There are a lot of great things about Germany: easy public transportation, lots of outdoor eating, interesting history, beer gardens, beautiful parks, etc., but there is one thing that drives me crazy, staring. German people stare at you and it is uncomfortable.
I started noticing it during the first week we were here. I initially thought we must just look out of place and that my kids are crazy. Then I noticed it even when we weren’t doing anything that seemed out of the ordinary. I kept thinking “what are we doing?” When I mentioned it to Sanjay he thought I was just being self conscious, but then he started to notice it too. On the train, walking down the street, sitting at a meal people will stare at you. When we were in Vienna, not Germany obviously but similar, a woman continued to blatantly stare at the girls and me while eating breakfast. Again nothing unusual no screaming or throwing food just eating like normal people. Yet she continued to completely turn her head to watch us.
Many times when I notice it the kids are acting out in someway, a tantrum or just excessive talking. I get it, this is not something the Germans seem to approve of, but it is still not alright to stare. Also do you think that staring will somehow magically make them behave? If it did don’t you think I’d be staring them down too? It’s not like I’m trying to win a contest for most questions answered within 3o seconds or that my favorite sound is a child screaming “mama” at the top of her lungs on a crowded train.
I decided to research this a little to see if anyone else had noticed the staring and came across many blog posts from expats commenting on this behavior. I doubt you would really notice it as a tourist because you are too busy doing other things and not going through a more daily routine. All of the expats were either from the US or UK. In these countries children are taught that staring is rude. If you are caught staring you quickly avert your gaze and try to go unnoticed. Even if someone is doing something interesting you are not supposed to stare.
From my research I have learned that this is something Germans are not taught. They are also not trying to stare. They are observing and view others as merely part of the landscape. Ok. I guess that is fine. Every culture is different, but unless I see a crazy looking tree or an animal doing something neat I don’t even really stare at the landscape. Sure we all space out from time to time, but that is definitely not what is happening here. The other thing that makes it weird is they don’t stop when you catch them staring. Nor do they smile back or acknowledge you in anyway when you attempt to acknowledge them. I am notorious for getting involved in unwanted conversations on public transportation for smiling at people who make eye contact with me. I’m just trying to be polite, but here there is not reaction just to keep staring. Please, make it more awkward people. At least give me something. Tell me to keep my kid quiet, or you don’t like what we’re doing. Something. Anything. Please don’t just stare at me!
I don’t think this is something I would ever be comfortable with, but I’m learning to just accept it as part of their culture. Though I still think staring is rude. Sometimes I just stare back or I give a smile even if it’s not returned. Sometimes the staring, while clearly judgy is helpful. Today for example while on the tram, an older woman was staring at Karina while she was sitting in her stroller facing away from me. I noticed her staring and just ignored it until she started to make a disgusted face. I thought maybe I should see what was happening and Karina was putting a small toy in her mouth. Not sure this warranted the woman’s expression considering Karina often attempts to eat rocks and sand, but thank you staring lady for preventing my child from choking.
You should really google “German stare,” I promise I’m not crazy. It’s a thing.