If you’re new to Germany, you might be finding that the number of conversations you have about insurance has increased. Maybe by 100% since chances are you never really talked about insurance at all in your home country. Insurance is generally considered dull. It’s a dull industry, populated with dull people, most likely in dull clothing with dull haircuts.
But not in Germany. No, here insurance is a thing to be admired, respected, marvelled at and discussed at length. At times, the topic can even get pretty heated. Talk to a freelancer about trying to get into the public health insurance system, or tell just about any German that you don’t have Haftpflichtversicherung. The horror.
One thing’s for sure – never get into a pissing contest with a German about how many insurance policies you have. You will lose.
In order to understand why insurance is so important to the Germans, we need to get inside the head of a typical German and have a little stroll around. Out of the way, dreams of Currywurst, Bier and Helene Fischer – we need to get down to the nitty gritty of the German mentality.
Germans are trained to mitigate risk starting from around the age they can say “Mama”. In fact, said Mama will wrap her daughter in around five layers of Jack Wolfskin clothing and hand her two umbrellas before she leaves the house. Because, you never know – the sun could stop shining, a storm could hit, and her playmate could have forgotten to bring her own umbrella. (Unlikely – chances are the two girls will have four umbrellas between them. They are German after all.)
They crave a sense of security. Especially financially. Even if it seems nuts to a foreigner, a German will keep putting their hard-earned cash into government bonds, even in times of negative interest rates. Stocks are risky and, as we’re learning, Germans do not like risky. No siree, Berndt. A German will stick to the values they’ve been learning since they first plopped their Arsch on a PUKY bike and will avoid risk at all costs. Unsurprisingly, Harry Houdini and Evel Knievel were not born in Germany.
Let’s say doddery old Holger is out for a stroll. He’s mooching along in his socks and sandals, on his way to the Späti to buy a Fritzi Cola. Sadly for Holger, his socks don’t have much grip and he stumbles out of his sensible sandals and into the road. A car swerves to avoid hitting him but hits another car which hits another car. Old Holger is fine but several other people are injured, some of them seriously. Now, a little jaunt to the Späti that should have cost €1.50 is going to cost hundreds of thousands of euros in damages and medical expenses.
You see, there’s no ceiling on the amount of damages that can be awarded in Germany and this, friends, is why Haftpflichtversicherung is so important. A German would much rather pay around a fiver a month than give up his life savings and any future “sauer verdientes Geld” to cover the cost of a little mistake that got out of hand.
In America, greed is good. In Germany, “Geiz ist geil” – stinginess is cool. Saturn ran an advertising campaign with this slogan and the Germans loved it so much, it ran for nine years. In German consumer behaviour, it’s been found that the purchase price of a product is what matters most, while features such as quality, durability, range of functions, operating costs, service in specialist shops or production conditions in the country of manufacture receded into the background.
“Of course I think child labour in India is a terrible thing… Oh wait, look at this, I could save €0.03 on a pair of jeans. Hmm, made in India. In the shopping cart they go!”
Scratch that – they don’t like following rules, they LOVE following rules. And, in Germany, the rule is that if you cause damage to someone else or their property, you pay to fix the situation. Let’s say you’re over at your good friend Uwe’s house and you accidentally knock his shiny new iPhone off the table. In your home country, you’d probably just blame it on Uwe Junior, who’s too young to speak and can’t stick up for himself and do a runner. In Germany, you could be lynched for this sort of behaviour. NEIN, you must follow the rules, fess up and, either pay to replace it from your own pocket, or exchange sexy insurance details.
Because yes, insurance in Germany is sexy. If you meet a German in the 15% of Germans who don’t have private Haftpflichtversicherung category, chances are they will be very unsexy indeed. And just think how sexy people will think you are when you try to play the word “Reiserücktrittskostenversicherung” in Scrabble. Super Geil…
OK, so maybe you don’t need Reiserücktrittskostenversicherung right now or can’t even say it. No problem. The two main types of insurance that should be top of mind are Haftpflicht and Hausrat and, luckily, Coya does both. So, the question is, would you rather spend potential millions in damages or around a tenner a month? The choice is yours.
Written by Linda O'Grady, co-author of From the Bürgeramt to the Bedroom
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