When your child is ill in Germany

In all the years I’ve lived in Germany, probably the time when I felt the most acutely abroad … and by that I mean I felt like I’d been transmat-beamed to a different universe… was when I had a small baby. There is nothing childrearing, you’d think, for bringing people together in a shared experience common to all humankind.


There’s nothing like having a baby for highlighting the cultural differences between nations.

Compare, for instance, what happens when your child has a cold. In the UK, you’d carry on pretty much as normal, but as a concession to the situation, might carry a couple of extra packets of tissues with you in a futile attempt to stem (or at least spread around) the tidal wave of snot which will be flowing steadily down your toddler’s upper lip.

In Germany you will package your child up in a snow-suit, scarf, hat, mittens and a furry lining to the pushchair and hot-foot it to the Apotheke.  After handing over the best part of your annual salary, you will return triumphantly with assorted packets of malodorous chest-rubs, a herbal tea known as Erkältungstee (which your child will instantly regurgitate and refuse to touch again)… and a mysterious device which enables you to extract the snot from your offspring’s nose.

The Nasensauger… a medieval torture instrument for sucking the juices out of small children. Or something…

On the advice of the Apotheker, you will also have purchased a rectal thermometer and will be monitoring your child’s temperature hourly… in a manner which would probably have social services at the door in Blighty.

Fortunately the thermometer has pictorial instructions for usage on it… personally and exclusively modelled by Winnie the Pooh

If you attempt to send your child to kindergarten or school in the state of having a sniffle, you will immediately be phoned and told to come immediately and collect the invalid –  who in the meantime is being held in isolation.  If the teacher is a stickler, your sick child may not be allowed to return without having been cleared to do so by a paediatrician.
Needless to say, there is no German word for to soldier on….


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8 responses to “When your child is ill in Germany

  1. Love Pooh’s facial expression

  2. I work in a Kindergarten, and we don’t send kids home for sniffles. If there is a fever, which spikes around midday, we know the kid has probably been brought in with a quick paracetemol just prior to drop off. I have to admit, Germans are sensitive to their health, and will take off 3 days with a certificate from the dr more than say, us Aussies. But the laws here mean that even one day off needs to be proven with a medical certificate, and I know no doctor who has ever given just one day off. So, it kind of reinforces the mentality of the dreaded illness… And somehow with the damp and cold, parents are petrified regarding pneumonia. I worry a little, but try to keep it in perspective.

  3. Marie B

    Aaaaaahhhh the old German Apotheke obsession! I’m sure I look like a terrible Mum because I don’t dress my kids up like Eskimos just to go from the car to a toasty warm toddler group!

  4. The snot sucker is also an American tool, although I had it in my medicine cabinet, I think I only needed t use it once or twice. I also don’t believe in homeopathic remedies, so I never used any of those you mention. And in Berlin, at least, you don’t need a dr’s note until the 3rd day.

  5. anne reuter

    thanks for giving this german girl a good laugh this morning.. yep we are a little funny when it comes to our kid’s sickness! lol

  6. sallyhouben

    You’ve hit the nail on the head! It exasperates me no end; our kindergarten is norovirus-ridden, yet remains open and I watch everyone walk in and out of the toilet without washing their hands. Yet at the first sign of a cold, it’s a national emergency and I am berated for criminally under-dressing my child in tights, thermal jeans, vest, long-sleeved t-shirt, jumper, fleece, scarf and hat. Who knew that the cold virus targets the sartorially bereft?!

  7. Well, still, we may wrap our kids up and all that, the English prescribe antibiotis for sniffles. To adults and children. Somewhat the thermometer and Erkältungstee seem more appropriate.

  8. allyantics

    Great post. I lived in Germany last year for 6 months with my boyfriend + his family. His mum is a doctor and she was forever producing the snot machine to counter act my hayfever! Funny how the sturdy, stoical Germans wilt at any sign of krankenheit! 🙂

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