Not that Germans are mean. Far from it. "The average German is friendly, he just has to show it," insists Economy Minister Michael Glos. But the universal sign of friendliness while providing service in hotels, restaurants and shops -- the smile -- is something most Germans just can't muster on the fly. It really isn't personal. Neither is the slow delivery of food and drink, which seems almost a matter of pride for German waitstaff. Which, come to think of it, may be where the idea of a "service desert" originates: there's a danger of dying of thirst before a fresh mug of beer shows up.
The country has been trying to fix the problem before the World Cup, with the recent launch of a "service and friendliness" campaign. The program aims to change centuries of hostile habits ingrained in charm-challenged Germans within a few short months. It seems like Sisyphean task. American-style friendliness is, after all, often equated with extreme superficiality by Germans. Treating customers as an unwelcome intrusion on an otherwise perfectly fine day in the shop is the norm.
If you walk into a store and say "Do you sell such-and-such," don't be surprised to hear a simple "No." Don't expect to hear "No, I'm afraid not," followed by an explanation of where you might find it. Accusatory complaints -- even outright refusal to complete a transaction -- when you are unable to cough up exact change is hardly uncommon. There are no official estimates of how much damage such obstinacy does to the German economy, but it must amount to the GNP of some of the smaller countries qualified for the World Cup.
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