There is a nice article in the New York Times today about asking for directions in New York City. This article is a fine testimony to New Yorkers who will take a moment to try to be helpful to some lost and lonely non-New Yorker who want to know how to get somewhere. Even with our miraculously efficient grid system, it is not always easy. The writer of the article is one of the New Yorkers who will do more than indicate a direction and say, yeah, down that way. God bless him for that. This reminds me of my time studying in Germany and becoming accustomed to the Germanic method of giving directions.
First, they evaluate your German. If you fail this threshold test, I'm pretty sure that the entire enterprise grinds to a halt. My German is pretty good, though, and because of my excellent accent it sounds better than it is, so the honest Burghers would proceed to give me directions.
Okay. Now the German or Germans have engaged with you, and they have accepted your request for assistance. What happens now is different from America or probably anywhere else. You have triggered in the unassuming German citizen a feeling of Pflichtgefuele, or Pflichtbewusstsein. This is the sense of duty that all Germans respond to in situations large and small.
Now that you are all Kameraden, the German will give you detailed directions to your destination. They know full well that the German language is not easy, so they will naturally speak to you slowly and clearly, using less than their full vocabulary. “Direkt um die Ecke,” and so forth. You may think that when the directions are complete, you are ready to proceed. No, that is not the case.
The German, or Germans, having accepted the duty to help you, will now require a demonstration proving that you have understood their directions. You must repeat the directions, in German, back to them. If you do not, or cannot, they will not be able to sleep that night. The Pflictgefuele having been triggered, they may wish to escort you to your destination. If you repeat the directions perfectly with a smile, they will be very self-satisfied, and they will compliment your wonderful German and wish you well.
The Germans are not like anyone else in the world, and their uniqueness has led them astray on occasion. If one will only make a small attempt to understand them, however, and apply a bit of common sense to the issue, they turn out to be very cooperative, friendly people. Also, they dress much better than you might expect and the food is much more entertaining than is generally given credit. I've visited the place twice, and I'd go back if such a thing were practicable. Sadly, the nature of money is that after you have spent it, you no longer have it. That's my medical war chest that we're talking about, and I'm hanging on to as much of that as possible. But I have my memories, which are all good.