When my boyfriend Ulrich and I go for walks through nearby parks and woods, he refuses to go on the grass. He is paranoid about stepping in dog shit.
I found this amusing at first and made a note to google “German fear of dogshit” later. Having now done so, I have to conclude that his fear is itself not a German pathos but rather a deep-seated defense against an uncomfortable truth: that Germans generally do not pick up after their dogs. This is true not only of grassy surfaces but of sidewalks as well (while logistically impossible for Ulrich to refuse to walk on sidewalks, he is constantly on high alert for the little brown landmines, often interrupting our conversations to closely inspect a suspicious-looking sidewalk panel two steps ahead). I've lived in New York City and witnessed the societal side effects of strict "pooper scooper" laws, where dog owners who fail to bag their dog's turds are often heckled and shamed into submission, and I find it shocking that a similar collective guilt doesn't exist here in Germany. How could a society which places such faith in rules and norms not penalize people for leaving shit on the ground we all walk on?
Nevertheless, I find Ulrich's paranoia a bit extreme. He appears to view dog poop as radioactive rather than just a stinky irritant. We even got in a fight about it last night: on a late evening walk around town, I accidentally stepped in a freshly laid turd on my side of the sidewalk. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I felt it squish under my left foot. We circled back to the spot where the incriminating feces lay so I could point out my half-visible footprint to Ulrich. He immediately panicked.
“You cannot wear those shoes into the house,” he proclaimed, “until you’ve washed them.”
I laughingly agreed, but a few minutes later I felt the need to clarify.
“Wait – how am I going to wash my shoes? In our kitchen sink?” (We live in a walk-up apartment with no access to an outdoor water source.)
After some back and forth, we agreed that I could look for a small puddle to rinse my shoe in. Luckily it had rained all day, so I was able to find one edged between cobblestones where I could comfortably swirl the bottom of my shoe. Several times along the way back, I rubbed my sole against leaves and exposed tree roots to help scrape away any excess poop.
But when we arrived back home, I made the mistake of wiping my shoes on the doormat outside our apartment.
“Noooooo!” wailed Ulrich, a pained expression on his face. “Why would you do that?”
I stopped in my tracks, confused. “Is – isn’t that what a doormat is for? Would you rather I – track it into the house?”
Ulrich rolled his eyes and grumbled. We didn’t speak to each other much more after that.