May 11, 2009

Money, Money, Money

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Germans are pretty well known for being ‘sparsam’, which doesn’t exactly mean cheap but really kind of does. Certainly the average German knows the value of a euro and is somewhat less eager than, say, the average American, to throw their hard-earned mula at stuff they don’t need (status symbols don't count) and you never just 'split the check' at a restaurant.

The most legendarily sparsam Germans of all are the Schwabians in the Stuttgart area. Ralf’s dad tells the story of a Schwabian colleague of his who, while pleasant and easy to work with in every respect unrelated to money, once stopped talking to him for several days because he (Ralf’s dad) forgot to give him about 10 cents change after buying drinks.

There is also a popular Schwabian joke that goes like this (excuse my spelling):

Geht ein Mann durch die Wald.
(Goes a man through the forest.)
Kommt der Roiber.
(Comes the robber.)
‘Geld oder Leben!’
(‘Your money or your life!’)
Aber der Mann hat leider kein Geld dabei gehabt.
(But the man unfortunately didn’t have any money on him.)
‘Dann gib mir deine Uhr.’
(‘Then give me your watch.’)
Aber der Mann hat auch keine Uhr dabei gehabt.
(But the man also didn’t have a watch.)
‘Dann trag mich halt ein Stuckle.’
(Then carry me for a little while.)

Now, let me just say that I’ve worked with Schwabians and found them most of them lovely but they are a fairly parsimonious, hard-negotiating bunch and I get a kick out of that joke.

Remember our neighbor’s child Julia who I recently
stiffed after she hauled away some recycling for me? She clearly has some Schwabian relatives. I approached her the other day and apologized for not paying her for a job well done and asked how much she typically earned for her work.

I’m trying to make amends for
last week, although I didn’t make much headway this morning in Kindergarten, where they are clearly still annoyed with me.

But that’s another story. Back to Julia, who was immediately all business. ‘Ein Euro,’ she told me with no hesitation.

I handed her some change that added up to a euro, which earned me a small frown. ‘For each of us,’ she added.

Ah. Her friend. I handed over the rest of the change in my hand, which added up to another euro, mostly in 10 cent coins.

Julia carefully counted out and distributed the money while her friend rolled her eyes and muttered, ‘Geez, Julia, don’t worry about it!’ Then I was smiled at and thanked professionally.

There was no hand shaking, although there could have been. She also didn't say that it was a pleasure doing business with me, although that too would not have been out of place. And I bet if I had asked for a receipt she could have produced one.

Please note that there is no criticism intended here. That girl will probably have enough money saved for college by the time she’s sixteen.

Most of it mine.


  1. As a career choice, I'd steer Julia away from the traditional "helping" professions like nursing or medicine. But if Germany has an IRS equivalent, well that might work.

  2. This helps explain something about my grandmother, a Muhlitner. She had coins hidden all over her house and guarded her bank account like a mother bear so she'd have "something to hand down."

  3. Is this why my grandmother-in-law will not pay a bill until the exact due date? She will not let loose of that money until she absolutely has to.

    Sounds like you have so many great opportunities to be embarassed, what with the children being so good at giving disapproving looks.
    They'd break me in a week!

  4. Oh my goodness! Such careful penny counting - at that age?!

  5. that's fantastic. the way different cultures approach money is very telling.

  6. Wow, that girl just shook you down!

  7. Yep, you totally got guilt-rolled. She was probably expecting a counter-offer.

  8. It's true, she smelled my guilt and went for the kill. I never stood a chance.


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