Must obey the red man…

One thing that absolutely fascinates me about Germans is their blind obedience to the little traffic light men.
You can be standing at a pedestrian crossing on a road that sees maybe five cars a day (unlikely in Karlsruhe, I admit) but if the red man is visible nobody will cross. Yes, I am aware that crossing the road while the light is red is technically illegal and, in theory, you can be fined for it, but has anybody ever really been fined? And if there are no police around then I’d imagine you’re fairly safe. Admittedly the glares you will inevitably get are pretty scary, but I promise looks can’t actually kill (although your fellow citizens probably wish they could) – I am living proof of that!

The other fascinating thing is that no German seems capable of pressing the button to call the green man, or at least nobody over the age of 30. Perhaps it’s a relatively new invention in Germany? There’s one particular road that I have to cross to get home from the shopping centre. I regularly see Germans waiting there. First the cars and the trams go, then the lights for vehicles turn red while the traffic on the cross road goes. At this point, pedestrians could cross too, but the little green man never appears and the Germans wait and wait (well, the older ones anyway. Some people my age will just cross). At some point, the other lights change again, the cars continue on their way, and the pedestrians carry on waiting, eyes fixed on the red man, never seeming to wonder why it hasn’t been their turn to cross yet. This is usually the point where I reach the road, press the button and hey presto, green man! By the looks the old ladies give me, you’d think I’d just performed a minor miracle!

Germans… I love them dearly, but they are a strange bunch at times!

(For more – much funnier – insights into weird German ways, check this out: I promise you won’t regret it!)

13 thoughts on “Must obey the red man…

  1. I remember observing funny behaviours around roads when living overseas and travelling, it certainly seems to bring out cultural differences. The little green man himself is different. He has a hat! 🙂

    1. The ones with the hats are really East German – we usually only get the boring ones. But this one is in Heidelberg for some reason. I think they’re sooo much cuter than the normal ones. My sister thought I was mental taking a photo of it 😉

  2. My friend does this. She will not cross the road (even if it is empty) until the green man appears! Last time, I was so hungry I left her there and went into a burger bar to get my meal. I was sat down and scoffing by the time she caught up with me!!

  3. It took me a while to figure this out but as I have to young children I realise now why Germans obey the red light. It’s not just some blind rule obeying behaviour, it’s because a lot of children walk to school (and other activities) alone. They are taught from kindergarten age that the red man is to be obeyed at all costs and because this is so deeply ingrained in them and in the grown-ups it makes it safer for them to navigate the roads alone. Which I think is great, it paradoxically gives us all more freedom because people obey that sacred rule.

    1. If there are little children around I obviously wait for the green man, but on an empty road at 10 o’clock at night? Nope… no way! Small children should be in bed by then anyway.
      Children in the UK seem to be able to learn to wait for the green man even if adults don’t!

      1. The reason I found your blog is because I am conducting a very small sociological study on this topic! As an Irish person living in Germany, I find it fascinating to compare the attitudes here to my home.
        I also know that most of my friends who have children in Ireland wouldn’t dream of sending their kids to school alone, and I think children are far less likely to be allowed that independence which is sad whereas here some of the kindergarten kids walk around on their own. I think it has partly to do with Germans attitude to following this rule and I think it is one they find hard to break even at night!

      2. Swiss children go to school alone from Kindergarten but since moving to Switzerland I have never once been tutted at for crossing on a red light and seen many Swiss people crossing before the light has changed. Switzerland (or at least Basel) is very similar to Germany in many ways but not when it comes to obeying the red man. Make of that what you will 🙂

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