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dennis batchelder

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Das Ist Verboten!
By dennis batchelder
Saturday, September 20, 2008

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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My lesson in how German rules work.


Verboten is a good German word. It means "forbidden", and it's posted everywhere.

Parken Verboten - no parking
Rauchen Verboten - no smoking
Zutritt Verbotten - no entry here
Halten Verboten - no stopping
Anfassen Verboten - do not touch
Die Vogel Futtern Verboten - do not feed the birds
Den Rasen Betreten ist Verboten - do not step on the grass

You see how nice and strong it is? German is that way - very direct. Instead of saying "Nict Parken" ("No Parking"), they say "Parken Verboten" ("Parking is Forbidden").

I guess you always you know what to do this way. In the States, we tend to ignore signs that don't mention dire consequences. A more effective "No Parking" sign in the States is "No Parking. If towed, call 555-1234". Or maybe "No Parking. Fine is $98". THEN we test to pay attention.

But Germans don't need this. If they see the word "Verboten", they respect it. Das ist gute.



I had to go from the show to the train station to buy a ticket from Hannover to Frankfurt Airport. So I asked Alexander (one of the resellers) to come with me and help me figure out how to do this. Alexander is a good German; he reads the signs, follows directions, doesn't bend the rules. His English is pretty good, too.

Hannover Exhibition Park is so big that it has its own main-line train station just outside the west exit. Our booth is between the south and east exits; about 1 mile away. So we got on a shuttle bus to ride to the west exit. It turns out that we get on the right bus, but it's going in the wrong direction. So we first go to the north exit, then back to the east, south, and finally to the west exit. All told, about one hour's worth of shuttle bus riding.

Once you exit the park for the day, you can't get back in. So I figured that we'd have to ask for some kind of pass, so they'd let us back in. I found the information booth, and asked Alexander to find out how to get permission to let us back in, after I buy my train ticket.

After a very short discussion at the information desk, Alex informs me that we need to go back to the east exit to get the pass. I look at him, and ask him if he's sure - we just spent an hour getting this far; why should we go all the way back to get a pass, and then return here? Alex says that there's no other way - we must go to the information booth at the east exit.

I try again with Alex. Why can't we tell this guy that we'll be right back? Maybe we can leave some collateral with him? Alex says no, das its verboten. It is against the rules.

I give up. We wait 1/2 hour to get back on the shuttle bus, and begin the journey towards the east exit. By now I'm pretty frustrated, especially because this shuttle bus is very crowded, and we're crammed up against lots of other people.

I decide to tell Alex exactly what's wrong with this system. I explain to him how much time we are wasting because he's just following the rules, instead of trying to stretch them. He doesn't understand.

I try again. I tell him that in America, we wouldn't take "no" for an answer, and would have argued just a bit more strenuously with the guy at the west exit. In fact, I tell him, most Americans would have put up a big enough stink that the guy would definitely have let us through. Again Alex doesn't really understand; he's looking at me as if I'm crazy.

My last try (now I'm really heated up): I ask Alex if he understands that I'm frustrated because we've now spent two hours, and I still don't have a ticket yet. Alex says he understands that I'm upset, but this is the way Germany works. We do what the information man tells us to. This is best. This is how the system works. To argue is verboten.

I give up. And ride to the east gate in silence. I'm fuming. But what can I do? I'm at his mercy. Now I'm cursing all Germans, and their rule-following attitudes. No wonder why America is so successful - we see problems, and we fix them! No wonder why people are flocking to our country - we allow imagination and ingenuity to run free. Oh, I am so mad!

We get to the information booth, and right behind it is a counter where I can buy a train ticket. I don't even have to go outside of the park. And it's only 100 yards from our booth. No line, no hassle, no fuss.

We walk back to our booth in silence. When we get there, I use my American imagination and ingenuity to apologize profusely to Alex. He smiles. It's good to follow the rules, no?

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Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 9/21/2008
Wow, what an experience, and das ist gute! :) (I know enough German to get into trouble; one of my neighbors in Ohio was German; she taught me; have learned a few more German words since then. :) ) Excellent story; well done! :)

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