Some months ago, I wrote a blog post about how it’s illegal to flip someone off while driving in Germany. That post wasn’t all that informative because I didn’t know much about the German laws regarding fines for insulting officials. Apparently, it’s a very big deal here. I had heard that shooting someone the bird could result in a big fine, but I didn’t know the fine could run into the thousands!
One of the German members of our local Facebook group posted a price list of fines one can expect to pay for obscene finger gestures and cussing at cops. Behold…
As you can see, calling an official a “dumb cow” is a relative bargain at just 300 euros. If you call them an old pig (or sow), the price jumps up to 2500 euros. Given that pigs are very intelligent if not a bit smelly, it seems like that would be a lesser insult than calling someone a slut (schlampe). But if you do go there, you could end up with a 1900 euro fine. Curiously, calling an official a “stupid pig” (or really, bloody bastard) results in a much lower fine (475 euros) than calling them an old pig. And calling someone an idiot can result in a 1500 euro fine.
According to the accompanying guide, the reason for these fines is that driving requires mutual respect and constant care. If you give in to swearing and making obscene gestures in a stressful traffic situation, you run the risk of escalating a situation that may already be tense. So it is forbidden to blow off steam by going off on other drivers or the police. By doing so, you may upset them and cause them to go off and things could snowball into an obscene gesture and swearing brawl on the autobahn! In all seriousness, I think the Germans make a good point. On the other hand, I have seen some behavior on the autobahn that would certainly try the patience of the average motorist. Indeed, my husband Bill is one of the most mild mannered people I know… except when he’s driving!
Now, I have not yet been in a position to insult anyone, let alone a cop or a judge. Still, I have to admit that I’m fascinated by this list of words you can’t say to cops without risking a fine. I was so interested that I found the Web site where this stuff is listed, opening it in Google Chrome of course. My German skills still aren’t so great. There, I found out that getting caught driving drunk (BAC over .05) the first time results in a 500 euro fine, two points on the driver’s license, and a one month suspension of one’s driver’s license. That, to me, seems like a more serious crime than flipping someone off, which can result in a fine of up to 4000 euros (the guide says the fine is more likely to be around 600 euros– still a lot of cash for a non verbal insult).
The guide suggests that those who feel inclined to insult on the road “take a deep breath” or take a short break. Consider whether or not you’d prefer to spend 600 euros on a fine or on a vacation. Or, if things are really serious, consider anger management therapy. Surely some time and cash spent learning how to deal with your emotions is worth the investment.
I get a kick out of the fact that the middle finger gesture is referred to as the “Stinkefinger”. I also think it’s funny that Google Chrome’s translation of these insults is so hilarious. In reading this list on Chrome, I learned that “Du Wichser!” means “You wanker!” So now, thanks to the German catalog of fines for insults, I now know how to call someone a wanker. I just won’t do it while driving, especially if they’re wearing a polizei uniform. I also like how the price list page pictures an angry man sitting in his car, baring his teeth!
I see the catalog also helpfully provides fine information in Austria, France, and Italy. That makes sense, since Germans drive to those countries somewhat routinely. I don’t see Switzerland listed, though lots of Germans drive there. Maybe it’s because it’s not in the EU? Who knows?
If this article has piqued your interest, I recommend having a look at the comments posted… They are quite funny to this American. On the other hand, perhaps we Americans can take a lesson in civility from our German friends…
Edited to add in 2019… I still haven’t shot the bird at anyone in Germany, nor have I ever sworn at them in German, although I must admit the temptation has been there a few times. I generally don’t insult people unless they insult or harass me first (and I have proof).