seconds hesitation. The two girls? They were still there.
May the Goddess of Hitchhiking be with them!
The young dude who took me was not going to Hanover but somewhere nearby. He worked in a car dealershop near Braunschweig and then he just finished working. He was not a particularly talkative guy, or better to say, like every German, he was quite silent. However, he was a great guy and eventually drove me out of his way to a tram (S-Bahn) station directly to Hanover.
When I arrived at the place of my couchsurfing host, it was already late afternoon and the sunset was just turning everything into shinning gold.
To be continued