I have decided to begin posting extracts from my sometime-next-year “soon” to be released new book, “Germans Do Everything Wrong (and a few things they get right)”. First up:
The Draft Will Get You Killed
No, not the kind where your government drags you off to fight in its wars without your consent. We suspended that in 2011. No, we’re talking about something far more deadly here.
Ask any German, and they will tell you that air, in its various states of motion, is the cause of all illness. It seems that concepts like viruses and bacteria simply haven’t reached Germany yet, which has instead gotten stuck on the miasma theories of pre-scientific medieval Europe. You see, the German relationship with air is so perplexing because it is, like most of the things wrong with Germany, completely self-contradictory and yet they are just as completely unaware of this fact.
Let us start with the German fear of the draft. Germans believe, with absolute conviction, that air moving through a building can bring even the strongest German to his knees, starting with a stiffness in the neck, progressing to a sore throat, and progressing, in various stages, to full-blown bed-ridden debilitation. I have even heard Germans assign it as the cause of their co-worker’s meningitis, with said co-worker nodding in agreement.
You’d think this was a fear of outside air—which I am about to confirm and which will be contradicted later—and Germans would tend to agree. If it’s at all likely to be windy outside, you’d better wear a scarf, even if it’s 90 degrees out there and not a cloud in the sky. If you don’t, you’ll certainly get a sore throat from all that wind doing … something—the mechanism for all these things is never really explained.
Of course, it’s not just air coming from outside that is the problem but—and take note here, for this will be contradicted later—the very movement itself which causes illness. Thus not only will you find German offices and homes so well insulated as to be hermetically sealed from any outside air, you will also find them lacking in fans, air vents, or modern air conditioning and forced air heating systems. These all cause air to move, and are therefore highly dangerous.
But here’s the kicker. German are afraid of air that moves, but they are equally afraid of air that isn’t moving. Stale air, as much as air that happens to be moving, will make you sick. Thus, despite spending their whole day hermetically sealed from the outside world, Germans will, like clockwork, get up every morning and open all the windows to air out their houses. You can literally, I kid you not, buy charts which tell you exactly how long to open your windows for each day of the year as the seasons change, adjusted for whether you are opening them fully or have them tilted.
Combine this fear of stale air with a German’s deathly fear of mould and you get an explosive obsession with airing out their apartments. In their pursuit of a completely damp-free home, Germans, you will be amused to discover, all squeegee down their showers after use—you know, that one thing in your house that is literally designed to get and be wet. You’d think the whole mould thing would be the explanation for their obsession with airing out their apartments. It makes sense—cold countries mean cold houses, mean less frequently opening the windows so as to keep the heat in, mean mould—but it isn’t. Stale air is bad, and mould is bad, but are completely unrelated concepts, apparently.
Of course, the amusing part is when this fear of stale air conflicts with a fear of the draft. It results either in a ridiculous situation where Germans seal off a part of their house, open the windows in it and then close the door and go hide in another room and cower until this whole thing is all over, or in them running around, opening all the windows, and then pegging it out the door while they go do their shopping out of fear that the slightest touch of moving air will get them killed. If only there existed some sort of modern technology designed to ventilate buildings…
But it gets worse, for the rules on moving air vs. stale air start to get a little bit more complicated when the seasons come into play. If, for example, it is a stifling day in the middle of summer and the office is hot and humid, your German co-workers will insist that the windows must remain closed, because, of course, drafts kill. But in mid-winter, it is the fear of stale air that takes precedent, so that it is not uncommon to enter the office on a cold winter morning to find all the windows thrown open to let in the frosty air, with any attempt to close them being met with a stern talk about the dangers of stale air and an insistence that we must remain just as cold as if we were standing outside naked in the snow for the benefit of our health. It seems that the rules of balancing the threat stale air against that of moving air are more complicated and esoteric than they seem, with the only hard and fast rule seeming to be that the situation which is most suitable to a German in a given circumstance is that which makes everybody else the most uncomfortable—which actually pretty accurately describes just about any situation in Germany about equally well.
So what the hell is going on here? Well, if you press a German on this and repeatedly point out the contradictions, you will eventually get to a point where they tell you that it’s not the moving air that’s the problem, but air that moves through a room. Germans even have a special word for this that no other language has: “Durchzug,” meaning “through movement.” Remember a few paragraphs back I told you to take note, for contradictions were on their way? Well, I ask said Germans, if it’s air moving through a room that’s a problem, then why are you deathly scared of fans, vents and air con? “Ah,” they will tell you, “well that’s different.” If you press them for an explanation, instead of actually getting one, you’ll just get a story about their co-worker who once used a fan and got meningitis. Trust me.
You’d think (and hope) that we’d be through with this by now, but we aren’t. There are, apparently, benefits to air too, as long as you’re in the countryside, outside, and have your neck safely covered in case of wind. For you see, if you do fall ill, probably because of the air, of course, rather than insist on bed rest and some actual medicine, your doctor is equally likely to prescribe you a trip to the countryside to indulge in the miraculous healing properties of fresh green air. Which brings us onto our next topic…
Up Next: Real Medicine Will Get You Killed