Saturday, July 12, 2014

Appreciating German Efficiency

July 11, 2014 - Bremen, Germany. By Zachary Riffell.

Sometimes Germans are too good at their jobs.

I arrived in Germany with a single short-sleeved shirt. I do not know how I made this mistake, but I have paid for it. It is very warm, and at times I wish I had an additional short-sleeved shirt to wear. I finally broke down and went to Karstadt, a company that was established in 1881.

A young man, who spoke excellent English, quickly came to help me. It was close to closing time, but he did not show any exasperation at my needing a shirt. (Don’t worry, I left before the actual closing time.) I told him I did not know what size I needed, so he quickly pulled out a cloth tape measure and took a measurement.

He wrapped the tape around my neck and immediately told me I needed a 44. It was here that I was reminded of how many times I have bought a dress shirt back in the US and used my neck size and sleeve length to buy the shirt. The other measurements simply worked. This is something the Germans established as they began to mass produce clothing.  This is no small issue, and one I am thankful for.

We began looking for a shirt. I wanted the cheapest shirt possible. He did not care that I was looking for a cheap shirt. I saw a pattern I liked and he immediately told me that it would not work. “That is a modern fit. You need relaxed,” he told me. “I like this one. Maybe I should try it on just to see.” I was sure I could fit in the shirt.

“No,” he said. Unapologetically, the young man told me it would not work. He knew his job and he knew that the shirt would not fit. It hurt my feelings some, but it saved me a pointless trip to the dressing room.

Next I found a T-shirt I liked. “In that you need a 54,” he told me. He explained that T-shirts use a different size. “But you should probably go for a 56.” Again, he hurt my feelings, but he knew his job. If you are curious, I wear an XL in the states. Here I wear an XXL (and even that is tight). I may not feel good about that, but I cannot complain about the job this kid did in helping me.

This young man is currently an apprentice who works one day, goes to school the next day day, works  the following another day, goes to school and work the next day, and then works or has the fifth day off. He hopes to work at the store when he finishes his apprenticeship. I suspect he will be offered a contract.

I am getting tired of how well people do their jobs here. This young man was quickly able to explain to me how oversized my belly is for German shirts. The brew meisters are too skilled at turning out quality beer. The butchers are too good at assembling bratwursts. And most of all, the gelato makers are just too good (just ask Dr. Hernandez, he has had 35 scoops since we got here).  If they are going to prepare food this good, perhaps they need to add some shirt sizes for people like me.
Zachary Riffell is Project Manager of Advanced Career at the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta, GA.
He is also a doctoral student in career and workforce education at the University of South Florida.