In middle Europe, an increasingly passé greeting among friends is “Servus!”. Depending on the region of Germany one finds themselves in, the usage of this phrase will either earn you a hearty response or a “Morgen” with a funny look. Regardless of how quickly the word betrays one’s origin, most german speakers would recognise its meaning. It comes from an old Latin phrase, which translates roughly to “at your service , my noble lord”. Isn’t it interesting that an almost hyperbolic pleasantry, would become an endangered folky colloquialism. What’s more is that as the greeting dies a slow death, the german people, for all their positive traits, struggle to provide a good customer service experience.
This is definitely a generalization. Sometimes, when I am out to buy a coffee or get some dinner a server or barista will surprise me with a strong display of training and pride in their service. But even in these instances, it is hard to describe the service as exceptional.
It’s not that the Germans with whom I’ve interracted are mean, or lazy, or disinterested. Quite the contrary. So why is this a reoccuring phenomenon? My best guess is three-fold: (1) it’s not something that is forefront in the minds of those who manage these organizations causing employees to disregard customer service as a priority. (2) The bureaucracy is massive and its easy for customers/clients/citizens to get lost in the system. (3) It is common to use the 4 – 6 weeks of vacation which full-time German employees receive in addition to a decent amount of personal time. It seems like everytime I reach out to someone at the bank, they are not there and won’t be back for some time.
I recently relayed my qualms to a german friend and he suggested as an explanation that I am foreign and therefore people just don’t want to deal with me. That might be true in many circumstances, but I can speak enough german to communicate. Shouldn’t that endear me to some degree and thereby make this a less consistent occurence?
The one exception, surprisingly, to this observation is the government. They make you do wierd stuff like register, or “Anmeldung”, with the local municipality whenever you move. But our experiences have been efficient and positive during these appointments. That and their websites are actually well-designed. This was extremely refreshing in comparison to dealing with the state in the U.S.
One might also consider that german service is pretty good and that service in the United States is just exceptional. Don’t delude yourself, I talked to the Australians, and they agree that service here leaves something to be desired. Lastly, I want to consider the fact that Germans in general are a fairly unemotional bunch and that perhaps their tolerance for rudeness is higher than mine. In this regard, I am thankful as I generally cringe at public displays of unneeded drama.
Whatever the reason may be, its an observation I’ve made. This may be the most glaringly negative aspect of living in Germany, which is saying a lot since Katelin can ride public transport home at midnight without too much worry and we live behind a castle. Its still overall a fantastic place to be and I am supremely grateful to be greeting strangers with a friendly “Servus!”.