Make Me A German: Surprises from day one

Tuesday 6 August 2013, 09:11

Bee Rowlatt Bee Rowlatt Writer and Presenter

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Disclosure: I’m half German and although I’d never actually lived there this was enough to hardwire me into a defensive position. Let’s just say that “two world wars and one world cup” was among the friendlier playground taunts.

So when the BBC sent me and my family off to ‘become’ German I was predisposed to like the place. And as it happens I did. But there were some surprises in store and they began on day one.

Our mission was to discover the secret of Germany’s economic success, by ticking off as many averages as possible. Average rental flat, average car, and so on.

And in order for us to become an average German family, I had to be a hausfrau. This included a very alarming four hours and 11 minutes of housework every day. 

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‘A traditional problem.’ Bee wants to understand why so few mothers with young children work
Back in our normal English life I’ve got four kids and I also work part time. So I don’t have the time, or the will, to devote such an abundance of time to cleaning.

I was surprised at how few German mums work. On average two-thirds of mums with children under three don’t work compared to a third in the UK. Why?

It seems a combination of financial incentives, short school days and cultural expectation is what keeps German mothers out of the workplace and this might make sense of the extremely low numbers of women in top jobs.

The UK hadn’t previously struck me as an especially easy place to be a working mum but at least I generally don’t feel frowned upon. It’s hard enough to balance work and family, without feeling guilty about it.

And I believe that keeping a foot in the door by working part time can make it easier for women to get a career back on track later on.

Although I was a failure at the hausfrau gig our other adventures in Germanising were a resounding success.

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Can joining a choir give Bee's husband Justin Rowlatt a sense of communal purpose?

We learnt to save more money (on average Germans save 10% of their monthly wage, the British only manage 1%) and to relax more together as a family.

Both of these are skills I’d love to bring back into our British lives. Plus the six-year-old loved her Waldkindergarten. This is a forest nursery where children play, eat, sing and run wild outdoors whatever the weather, all year round.

Germany exports more than all its neighbours, indeed it’s the third largest exporter in the world, but they still manage to have shorter average working days. They also have less household debt.

Discovering how they pull all this off was a great adventure and our German neighbours helped us along with kindness and good humour.

And while I may not have cut it on the housework front I’m happy to report that I did score full marks on pork and beer consumption!

Bee Rowlatt is the co-presenter of Make Me A German.

Make Me A German is on Tuesday, 6 August at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC Two HD.  

More on Make Me A German
The Telegraph: The reluctant hausfrau: being a German mother

The Telegraph: What we can learn from the Germans

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    As a German living in the UK I enjoyed this programme very much. Although I don't think that the "high" amount of German mothers not working is such a bad thing. If German women wanted to be up there with the men in the high ranks then believe you me, they would be there! There is this guilt that British women are made to feel wether they stay at home or go to work and German women don't have that, I think they are far happier that way.

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    Comment number 12.

    As someone with German parents who was brought up to work hard for their employer, the programme highlighted what's wrong (sadly) with the British work ethic - or lack of it. Justin hit the nail on the head - if the Brits did more work and less chat, the British economy wouldn't be in its current sorry state. I work with a large (mainly female) workforce who spend all day talking about their lives - ie what they did last night, what they're doing tonight, soaps, reality TV, every ailment they have ever suffered (believe it or not, every one's got IBS!!!), their partners, their children (none of which is interesting to anyone else really) and their ever-increasing debts - that's the norm - whereas I worked like a Trojan, paid off my mortgage when I was 28, have no debts and am semi-retired at 55. Enough said.

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    Comment number 2.

    Really enjoying the programme though as a working woman with friends who are stay at home mums I was a bit shocked at your 'I think women should be fully functioning members of society' comment!!! I know it was in the heat of an argument but if that comment reveals that while you might say it's personal choice you really think that stay at home mums are not 'fully functioning members of society' then maybe you are not as fair minded as you think!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Really enjoyed the program - Being German I would just like to say that choosing Bavaria might not have given the best comparison on average life as many of my friends, my family and I know it. Bavaria (let’s get the prejudice in place as me being non-Bavarian) I think is the part in German with lowest unemployment, lowest average working hours, most bank holidays and shall we say strong traditional attitude - most of my German female friends with kids actually are, want to work and also need to work in order to afford life for the family and working in general 40 hours a week tends to be normal as well from where I come from and have worked before.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Why does this woman seem to think she is above housework and childcare, yet has chosen to have four children? Being a full time mum is a critically important job, something we in the uk ignore at our peril. The germans seem to be spot on here.


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