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Chocolate Covered Germans

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by Kevin McHugh, for outsideleft.com
originally published: March, 2005
Eventually I came upon a sleek looking bar of chocolate, a fine piece of work from the Ritter company.

Sometimes I wonder why travel guides don't recommend a traveler to participate in the more mundane activities of life where they find themselves. Imagine a chic European going to a k-Mart. They certainly would get a taste of American life stuck between a loud, fat woman and a farmer innocently browsing through the women's lingerie section. I'm not sure what the equivalent here is in Germany, but I think the grocery store is a good place to start. As I predicted, such a thrilling and bizarre event as going shopping in China seems mundane in Germany, but one must only look deeper. In China a shopkeeper may have shouted at me incomprehensibly while calmly slashing a chicken's throat; in Germany the shopkeeper makes a passing remark that I should be thankful that he explained to me the rule that one must always use some sort of shopping cart.

Strange. Although I had observed this same shopkeeper at work on numerous occasions (his main job seemed to be adjusting the wine bottles so their label faced out at a perfect angle) now what struck me the most was not his reprimand but the eerie contrast between his voice, a gentle shepherd leading me toward a better understanding of German shopping rules, and his eyes, which had the look of both violent intensity and some degree of fear. I had "broken the rules" and he reacted with astonishing swiftness. The triviality of the rule was encompassed by the Rule itself, and thus any doubts lingering that maybe it didn't matter that I was using my own shopping bag instead of a cart or hand basket were overshadowed by the simple fact that the rule existed and should be followed.

Who is behind all these rules here? What causes other countries to be so easy going and Germans so anal? Why is the phrase "alles in Ordung" (everything's in order) the codetta to so many business transactions here?

I wandered further through the aisles and found one filled with candy, and sighed with relief that at least Americans and Germans have this in common. Eventually I came upon a sleek looking bar of chocolate, a fine piece of work from the Ritter company (probably akin to Hershey's in the USA) that was coincidentally a perfect square unlike most candy bars. What attracted me were the words "whiskey" and "truffle" finally united together on the cover. But no! This can't be enough for Germans. Included along the bottom, in simple, elegant writing, read the slogan "Quadratisch. Praktisch. Gut." (Logically, "Quadratic"—i.e. square, "Practical" and "Good"). Suddenly the refined differences in the German mentality aligned themselves, magnified onto this small bit of text.

Who in their right mind would look at some chocolate and think to themselves, "Quadratic? Practical? Good? I will now purchase this candy bar."

Apparently the people at Ritter had just this person in mind—someone who may approach the newfangled square chocolate bar with some hesitation, but upon being assuaged that this "quadratic-ness" was not only practical but good, would toss the bar into their aforementioned shopping cart with a terse nod and a silent murmur, "Ja, alles in Ordnung."

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