We returned last week, August 2013, from the United States. My son, Daniel (15), and I did our annual Father-Son USA trip. We stay at my mother‘s home in suburban Philadelphia and travel throughout the region visiting relatives, taking trips to New York City, the Jersey Shore, to Washington DC, and on to Virginia.
It is a special time for us each year. And it involves a lot of travel: airports, train stations, car driving, subways and buses. And it involves a lot of activities: visiting relatives and friends, sight-seeing, museums, eating at restaurants, and many other things folks do during their vacation.
What I notice time and again, however, is how different Germans and Americans are in public. Germans are very quiet in public spaces. Whether in a bus, a streetcar, a subway, long-distance train, or in an airplane, they are reserved.
When they do converse with each other it is done in most cases discreetly and quietly. It is true that German train stations can be loud due to constant public announcements of arriving and departing trains. But the passengers themselves are discreet, both on the platform waiting for their connection, and especially in the train.
Whenever I travel by public transportation in Germany with my son, whose mother is German and who has been raised in Germany, he gets impatient with me when I talk to him at what I consider to be a normal and acceptable volume level.
The greatest contrast for me is when I fly from Philadelphia to Frankfurt. American airports are loud. There seems to be a television hanging from the ceiling ever twenty-five feet with either CNN, Fox or some other channel blaring away. And because network television in the U.S. is fighting so hard to hold viewers (from going to the Internet), they have become rather shrill, almost screaming, as if everything they have to say is breaking news of the utmost importance for the future of humankind.
If the television noise isn’t enough, you have stores, bars, and restaurants located between the gates. American airports have become shopping malls. This is nice. Who would want to go back to the old days when airports were like ugly bus terminals? Impersonal, bland, boring. But notice the noise level at airports in the U.S.
Americans are simply extroverted compared to Germans, at least in public spaces. We Americans are friendly, outgoing. We like to talk, be active, be social. It’s just the way we are. And why not? It’s fun. (Of course, if we’re honest with each other, many Americans simply do not know how to behave in public.)
But I like the Frankfurt Airport, too. Well organized. Quiet. Especially after one arrives from the U.S. early in the morning after a flight where sleep is next to impossible. It‘s almost like a museum. Passengers move quietly and purposely from flight to baggage pick-up, place their things on those heavy, stable carts, move through customs often without having anything checked, then off to either a taxi, a train, or a waiting car. Yes, there are now many stores in the Frankfurt Airport. Yes, it too is a shopping mall, but a German shopping mall. Quiet, reserved, discreet.
Germans are simply introverted compared to the Americans, at least in public spaces. Germans are friendly, outgoing. They like to talk, be active, be social. But not so much in public space. That‘s just the way they are. And why not, it’s respectful.