Last Updated on
I’m having minor knee surgery in Germany tomorrow and I’m freaking out. Of course there’s the usual angst of having surgery, being worried that I won’t understand what the doctors and nurses are saying to me, or most importantly that I won’t be able to communicate that I need more pain killers pronto, but my real concern? PRIVACY.
Privacy in Germany is an interesting concept for foreigners. On the one hand, Germans are very private. When Google Street View finally came to Germany, such a fuss was made over the privacy issue, that Germans were given an option to have their house blurred out of the photos.
Germans are also exceptionally gifted at keeping their private lives private from their colleagues and employer. The only reason J.P.’s (my German fiance) boss found out that he had a Canadian girlfriend was when last year he had to ask for a couple of extra days off so that he could be with me for knee surgery in Canada and he had to provide a good reason for asking for the additional time off. And this was after we had already been together for a year and a half. J.P.’s boss found out he was engaged and getting married in August only because he had to ask for a few extra days off for our honeymoon, and that was almost a year after we had been engaged. J.P. says he usually finds out that his colleagues were married after the fact, as in “How was your vacation?” “It was great, I got married.” I find it amusing that private lives are kept just that in Germany, private, from colleagues. This is certainly not the case in Canada, where colleagues usually have at least some idea of what is going on in your personal life.
On the other extreme, privacy doesn’t seem to exist in certain aspects of life in Germany. When it came time to providing us with our final grades in my German Language Course, the instructor verbally shared all of our grades with us before handing us our certificates. When someone asked about the grades of a couple of students who were missing, she happily told everyone their grades as well and commented on their weaknesses. I was completely shocked. Absolutely no privacy. I don’t think my grades are anyone elses business but my own, but my entire German class was now privy to my grades and vice versa. It is much different than in Canada where grades are kept confidential.
Privacy is also not required in Germany when it comes to the human body. Most saunas require that you enter naked, i.e. bathing suits are not allowed, although you can bring a towel. So perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised at my first doctor’s appointment for my knee, when the doctor said, “OK, I’ll examine your knee now.” J.P. who was sitting next to me, whispered “Take off your pants.” I whispered back, “I will once the doctor and his assistant leave the room.” J.P. bit his lip to keep from laughing “They’re not going to leave the room. We’re not shy in Germany, like you are in Canada.” OK, then. So red faced, I proceed to take off my pants, while another assistant entered the room as well without knocking. I was beyond grateful that I had worn a longer shirt that day.
I was commiserating with some expat friends, who then reveled in their stories of going to the gynecologist. No blanket, no cover up…absolutely no privacy. If I was worried before, I am now petrified and have been grilling J.P. with daily questions such as “Will they make me walk down the hall with no pants on? Will they give me a gown? Can I insist on changing in private? Will they let me cover up if I pretend that I’m cold? Can I explain that Canadians are more modest and that I want to be covered up at all times?” The last thing I want to worry about as I’m getting ready for surgery is “Is my shirt covering my butt?”. J.P. finds it beyond hysterical that I’m so worried about it, but while I’m happy to share tidbits of my personal life with colleagues, I really like my privacy when it comes to certain things, like not walking down a hallway showing my butt to everyone in sight, thank you very much!
Update: See how the surgery went at: Culture Shock in a German Hospital.