EIGHT REASONS THE GERMANS GAWK AT YOU AND WHY IT’S NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT
Have you ever wandered through Edeka or Aldi feeling like you’re growing a third arm from your forehead, based on the way the other customers follow you with their eyes?
Welcome to Germany!
That exact behavior made me feel extremely uncomfortable when I returned home after spending a few years in the US. Floored, I complained to my husband about society having changed and people being even ruder than I remembered. Because let’s be real here: It’s not like Germans could ever win a friendliness medal, to begin with.
What shocked me even more, however, was his answer: the legendary German Stare is very well-known across continents, to the point where travelers warn other foreigners about it. I guess the good news is that we’re unique – it’s just that we seem like a nation of creeps.
So why do the Germans goggle? Is there anything you can do about it? And should you be worried?
Here’s what I found out after discussing this with other natives.
1. THEY WANT TO KNOW WHO YOU ARE
When you go for a stroll in your new neighborhood or when you drive through a quaint village, the residents will notice that they’ve never seen you – or your car – before.
Their prying eyes want to know what you’re doing there, similar to Americans who share their security camera footage on nextdoor.com asking whether anyone knows about that “suspicious vehicle that was parked on Bellavista Pkwy for 2 minutes at 8.43 am”.
Since it would be considered rude to just ask, and security cameras facing the street are prohibited here, good old staring is the way to go.
2. THEY WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU DON’T BREAK THE LAW
Germans are always ready to scold strangers, especially when it benefits keeping their neighborhood orderly, so prove yourself worthy of walking their sacred streets and abide by every single one of their rules.
Don’t park your car anywhere you shouldn’t, don’t disturb quiet hours, and don’t let your dog do his business in someone’s front yard.
This way, the housewives who happen to bring out their trash right when you walk past their houses will lose interest in you and scatter away pretty quickly – just like some predators will let go of their prey if it plays possum.
3. THEY WANT TO KNOW WHERE YOU’RE FROM
They notice you don’t speak German and try to listen more closely to figure out where you’re from and what language it IS that you’re speaking. They’re just being nosy. Yes, it’s not necessarily polite – but harmless.
If you’re bilingual, make a game out of it: switch languages several times within a sentence and watch their brains slowly get tied up in a knot from confusion.
If you can get them to walk up to you and ask where you’re from, you’ll forever be my hero! While Germans are very direct, it’s extremely rare for them to strike up a conversation with people they don’t know – unless, as I said, it’s to scold them.
4. THEY LIKE THE WAY YOU LOOK
They also don’t give compliments to random strangers.
So, if someone thinks your clothes look nice, they most likely won’t just walk up to you, flash you their biggest smile, and shriek “I love your jacket!” the way Americans would.
Instead, they will gawk at you, quietly admire your taste, and pin their hopes on magically coming across that jacket one day, so they can snap it up for themselves.
5. THEY WANT TO WORK ON THEIR LANGUAGE SKILLS
Back at university, one of my English professors used to say: “The best way to learn a foreign language is in bed!”
He was right, but unfortunately, that’s not always a possibility for everyone – just think of the ugly or stinky – so for many, listening to native speakers that are a little farther away is the next best thing.
Thanks to the internet and streaming services like Netflix, that’s a lot easier to do nowadays, but still, eavesdropping when encountering the occasional American is always a good way to get in some spontaneous extra practice.
6. THEY ARE TRYING TO SEE WHETHER YOU NEED HELP
I’m a translator. I’ve been in a bilingual relationship for about 10 years now, and I’ve lived in both the US and Germany. It’s my first instinct to help, if I witness you having trouble because of the language barrier.
But I’m also a teacher and know that practice is crucial, so I want you to succeed on your own and learn from it. Can’t ever turn off that teacher gene!
Of course, I try to avoid being rude and interrupt, so I’ll just lurk and goggle, to see whether you need me. Know that, even though I might come off as creepy that way, I’m rooting for you from afar.
Make me proud – I’m watching!
7. THEY DON’T REALIZE THEY’RE DOING IT
Germans don’t notice when someone stares at them, so they don’t think twice when doing it to others.
I can be sitting at a restaurant, completely lost in thoughts about something unrelated, like the time I got angry at someone and hid all their left shoes or when to get my next tick shot, all while unintentionally staring down the family at the next table without even really looking at them.
If they’re German, they won’t notice. But in case they’re not: I swear, I’m not plotting to kidnap your child. I’m only thinking about shoes!
8. THEY’RE FLIRTING
They might not be very good at it – after all, you’re only CLOSE TO but not IN France or Italy – but they’re trying. And hey, at least catcalling isn’t quite as common here as it is in other parts of the world, so enjoy being left alone for a change.
DON’T FEAR THE GERMAN STARE
As you can see, goggling Germans are not being hostile at all and while their stare can make you feel uncomfortable that’s never anyone’s intention. As mentioned, they gawk at other natives too, so if you’re on the receiving end, keep in mind it’s just part of the culture.
Is it politically correct, welcoming, and polite? Nope. Is there room for improvement? Definitely.
But if you want to subtly put them in their place, simply smile at them and say “hi”. More often than not, they will realize what’s going on and will either look away or greet you back. Either way, they’ll stop staring and that’s what counts.
Based on experience, I can assure you that you will no longer notice it after a little while.
In fact, you’ll be gawking back at people like a pro very soon – making newcomers feel uncomfortable, one stare at a time.