Bloody Hell, Germany\’s a strange country

So here I am in Freiberg, getting stuff sorted out. Rent a flat, buy a bed, get lamps in, all this sort of stuff. Yesterday, went and bought desk, kitchen table, shelves.

Well, I say desk and kitchen table. Two cheap doors on four trestles, no point in wasting the shareholders\’ money.

So I\’d wandered up the hill (3, 4 clicks away), bought them for delivery. They give me the noon to 6pm delivery slot.

It is now exactly noon at pixel time. And the man turned up 20 minutes ago, unloaded, said thanks and I\’ve already got the desk up and running.

There\’s something terribly wrong with this picture isn\’t there? Delivery early, but early enough to be really on time?

Or yesterday, I had to register in Germany (and no, I won\’t be here more than 183 days a year!) So off to the Rathaus (yes, that and Ratskeller do still make me laugh) and the Tuesday afternoon possibility for you to register. And we have no common language. My German extends to \”Wo ist\” sort of stuff, where you speak English but with a heavy accent, no more. Their English was at a similar level and we weren\’t going to get anywhere with schoolboy French or supermarket Portuguese, not in this corner of Europe. My Russian\’s very rusty and I have a feeling that it\’s still impolitic to use it around here.

But still, we got the registration done with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of embarassed smiles as we stumbled through various mistakes (no, you can\’t put down my citizenship as Irish, that all rather changed around 1920 or so whatever g-grandpops thought about it). 15 minutes all told. Then round to the bank, with the registration, to open an account.

Only person there who spoke English (other than a very cute and pneumatic girl who backed out saying she was still studying English and therefore didn\’t feel up to it) was the branch manager so he opened the account.

He made me a cup of coffee and by the time I had drunk it we were done: card and PIN on the way.

How the hell did any country ever end up with bureaucracy that works?

14 comments on “Bloody Hell, Germany\’s a strange country

  1. So why can’t Spain, France, Greece, Italy and Portugal realise that getting things done quickly and efficiently makes for a prosperous economy? Why the hell do they cling on to the inefficient and often pointless procedures required to do almost anything? It’s so simple. Thoughts please.

  2. MarkS, I think Tim’s point was that the Germans also have “inefficient and often pointless procedures required to do almost anything”, but they carry out those pointless procedures in an efficient manner.

    Just something about the German national character, I think. Sometimes useful, sometimes scary.

  3. I liked it when the man came to fix the boiler. Punctual, neat, tidy, quick and charged exactly what he said he would. A tribute to the benefit of requiring tradesmen to be licensed.

    But just wait till you get a lecture about something you haven’t done quite right!

  4. H (#3) – again, is that because the tradesman was licensed, or because he was German?

    In the UK, licensing tradesmen would mean that the registered ones would lobby to put up barriers of entry to competitors, so there wouldn’t be enough of them, resulting in huge waiting lists, and when they did turn up they would behave as if they were doing you a favour.

    And on top of the licensing system would squat a huge bureaucracy, with ethnic and gender monitoring and compulsory training courses on diversity sensitivity, which would drive up the cost to no benefit to the customer.

  5. Richard,

    Do you mean these people?

    You seem to require CEN1 and CPA1 certification (and a spare £175 + VAT). Quite a lot for a piece of plastic. The diversity training appears to apply just to the bureaucracy (at the moment) rather than the products themselves.

  6. MarkS

    ………So why can’t Spain, France, Greece, Italy and Portugal realise that getting things done quickly and efficiently makes for a prosperous economy? Why the hell do they cling on to the inefficient and often pointless procedures required to do almost anything? It’s so simple. Thoughts please………

    The only way to get the PIGS flying again is to sack most of the bureaucrats. Unfortunately, the belt tightening has mainly meant private sector workers losing their jobs.

    Producer Capture, a grip so tight WD40 will not shift it.

  7. You should try banking in SA….and no, it’s not a horror story at all.

    Lost debit card. Called bank, expecting a two week wait or whatever I normally get in the UK. Told them it was really urgent.

    An hour later, I have a new card and pin ready for me at the branch next door to my office.

    Honestly couldn’t believe it, but it truly is the representation of customer service adding value to a company in a market economy.

  8. I went into Kasikorn Bank in Thailand armed with a passport and 1000 Baht (£20). 15 minutes later I walked out with a Visa debit card (with the words Privileged Member where the name normally goes) which works in any Visa retail terminal or ATM worldwide, linked to an account into which I could transfer any amount of money in any currency from anywhere. The Thais understand that expats want bank accounts to stuff money into, not to obtain loans and launder money.

    When I tried opening a bank account in Russia, I gave up after about a year.

  9. A licensing system is all well and good, as long as you make it optional.

    If the license has any value, ie is actually relevant not a means to cover one’s ass for example, then the market will price it accordingly. Otherwise, in the words of Smith (or was it Bastiat?), men of a particular trade seldom get together for the benefit of others…

    Lastly, my wife is German so we have some dealings with the country. I can safely say that a lot of things are done as badly as here!

  10. Creeping trade protection is well established in the UK. No one without a cetificate is allowed to touch either gas or electricity (the machinery that uses the stuff, not the gas or electricity, of course) . The certificate dosen’t mean they know anything about the sevices, just that they have a certificate, and can therefore charge more. Added to which, every business has to have all its systems certified by said certificated engineers and little stickers to prove to the visting bureaucrats that inpections have been carried out at great expense. Said bureaucrats are not entitled to check that the stickered item works, they are not after all certificated , just that it has a sticker on it.

  11. Have a nice time in Frieburg. It´s a charming place. Basel is down the road and has one or two superb art museums. I recommend you try to learn some more German. Germans are very pleased to hear a little of their language. The key to understanding German rule following is this: the social contract operates on the principle that in general things work best for most people when the system proceeds as planned. Occasionally, maintainting that rule is tough: the bus driver won´t wait 20 seconds extra for you, say. But if he stopped for you, he´d make a busfull of people late. Usually you´re that person on the bus: would you want the bus to wait for every late person? No, the bus would never arrive on time. The onus is on the individual to manage to be on time and be orderly. The payoff is a predictable systems that is smooth and fuss free.
    Incidentally, the flip-side of this love of orderliness is that German´s like to have fun when they have time off. Check out the barbecues in summer time and then go to France and see how much less fun is in evidence.

    Tim adds: Quick hint: it’s Freiberg, not Freiburg. Up in Sachsen…..

  12. Nick: gas is restricted to CORGI chaps, and I’m happy with that one (well, OK, I’d be equally happy to say that owner-occupiers in detached houses could do whatever the hell they liked, but I don’t want to be sharing a block of flats with someone who’s decided to sort out the gas himself). Fairly sure you can still do your own electric if you like, though – unlike Oz, where you do need to bring in a registered sparkie.

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