Posts Tagged ‘school’

Writing Supplies in Germany and the USA

I’m American, but I go to school in Germany, and I’ve noticed a few differences in writing supplies between the two countries.

All through high school, I wrote my class notes in cheap spiral notebooks from Target, you know the type, with college-ruled paper. I didn’t bring any with me to Germany, because I figured, cheap notebooks must be available everywhere! And, sure, they are. But not college ruled. I found only two kinds of notebooks at Marktkauf, the German equivalent of a Wal-Mart or Target: ┬álined notebooks with paper closer to what we call wide-ruled, and notebooks with squared paper. Nothing college-ruled in sight! I chose squared paper, because I have small handwriting, and I have to say, I now actually prefer to write on squared paper. The lines are more my size than even college-ruled paper.

After some discussion with a German friend, we figured out a theory as to why college-ruled paper doesn’t exist in Germany: students are taught to write with fountain pens. I had never in my life used a fountain pen; in America, there are artsy, old-fashioned, or elite people who might use them, but we use cheap ballpoint pens, or pens with gel inks or whatever (or pencils, but I’ll get to that in a minute), not fountain pens. The vast majority of Americans (myself included at that point) would have no idea how to use a fountain pen, but for a German student, it’s normal. They all have correcting ink for when they make a mistake with fountain pens, too! To my German friend, it was unthinkable that one would turn in any sort of official assignment written with the kind of pen that comes in a package of twenty for less than three dollars at any discount store–or, God forbid, written in pencil!

They even write math in ink, and when I did find some pencils at a stationary store in Germany (a chain called McPaper, for some reason), none had erasers. None. Okay, maybe one over on the end, but 99% did not have erasers. In America, fancy artist pencils may not have erasers, but those that the average person writes down grocery lists or scribbles calculations with certainly do! Again, I turned to my German friend, who said : “Why would those pencils have erasers? Pencils with erasers are for children.” Which, in my opinion, is a really interesting statement. It says that in the German mindset, they can’t admit to the fact that they might make mistakes and have to correct something. They do have erasers, separate from the pencils, but those are not so readily available: those do not have the reminder that one might make a mistake staring you in the face as you write. I guess. Apparently, admitting that we’re all human and make mistakes is not the German thing to do.

I still don’t know why squared paper is a normal writing paper in Germany, though. I guess because schoolchildren use it a lot, definitely because it’s easier to do math on, and possibly the teaching of handwriting is made easier on squared paper, the same way we use paper with a dotted line between every two solid lines to teach handwriting in the States.

It’s interesting–something I always thought was universal, stationary, turned out to be far from that!