“Today I will have a coffee.”

Something that I’ve noticed about Germans is that they love breaks. Breaks are necessary, deserved, and valued as an everyday part of life here. The American workplace worships productivity, and while the Germans are famous for their efficiency and productivity too, showing up at a German lab and hoping to win everyone over with your amazing work ethic won’t get you very far. Who you are to everyone else is all about what happens in the breaks. Morning lab meetings are seen as a break, even though they’re not much fun. They qualify as breaks because while someone is presenting, everyone else is passing around various homemade cakes and pretzels and spreads. Bring the appropriate item (Nutella is always a win) and you’ll be highly esteemed by your coworkers. Bring nothing at all, and people will ask you even as the room fills and you bring up your Powerpoint presentation on the screen, “Are we having a meeting today?” That means you screwed up. Lunch is the ultimate break. Calls for lunch–“Essen?”–begin almost an hour beforehand, and your response better be definite. Are you in this or are you out? Promises of “let you know” or “meet you there” really anger Germans, who see this time as an event and who, like a little kid who keeps a checklist of who is coming to her birthday party, want to know who will be in attendance. Lunch is unhurried and can last over an hour. It will involve inside jokes and sometimes multiple beers (yes, this is a workday). When I’m home in the evening and think back over my day, lunch is what I remember the most. It kind of characterizes the whole day. Afternoon breaks usually consist of coffee. Today my lab partner was really frustrated at the results of a gel and exasperated vowed, “Today I will have a coffee.” As if he was getting revenge somehow with the coffee. I guess breaks really are a form of revenge against the workplace. They’re a rebellion against the productivity imperative that would rather us act like machines than people. They’re German culture fighting for an admirable place in modern life and saying, “Oh, we’ll eat our cake…and we’ll sit and have it too.” Respect.


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