It wasn’t widespread in Germany, but we did encounter some of the rules-based society that we’d have expected. At our hotel restaurant in the Black Forest, we came downstairs one morning for the buffet breakfast. We filled our plates, took seats at a nice table by the window, and began to eat. In a few minutes, a waiter came by and wished us good morning. He asked for our room number, and when we told him, he said, “I’ll show you to your table now.” He indicated a table far off in a dark corner. All of the tables were equivalent: the same number of seats, and the same number of place settings. We told him, “We’d prefer to sit here by the window.” He got a strange expression on his face; not angry, just dumbfounded. “But that is your table,” he said. We repeated, “Thank you, but we’d prefer to sit here.” He left, and we didn’t see him again that morning. Of course, he also didn’t ask us if we wanted coffee or tea.
The next morning, we were a little more prepared. When we came down to the restaurant, there was a hostess waiting. She said, “I’ll show you to your table,” and took us to the same dark corner. We told her, “Yesterday, we sat over there. Is it all right if we take the table by the window?” Again, the same dumbfounded expression. The hostess must have had a little more decision-making authority, because she finally gave an elaborate shrug (which said more plainly than words, “But what else can you expect from those crazy Americans?”) and seated us by the window. A few minutes later, the waiter from the day before came by and again wanted to take us back to the dark corner. We told him, “Oh, the hostess seated us here.” No further problems.
Ah, those cultural differences!