Being German in 20 Steps (Part Two)

Posted: February 6, 2013 in life
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11. Eat Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut lost its importance to the rest of the world once we were no longer at threat from scurvy. Germans absolutely hate the stereotype that they’re a nation of obsessive sauerkraut eaters. Really hate it. Many have stopped eating Sauerkraut entirely in an act of nationalistic principle, or maybe they just don’t like sauerkraut (who could blame them) and this offers a more profound excuse for its avoidance. But someone must love it, or sauerkraut is playing a large and elaborate practical joke on the German people because if you order a German meal, in a German restaurant, there is an 87% chance it will come with sauerkraut. It’s there. It’s always there. It’s like a pact was made somewhere at a secret meeting no German was invited to, a referendum of one and now sauerkraut is the official, national side dish. If there’s no smoke without fire, and there’s no German Hauptgericht without Sauerkraut, the stereotype has to be accurate. If you don’t like it my dear Krauts, change that default side dish. May I suggest Baked Beans? It’s a custom of my people and I must say, I find them to be delicious.

12. Look for a job

Good news Ausländer, the German economy is rocking. Employment is very possible. Even in the East, where formerly abandoned cities like Leipzig have redeveloped themselves into logistics hubs. So armed with all those new qualifications and letters before your name, you’ll have no problems finding work. But not all work is equally prized. There is an unspoken scale of careers, known, but not acknowledged by all Germans. Real jobs and not real jobs. For a profession to count in Germany, it should have existed for at least a hundred years, be vaguely scientific or at least dense enough that it requires half a life time of study and the opportunity to acquire 67 different academic qualifications. It should be impenetrable to outsiders, shielded in its own complex language. Ideally, it should also start with an e and in ngineering. But other accepted professions are scientist, lawyer, doctor, teacher, something that involves organising things on a large scale, like logistics, or anything to do with cars. Otherwise when people ask you your job, the same will happen to you as happens to me, I reply “I’m a marketer”, at which point someone says, “that’s not really a job though, is it?”

13. Learn how to open a beer bottle with anything but a bottle opener

The bottle opener has existed in various formats since about 1738. The only logical reason why Germans can open bottles with just about anything, except bottle openers, must be that bottle openers didn’t arrive here until 2011. Since then they’ve been viewed with suspicion and anyone caught using one declared a witch and burnt at the stake. I remember there was a website that every day, listed a new way to open a beer bottle, over 365 days. Some said they’d run out of ideas by the end, when they suggested opening it on the edge of a Turtles shell. Germans didn’t read the blog, they knew all these ways already. Turtles shell? Easy, come on. Try and think of something a little more imaginative. Don’t you dare suggest a bottle opener.

So Ausländer, you need to learn at least 10 ways. Two of which must be with a lighter and a spoon. Turtle shell method optional but not discouraged.

14. Say what you mean

English is not about what you say, but how you say it. German is both, but more the former. Since what Germans say tends to be direct and prepared with minimal ambiguity. Ruthlessly efficient, if you will. In English, for example, if you want something to do something for you, you do not merely go up to that person and ask them to do something for you. Oh no. That would be a large faux pas of the social variety. Instead you must first enquire about their health, their families health, their children’s health, the weather, the activities of the previous weekend, the plans of the upcoming weekend, the joy or ecstasy related to the outcome of the most recent televised football match, then, finally, you can say “by the way”, after which you begin the actual point of the conversation, before reinforcing that you feel guilty for having to ask, and only if it’s no trouble, but would they be so kind as to possibly do this little thing for you. You will be eternally grateful. Germans do not dance around the point in such elaborate, transparent displays of faux-friendship, they just say “I need this, do it, by this date. Alles klar”? Then walk off. Once you’ve practiced regularly getting to the point, you may find the way to be short but very enjoyable. As for saying what you mean, Germans have rightly realised that sugar coating is best reserved for cakes. If I’m having one of my momentary delusions of grandeur I know I can rely on my German girlfriend to bring me swiftly back down to reality by saying something like “get over yourself, we’re all born naked and shit in the toilet”.

15. Feel mixed about Berlin

The average German has a complex relationship to its Hauptstadt. Berlin is the black sheep of the German family. Creative, unpunctual, prone to spontaneous displays of techno, unable to pay its taxes, over familiar with foreigners. To many Germans, Berlin is not really their capital, it’s more like a giant art project or social experiment that only turns up when hungover, and in need of a hand out. To them, the true capital is probably somewhere more like Frankfurt. You know where you are with Frankfurt.

16. Hate Bavaria

Every pantomime needs its villain. For Germany, the wicked witch is Bavaria. Firstly it had the misfortune to be based right down there in the corner, far enough away that we can all say mean things about it and it won’t hear, not central enough that it can claim real geographic importance. It then had the audacity to become the richest state, but not quietly and with humility, but in a gregarious, badly dressed, heavy drinking, God greeting, bumpkin sort of way. It’s also a source of wider German mirth since while only one part of this huge country, it’s responsible for 91% of all wider held German stereotypes and 100% of the annoying, inaccurate ones.

17. Speak freely about Sex

It is a great joy to live in a society that deals with sex so frankly and without fuss. As if, oh I don’t know, it was a completely normal part of life. An act so common there is even compelling evidence our lame parents engaged in it. Germans understand this. Sex, while perhaps dealt with a little clinically at times, is not a big deal and must not be treated as such. It’s like walking the dog or taking out the trash. Nudity is extended the same perfunctory familiarity. Particularly around lakes in the East of the country, with their history of FKK. When I questioned one of my colleagues on the need for such overt nakedness when an East Germans spots any body of water larger than a puddle, this was the reply “if you’ve never swum naked with 5 of your best male friends, you haven’t lived!”

18. Love your car.

It’s very time consuming for German men to have to keep pulling their penises out for comparison against the other men they meet. It also tends to be rather distracting for other people present. So they’ve evolved other ways to rank themselves, the favourite being cars. When my girlfriend told her father she had a new English boyfriend, his first question, before my name, job, interests, age etc “what kind of car does he drive?” Germans are serious about their cars. They’re also pretty good at making them. Possibly those two are also related, but since I can’t think of any jokes in the linking of them, I’ll conveniently ignore that and just move on.

19.  Do nothing on Sundays.

Picture the scene – an abandoned hospital. Someone wakes up in bed, in a locked room. They don’t remember how they got there. They are groggy. It’s quiet. Eerily quiet. They get up, and leave the room, stepping gingerly out into the hall. There are no humans around. It feels like the end of the world. They venture outside to try and find signs of humanity. There is nothing. They start to wonder if they are the only people left on earth. Maybe it was a killer virus. It’s quiet, too quiet. Sound familiar? Yes, this is the start of most zombie movies. It’s also a description of the average Sunday in Germany. At least in catholic or rural areas. A day in which washing your car is considered an act of vigilantism against the sacred Sonntagsruhe.

There is of course one exception though. One Sunday activity that is compulsory:

20. Watch Tatort

In my first WG we had a TV attached to a skateboard that lived in a cupboard. It was only wheeled out once a week, for Tatort. Friends of my room-mates would come by, the TV would be setup in the kitchen, elaborate meals would be cooked and shared, then silence would descend and Tatort would begin. If you dare to ask a German “is Tatort actually good?” the response is usually very amusing. You would think since they watch it with such rigid vigour, privately or as part of the public viewings in pubs, they must really love it? Yet, they usually don’t say yes. They made a shocked face, as if that’s a new question and they’ve not really thought about it before, like you asked them “do you believe in gravity?” then, usually, they’ll conclude that whether Tatort is good or bad is utterly irrelevant.  Every culture has its inherited customs. For the Germans, it’s Sunday Tatort.


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