Usually a visit to a doctor’s office in the U.S. goes like this:
After waiting, for what feels like hours in the waiting room, stuffed with other inpatient patients, your name is called and the nurse shows you into an exam room, where she hands you a paper gown and a paper sheet and instructs you to undress and then dress up in the gown and paper sheet. As she briskly exits the room, she adds, “The doctor will be with you shortly.” Now, in the quiet privacy of the sterile room, you can undress. You quickly peel off your shirt, unhook your bra, unzip your jeans and remove your undies before the doctor walks in. Your biggest fear is that the doctor walks in right as you are undressing or when fully naked. In your hurry to undo the folded paper gown and thread your arms through the armholes, you rip a piece of the starchy gown and curse; flat paper wasn’t meant to cover round bodies. “They should use cloth gowns,” you mumble. You pick up the undamaged sheet of paper, jump onto the exam table, unfold the sheet and drape it over your exposed thighs and anything else you can cover. Drape is perhaps the wrong word because it doesn’t exactly drape like silk or rayon does; but you are glad to have something to cover your nakedness. Then you wait, cold, nervous and uncertain, wondering what you should do if a fire alarm were to go off right then. Would you have time to change back into your normal clothes or would you have to rush out in your thin, ripped paper clothing?
In Germany, it’s a little different.
As you enter the doctor’s office, you think you’ve entered the wrong office. Beautiful natural light fills the reception area and as you look around you wonder if you have mistakenly walked into an architectural design firm. Bright, bold paintings decorate the walls, bronze sculptures stand guard on pedestals, designer leather chairs beckon you to take a seat. Noticeably absent from the gorgeous waiting room, off to the left of the reception desk, are coffee tables full of the latest magazines. No coffee tables, no messy magazines, no distractions. You feel a little guilty walking into a room that could be featured in Dwell magazine, because your jeans and sweater feel so old and not dressed up enough. You greet the only other occupants, a young German couple, dressed as if they will be heading to the Opera right after receiving their physical exam. They smile, you smile.
A few minutes later your name is called. The doctor extends her name, introduces herself and asks you to follow her. She leads you down a long hallway filled with more beautiful paintings, sculptures and art. You feel like you’re in an art gallery and have to resist the urge to stop and have a closer look. The doctor disappears into a small room, you follow quickly. After a brief consult, the doctor stands up to wash her hands in a small sink by the far wall and tells you to undress. You look around nervously, thinking to yourself, “Where is the dressing room?”. The doctor notes your hesitation and adds, “Sorry, it tis not like the U.S. You may undress and put zee clothes on zee chair.” “Oh good,” you think to myself, “I just met you and now I have to undress in front of you. Aren’t you going to leave the room so I can be alone?” Sadly, you have no choice; you disrobe, feeling completely vulnerable and exposed. When you’re completely naked except for your lonely socks, the doctor instructs you to lie down on the table – no blanket, no sheet of paper, no paper gown, no paper anything, nada. That’s when you wish desperately for a crappy paper gown, or even a small paper towel.