Cultural Mythology at the German Laundromat

“At the end of drying time the laundry is very fluffy and flat.”
-English drying instructions posted in a German laundromat

First off, the laundromat down the street from the apartment I am staying at with my gf in Mainz, Germany until Oct. 17th is pristine. I’m from the American suburbs. I haven’t the need to go to laundromats. But in my mind there lurks a very specific image of what a laundromat must be like: dirty, smelly, unkempt, with pushy people lounging around smoking cigarettes or blabbing away on their cellphones. Not in Deutschland.

Before you start to think this is some First World rant by some privileged, white, suburban male who decided to use the dryer at a laundromat, let me draw your attention to the purpose of this post: the German-English translation. It is a beautiful thing that causes riotous laughter on my part, which often shocks the average German standing next to me.

Example: To the immediate left is a photo of the Drying instructions in my local German laundromat. On the wall to its left is the Washing instructions, which I will get to in a bit. Don’t get me wrong, these instructions are very helpful; but they are often hilarious.

I’ve blown up the photo and made a vignette so you can better see the area to which I am referring. The last red bullet point above the “Safety advices” reads: “At the end of drying time the laundry is very fluffy and flat. You can obey crinkles, if you will get out laundry at once and fold it directly. Oftenly you can spare ironing of this laundry.” Huh? 😀 Even through the translation, the point is clear, and yet I can’t help hearing a very loud German man in mauve green lederhosen yelling at me “You must obey crinkles!” whenever I read this passage.

The washing instructions carried a similar translation, but in its silliness revealed a difference between the cultural responsibilities of American and German citizens. I’ll let the picture explain.

On the immediate left is the vignetted  image of the Washing instructions, highlighting the area of interest. The fourth blue bullet point above “General washing advices” reads: “Please do not use more detergent than issued. The washing machine will foam too much, which will bring out a bad washing output and of course a worse washing effort.” Now that we are past the whole ‘this is a crazy-bad-funny translation thing,’ let’s look at these two words: “of course”. I’ll ask this question: upon first read, what do you think of those words? My gf and I were engrossed in conversation about these words all the while our clothes were drying. We agreed that the words “of course” signify a level of personal responsibility that is mitigated by overall good of the German state.

The “huh” you say!?! At first, I thought “of course” was an inherent condescending insult to a person’s intelligence. I then realized I’m American, and I think I already know everything. I relaxed and considered that the “of course” was a sweet pat on the head by the German state saying, “Of course you know this my child, but we want to make it perfectly clear for your own good and the good of Germany.” The American label, if it was still legible from cigarette burns, graffiti, and the bored peelings of the teenage mind, would have clearly stopped at the action and its consequence. “Don’t do this, or this will happen!” Beyond that simple message, it is up to you.

Gratuitous Patriotic Cookie Image

In America, we don’t really care if your overloading the machine results in a “bad washing output” or a “worse washing effort,” as the translation relates. Your clothes, once they go in the machine, are your problem. It seems here in Deutschland the simple fact that possible mistakes are considered and, hmmm, not exactly, prohibited, but simply stymied from occurring is a metaphor for what distinguishes American culture from German culture. The German state does not want its citizens to fail, while America could care less. One could even argue that American mythology is based solely on the overcoming of odds by a single individual against a larger, more powerful entity. Falling from grace and getting back up is America’s mythology, while ensuring that a citizen will not fall is Germany’s mythology.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.

And remember to “obey your crinkles! Jawohl!”

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4 thoughts on “Cultural Mythology at the German Laundromat

  1. So great. My favourite translation to this day is the first chinese menu I read in spain which lists “Rollo primavera” aka spring roll. I don’t think i’d ever thought about what the ‘spring’ meant before, but now that I know it as primavera…it’s stuck.

    More importantly, does the german laundry have a sign to translate all the symbols on the dryer…because I could really use help in that department. The laundry hasn’t been fluffy and fat for such a long time. Do I want the whole sun? half a sun? 3 drops or 2 drops? Or the flask with the thermometer? Or the butterfly…and why is ‘dry in the basket’ a different setting? Does that mean dry in the basket of the machine, or that I want it to come out of the machine to be dry for the basket or that I expect it to come out wet and dry in the basket…

    So confused!

  2. This is a nail-on-the-head kind of post for me. Of course! 🙂 Our first night here, the relocation guy went through all of the qualifications he had to respond to a question, which made me feel like I needed to remind him that I, too, am well-educated and at least somewhat intelligent. I have since learned that this is an “of course” kind of moment – he would never answer a question without the proper qualifications to do so, and since I did not know him, it is perfectly appropriate for him to put forth his background prior to answering. As if to prevent me from making an error in my judgment of him before I ever had the chance to do so…

  3. and the gratuitous patriotism on the cookies? I’ve seen that on peanut butter, hamburger buns, cookies, and candy… (and none of these things tends to be any more tasty than the non-patriotic versions, either. Am I surprised… no, indeed.)

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