“Germans are bureaucratic”


“We often hear that Germans are very bureaucratic. Is that true?”


It just happened. Today. Beginning of March 2021. It’s funny.

I made a phone call to the Finanzamt here in Bonn. The tax authority. I had made a request a week or so ago, and was following up on it. In Germany you can actually call directly into the person responsible for your taxes. So much for the cliché that Germany is super bureaucratic. My experience is that German bureaucracy is efficient and fast. And often funny.

But still it is a bit weird for me. I’m a bit uncomfortable when I do it. It feels like I’m cold-calling the Finanzamt. So when the guy picks up the phone I say: “Guten Tag, Herr X. Störe ich Sie im Moment?” Translated: “Hello Mr. X. I am bothering or interrupting you at the moment?”

Herr X laughed out loud. “Are you bothering me right now? Do you think we civil servants take naps during work hours?” I laughed out loud immediately. He was laughing, too. I then said: “Please forgive me. I’m an American. My native language is English. And although I’ve been speaking your language fluently for three decades, as an American I’ll often say things which have you Germans just shaking your head.” 

He laughed. I laughed. He told me that my request had been accepted, and that I’ll get a letter in the next few days. We chatted some more. Thirty years here in Germany. They’re a wonderful people, the Germans. We Americans aren’t too bad, either. He laughed. I laughed.