I'm reluctant to perpetuate National stereotypes, but sometimes the empirical data goes works against me. I was watching Grand Designs the other day, and became fascinated by an older couple who were replacing their old self-built house (which was on the verge of falling down) with a Huf Haus.
The Huf Haus is an innovative design produced by architect Peter Huf in Germany. The post-and-beam house is completely pre-fabricated in an immense warehouse in Germany, then shipped and assembled on site like some vast Ikea cupboard from hell. The whole house is up and watertight within seven days, which seems an incredible feat until you see the German Huf team working.
What happened during the process of the build seemed to completely reinforce the stereotype of German workers as ruthlessly efficient, and British workers as slack and lazy. On the first build day, the German builders turned up at 7 am sharp, already in their natty matching waistcoats and shorts that looked like a funky modern interpretation of the lederhosen, to lay the concrete plinth on which the house would rest. They didn't want to be late. They got cracking and reached the last load of concrete, but the final (British) concrete mixer truck was nowhere to be seen. As they waited for him to arrive, the already poured concrete was 'going off'1, and everyone was worrying about the base being ruined. Finally, the concrete turned up just as it was getting dark. The driver had got lost. When the house itself was due to be assembled, several trucks containing the parts of the house arrived at 7.30 am. All they needed now was the crane driver, who was also due to arrive at 7.30am and was British. Oh dear. Five hours later, the rather red-faced driver appeared, claiming to have got lost. Do you see a pattern appearing here? It's suburban Surrey, for crying out loud, not the Outer Hebrides! You'd think that if the German crew could cross a fair proportion of mainland Europe and find it, it surely couldn't be that hard for a local.
No matter, the Huf team immediately made arrangements to get two more team members in for a couple of days so that they would still complete on time. The presenter Kevin McCloud was extremely sceptical about the house being finished in 6 days, but when he came to inspect the site on the fourth day, he found the house completed. Anyone who has ever seen a British builder will find the following phrase unbelievable; the Huf builders were cleaning out their tool boxes, and even polishing the dashboard of their van with furniture polish. British builders never see their dashboards from the first day they acquire the van. From that day on, the area below the windscreen develops geological layers of discarded Sun newspapers, crisp bags and drinks cans. In older vans, I suspect that the lower strata are transformed by the heat and temperature of the upper layers into some hitherto unknown material.
The inside of the house (tiling, wiring, plumbing etc.) was also completed by the Huf team, and was finished to incredibly exacting standards. The new owner marvelled at the reaction of the supervisor to the work of his tilers in the kitchen. The supervisor said that it was absolute rubbish, and would have to be taken down and done again. The owner couldn't see anything wrong with it, and asked him what the problem was. It seems that the grouting on the tiles at one side of the area was 1 mm wider than that at the other. That's real perfectionism.
1 I know the terminology, you knowâ¦