Last week the German Etiquette Society (DKG) called for kissing to be banned in the workplace. ‘The suspicion for many remains that there is, or may be, an erotic component to the kissing. Kissing simply gets on the nerves of many at work. It is a form of terror,’ stated the organisation’s chairman Hans-Michael Klein.
The dottiness of the DKG’s announcement necessitates a robust response and so – in this week’s blog – I am renewing my call for the establishment of a national Cuddle-a-German Day (Deutscher Kuscheltag). Once every twelve months, in every city and town in this land, from Bremen to Munich, Aurich to Zwickau, I suggested that Germans should be permitted to approach strangers, catch their eye, smile and then share a brief and disarming embrace.
The motivation for my proposal was the impression that many Germans suppress their innocent, individual impulses, imposing collective discipline on others, sapping joy out of life. To back me up I quoted Goethe who once wrote, ‘Germany is nothing, but every individual German is much, and yet the Germans imagine the reverse to be true’.
As regular readers will recall, my campaign started after a visit to my local Lidl to buy a jar of gherkins. As I planned to be in and out of the supermarket in a minute, I didn’t take a shopping cart. But when I reached the till the teller admonished me. ‘You don’t have a cart,’ she observed.
‘I only need these pickles, and I have a bag,’ I replied, showing her my eco-friendly Oxford Book Festival canvas shopping bag. ‘This bag works in England.’
‘Next time you must have a trolley,’ said the teller, taking my money, moving on. But then the woman behind me in the queue started clicking her tongue. In complete earnestness she ticked me off, saying, ‘Young man, you have no trolley.’
‘Perhaps you should call the police,’ I suggested, trying to stir a modicum of humour into her soul.
‘We are simply informing you of the correct procedure,’ chipped in the teller, the two of them ganging up on me.
I left it at that but what worried me was = the Lidl ladies never questioned that collective rules – however dotty – should take precedence over spontaneity. I had to use a trolley and no concession was to be made for not having one.
The incident made me ask why many Germans embrace conformity, or at least run scared of simple, impulsive gestures? Why create antagonism – either within ourselves or through conflict with another – and squash our sense of fun? The answer seemed to be obvious: the Germans weren’t get enough cuddles. Hence my call for a Hug-a-German Day.
This being Germany the rules for the Deutscher Kuscheltag needed to be clear. First, the person embraced must be a stranger; second, the embrace must be spontaneous; third, participants must be sincere and sober (i.e. this isn't a drunken I'm-not-responsible-for-my-actions Karneval); fourth, there’s no going back to his/her place afterwards. These cuddles are not to be premeditated or used to further ones love life. They exist solely for themselves, for the moment, to put a smile on someone’s face. For example: A likes the look of B, A embraces B, B’s sense of self-esteem increases on learning that he/she is liked; B now feels confident enough to embrace C, and so on. And best of all, on Deutscher Kuscheltag if you don’t agree with the rules you are permitted – nay, encouraged -- to change them.
To my mind last week’s proposed kissing ban illustrates the growing success – and necessity -- of the Kuscheltag campaign. Obviously the German Etiquette Society is now running scared, transfixed by the notion of humans kissing and cuddling in public. The DKG has even gone so far as to claim that quick smooches are ‘highly inappropriate’ for Germans, its director suggesting that work colleagues should remain at least 60 centimetres apart from each other.
So people, let’s keep up the good work and embrace a German: on the street, in the U-Bahn, on the factory floor. I’m playing my part by going back to Lidl today – with a smile on my puckered lips and without a shopping trolley. Together we can make the world a happier place.