Germans have a passion for precision. I don’t know how often I have heard that cliché during my eight years living in London. And I have to admit I did miss a bit of German precision when dealing with mechanics and handymen. That was particularly the case with regard to the first flat we were renting in Islington, which suffered from a rain water problem. The balcony’s drain was located at the highest point. Fortunately it rarely rains in London, but when it did, gravity took its toll and the rain water dripped into our bedroom underneath the balcony. A fair number of “engineers” tried to fix the issue in the year we were living there. Each and everyone failed.
After my first full month back in Germany, I am getting the feeling some Germans are going English precision-wise. One example is the German Post Office and its retail bank, the Postbank, which these days is owned by Deutsche Bank, the country’s biggest lender. We’ve had an online account with the Postbank for donkey’s years and needed to update our new address in Frankfurt. Unfortunately you cannot do that online, so I tried to do it in person.
The first attempt failed. I was at the Postbank closest to where we live at 8.30am in the morning when it opens. There were already 25 people waiting in front of the door, so I decided to postpone it. A few days later, when only 15 people were waiting, I gave it a try. After queueing for a quarter of an hour, it was my turn. A rather grumpy man attempted to deal with my seemingly simple request. He typed on his keyboard, at first slowly, then energetically, then in great despair, he started sweating, looked even more grumpy at the queue behind me which became long and longer. He did not look at me, he did not talk to me, he did not ask for my new address, he obviously did not find the right page to type it in.
I waited patiently, I asked whether there was another way of changing my address. After the second attempt he turned away, went to an office in his back and came with a sheet of paper. It looked like it had been used before the invention of a computer. He quietly gave me the sheet of paper and asked me to write my new address down on this paper, to give it to him afterwards and he would send it someplace where somebody could change my address electronically.
I had a hard time not laughing about this procedure. It’s the year 2017 and the German Postbank uses methods like more than twenty years ago for a mundane task like updating a customer’s address.
Okay, this poor guy is probably more used to selling stamps, I thought. I’ll better try his colleague, who is more of an advisor and more specialized in banking questions. Unfortunately I had not made an appointment beforehand, but got one for the next day.
When rocking up at the Postbank branch the following day, I found the door closed and a hand-written note by the door saying “The branch will open later due to illness”. Later? What means later? A few minutes later, half an hour later, an hour later? And what about my appointment?
I was one of at least a dozen people standing in front of the Post Office hoping somebody would come out and give us more information. We waited ten minutes, we waited 15 minutes, but nobody came.
After almost 20 minutes I gave up and I could not behave British any more. I called my husband and was swearing like a trooper. Come on, it cannot be this hard to sort out my problem. He suggested we switch banks and open up a new current account with a challenger bank.
My anger vanished after a few minutes and another thought crossed my mind: I realised that all those Germans who waited with me for the Post Office to open had formed an orderly queue . They did not throw a fit but were waiting patiently, killing time on their smartphone. Nobody jumping the queue, nobody becoming impertinent. Maybe it’s after all not this bad when Germans go British.
It took me two more attempts to eventually update the address with Postbank.