Eight reasons why life in the UK is more fun than Leben in Deutschland.
The food – The public transport – The media – The strong economy – The financial system – The efficiency – The safety and security procedures – The tolerant attitude
Food in the UK was bland and dull in the era of post-war rationing and even until the early 1980s, when Thatcher’s big bang liberalisation increased migration from abroad, with a few gourmets washing up on British shores, bringing with them some very high expectations. Today, the UK and especially London has become a foodie heaven rivalling the likes of Italy, Spain and Greece, not so much for its domestic heritage (although the still ubiquitous pubs are excellent for some after-work team building and socialising among colleagues) but for its exciting blend of international influences.
Elizabeth Truss MP has rightly stated in a press release on the Great British Food Campaign that „The UK has emerged from a dark age in food where too often taste and quality were ignored. We are now transforming ourselves and taking our place as one of the most exciting food cultures in the world – a unique blend of tradition, innovation and openness.“
This is not restricted to London, as supermarkets in the regions also have adapted the wide variety, and innovative and efficient means of provision. Fruits such as berries are stored improperly in German supermarkets (and are often starting to rot or turn moldy before sold or removed from the shelf) and do not have a display until or best before date on the packaging, making it very difficult for the customer to assess the quality.
It may be a late result of the „mad cow“ crisis and other issues with food safety in Britain, but shops as well as restaurants and fast food establishments are very strictly scrutinised in the UK, with official food hygiene ratings published online and even displayed on doors. In fact, Welsh law explicitly requires publicans and restaurateurs to display official food rating stickers on their premises, whereas in England many do so voluntarily. Similar schemes in Germany were limited to field tests and discontinued due to a strong backlash from the industry.
The public transport.
In Germany, public transport is firstly a rather inefficient instrument of local governments to employ people and secondly a means to convey the „five big As“ (Arme, Alte, Auszubildende, Asylbewerber, Arbeitslose = the poor, the elderly, the apprentices/students, the asylum seekers and the unemployed). Standards are fairly low, with air conditioning still considered unnecessary whereas UK transportation companies are willing to adopt and, even more important, adapt new technologies in much more challenging environments.
Quite ironically, Germans that have not travelled much tend to look down on Britain as a country with crumbling infrastructure that is mentally stuck in former Empire days. Hans-Werner Franz, the former President of the Berlin-Brandenburg Passenger Transport Executive (VBB), disagrees: „German public transport used to be leading in Europe. Nowadays, others are ahead of us.“ It is probably the other way around now as opposed to the 1980s! And it’s not only London – Szczecin in Poland has WiFi in trams and so does Manchester in England on its Metrolink services, of course.
German media is rather bland, very much dominated by centre-left attitudes (just like the country’s political culture itself that could be described as „normcore“) and the intent not to cause any offence to no one. In Britain, however, roles are very much clear-cut, with the Torygraph, pardon, Telegraph living as much up to the expectations of the general public as the Guardian or Private Eye. Except for the Sunday night Tatort, public TV broadcasters are not even taken seriously by many Germans themselves, with the political magazines hopping on any governmentally promoted moral panic.
At a whopping 52.50 Euros per flat every three months, TV fees in Germany (a thinly disguised form of poll tax) are as high as hardly anywhere else in the world, with the potential exception of Switzerland where people earn substantially more. Compare this with the likes of Benefits Street, How to get a Council House, First Dates or The Only Way Is Essex in Blighty. It may not be the brainiest stuff on Earth but it’s still perfect for a good laugh!
The strong economy.
It hasn’t always been like this, as the UK economy was in a fairly poor condition in the 1980s („A similar thing happened with British people in the early 1980s, when unemployment was high and a lot of UK manual workers went to Germany to look for work. This was depicted in the original ITV series of Auf Weidersehen Pet.„). But the British have been able to reinvent themselves quite a few times in the last decades. The „can do“ attitude of regulatory bodies as well as the established economic heavyweights has not only proven itself in the flourishing financial technology (fintech) sector in London and I am confident that there is life after Brexit. In fact Brexit may do much more harm to the remainder of the EU than incurred by Britain. Banks and media companies such as MTV have been running German operations because the workforce is cheaper than in Britain. This is a late result of the policy of „internal devaluation“ in the early 2000s pursued by the Schroeder government in cooperation with employer associations and the unions. But no one really likes being a cheap date, especially if they do have potential to be much more.
The financial system.
Banking is something the Brits do particularly well. Germans are still a mostly cash-paying folk. Otto Normalverbraucher probably doesn’t mind queuing for an ATM and paying an extortionate access fee of four, five or even seven Euros if they run out of cash during a festival in the back of the woods, for
1) fear of losing control of their spending if they used their debit card (don’t even mention credit cards, they’re not an instrument for adults to manage their cash flow, but too tempting, dangerous, immoral, American and what not),
2) as they do not like sticking out like a sore thumb and
3) many shopkeepers refuse cards and complain about supposedly high banking fees, but in fact just want to avoid paying tax.
Ultimately, tax and social security levels in Germany are at an extortionate 70+% and I can see the idea of „civil disobedience“ but this is an issue that should be addressed at a different level.
The inhabitants of the island have genuinely embraced contactless payments, using their bank cards for frozen yogurts on festivals and even tube journeys, with a weekly fare cap in place. And the nation of shopkeepers takes great pride in its plentiful number of small businesses, luring people on the „Great British High Street“ not by preaching about the evilness of (God forbid) American companies such as Amazon on TV as in Germany.
The Brits instead made shopping in local stores a joy, including a smooth payment experience. Higher value payments are always chip and PIN (not chip and signature as in Germany, so a thief can’t use the card), and PINs of British cards can be changed or unblocked at almost any UK ATM including those of other banks. How smart is that?
Oh, and you can save for your first house purchase or retirement without paying capital gains tax, and the government even gives you a bonus. That’s called the Lifetime ISA (Individual Savings Account). ISAs come in very different flavours – there are Junior and regular ISAs too, in the form of flexible savings accounts or share dealing accounts. A variety of both online as well as high street banks offers excellent rates for young and old savers alike. If you withdraw money from the ISA at the occasion of the right life event, that is tax free too. Again, how smart is that?
Did I mention that all deposits are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS)? No confusing state-sponsored „Riester-Rente“ that you can’t get rid of at the right time but no frills savings plans that help you get on the housing ladder. The Japanese have actually copied the idea of the ISA share dealing for its „Nippon Individual Savings Account“ (NISA).
Which brings us to the next topic. Want to see German efficiency? Go to Switzerland. Self-service tills in supermarkets are not faster than traditional lanes but it takes a lot of stress out of shopping as you can shop and bag at your own speed (though, once again, the German unions are probably opposed to any change – so they won’t arrive anywhere near you, except for some big box stores like real or IKEA).
Going to a UK supermarket is a less formal experience. When you are travelling and in a hurry, you could just go to a supermarket for a bottle of water or a bag of crisps without much time spent queuing, instead of paying twice as much at a corner shop which would be the inefficient German approach.
The average shop till queue in Britain is a single queue for all tills, preventing ugly scenes of shoppers rushing like a herd of wildebeest to a newly opening lane that can be witnessed in German supermarkets every day. Still, Aldi in all its German efficiency has adopted the very British single queue in its Manchester store, with a shop employee standing in the middle assessing the speed of the queue, something that would never happen back in Deutschland. German everyday life is just as queue-ridden as British life is, but in a rather messy and disorderly way.
The safety and security procedures.
Sure, it’s pretty annoying that many public transport stations and shopping centres don’t have waste bins. Quite a few new arrivals quickly assume the truly British habit of littering. But the UK is experienced in dealing with threats from the inside – something that Germany has yet to learn.
Criminal justice in the UK has proven itself in the London 2011 riots, with judges and prosecutors working night shifts. (English judges are recruited among experienced lawyers, quite unlike German judges who often join the judiciary upon graduation and may have never worked outside the public service.) Many public transport stations are staffed and the British Transport Police operates a discreet #Text61016 service for reporting anti-social behaviour and crimes on trains and in stations.
The tolerant attitude.
British people are known to be reserved and polite to the extent that Americans, Dutch or Germans (seen as „blunt“ by Brits) consider them dishonest. While it will take time until you genuinely make friends in Britain, it is not much easier in the North of Germany or in Swabia (Schwaben = Württemberg) where people also tend to stick among themselves. But it does have its advantages to have less gossipy neighbours that mind their own business. It will spare you of the rather patronising variant of „community spirit“ that permeates German political discussions, where the housewife marriage is still considered the norm and most shops must stay shut on Sundays by law to allow for a depressing day of „family life“, once again mandated by law.
Still widespread patronising attitudes are not to be confused with tolerance or cosmopolitanism, quite the opposite. It is not as much a no-no in Germany to classify people into collective groups solely based on their appearance. The fact that quite a few British citizens with a South Asian background voted „Leave“ in the Brexit referendum would have caused confusion. No matter how many decades have passed since their ancestors arrived, they’d be firstly considered „migrants“ and not „Brits“ or „Germans“, and as they are obviously „migrants“, why should they oppose open borders? Even some supposedly educated people in Germany may be quite overtly stereotyping and lumping together all sorts of minorities – something that does unfortunately happen in Britain, but is definitely not as accepted.
There are some pockets of #postrefracism and other ugly incidents. But this is not necessarily a systemic problem. Generally, the UK is probably one of the most relaxed countries on Earth in this aspect. More so than the US where „race relations“ are still, to say the least, very strained.
„Community spirit“ and „being considerate“ of course does not apply to cyclists. By existing, they are doing their part to „save Earth“ (another national pastime), so they are awarded the right to ride anywhere they want, in any direction, without lighting in the evening, and swear at elderly people and children on pavements at their discretion. Even though they’re a stereotype themselves, they still hope it makes them more „relaxed“ and demonstrates that they’re not a cross, stiff-upper-lip, rule-abiding German (eben so entspannt, als würde man sich mit der Klobürste auch die Zähne putzen).
Please take all of this with a huge pinch of salt. Quite obviously I will have missed quite a few significant facts, ignored all conventions of political science and frankly, this is not mean to be an academically correct treatise. As always, „your mileage may vary“. If you are very much a family person, this will impact your choice on where to settle and make a living.
I’m looking forward to comments.