Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ordnung muss sein...

A commonly heard phrase, it's translated to English as "order must be." It refers to the German image of efficiency, organization and punctuality, and is happily used by Americans and Germans alike to describe stereotypical German behavior. I've always found the phrase funny yet irrelevant, as the Germans I knew best were chronically late, unbelievably messy, and tended to dance around their responsibilities rather than completing them in the most efficient manner possible. I used to say "Ordnung muss (nicht immer) sein".

Until, that is, I moved to Germany and wanted to get my mail delivered.

A stern and brusque woman, my landlady runs her building with efficiency, fairly but strictly ruling all within her domain. Except for putting my name on our postbox, which after three weeks of moving in was still missing from the front door. Normally I wouldn't care, but in Germany, Ordnung muss sein and if your name isn't on the box, you don't get the mail. Expecting mail from my bank, the local government, the tax ministry, and my friends and family, I was naturally anxious to put my name on the box. So after a few weeks, I finally gave up and simply put my name on a post-it note and stuck it on the mailbox on my way to school.

Imagine my glee when I came home four hours later to find that the sticky note had been removed and a nicely typed and printed sticker with my name now stood upon the box. That meant that sometime between the morning and afternoon, not only had she noticed the sticky note and removed it, but she had gone back to her office, typed up an official name tag, opened the cover, and replaced the old one. The simple incongruity provided by a little sticky note was enough to motivate my landlady into action and make me an official resident of the building. Now I know, if I ever want something, I just need to create enough incongruity to tug at the ole' German desire for order.

When it comes to the mail in Germany, as they say, Ordnung muss sein.

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