When we were in Germany we picked up a hilarious book called “How to be German in 50 Easy Steps” by Adam Fletcher. We had great laughs reading it. With his dry British humour this Brit living in Germany has pinpointed many idiosyncrasies of Germans from drinking “Apfelschorle” to the word “Tschüss”.
Travelling with my Canadian partner and my Canadianized children, different German habits always stand out to me when they express their surprise or dismay:
STEP #1 of How to Be German
Sleep in a Bed with Two Mattresses
Each hotel or family home we stayed in for the night prompted my Canadian husband to sigh with dismay. He still hopes for a miracle. Part of him can just not believe that there are no single mattresses for double beds. Couples sleep in a double bed made up of two single mattresses and two single duvets; in fact, my German relatives shake their heads at how we North American’s can possibly sleep on the same mattress and share only one duvet. Their night sleep is holy and being woken up by your partner’s movements does not awake romantic feelings in them. You certainly have to admit that what the double mattresses lacks “in nocturnal romance, it more than makes up for practicality, the most prized of German possessions.” (Adam Fletcher)
STEP # 2
The Importance of Breakfast
No stores are open on Sundays with the exception of bakeries! Germans feel very strongly that it wouldn’t be fair for anybody to work on Sundays, yet their desire for fresh bread outweighs that social concern. Every bakery is open for a few hours on Sunday mornings so one family member can run out to buy a variety of fresh Brötchen (rolls) for breakfast.
“German breakfasts are not meals but elaborate feasts. If it’s a weekend, every square inch of the table will be smothered in an assortment of meats, cheeses, fruits, jams, spreads and other condiments. It’ll look like someone broke in and, while hunting for valuables, just tipped the content of all cupboards onto the table.” (Adam Fletcher)
One of my favourite childhood memories is Eszet Schnitten. My kids stare at me with open mouths when they see me place one of the thin chocolate slices on my buttered Brötchen and take a bite of it as if I was catapulted back in time to carefree breakfasts as a child. “Really, mom? Chocolate on bread?” Yes, really, dear children. Nothing could taste better and chocolate for breakfast is just like eating Nutella—which by the way was created in the 1940s by Pietro Ferrero, the Italian pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero company—and also not less healthy than sugar dripping donuts from Tim Hortons.
STEP # 3
Planning, Preparation and Process
When I read the chapter about the three P’s to my husband, he laughed so loud I though he might not recover. Apparently, the German love of planning, preparation and process explains everything for him, including why we have discussions that go like this “Let’s make a plan for…” with him replying either “What is there to plan?” or “It is way too early to plan for that!” To my slight distress we constantly seem to be having people over without plan and booking last minute vacations. And then there is the stressful habit of buying Christmas presents only two days prior to the festivities! I start putting away things for Christmas in May. By the end of November, I am done with family gifts. According to my husband, that resembles witchcraft and he continue to run out to the mall on the evening of the 23rd.
“Just because it is called spontaneity, doesn’t mean it can’t be scheduled. There’s a time and place for fun, and it’s to be pre-decided and marked in the calendar. All else is frivolous chaos. So sit down now and make a plan for the day, then the week, then the month. Then book your holiday until 2017. To make it easier, just go to the same place. How about Mallora? All the other Germans go there. Must be something to it.” (Adam Fletcher)
STEP # 9 & 10
Drink Apfelsaftschorle and Spezi
“Firstly, you must know, Germans fear any beverage that doesn’t fizz. It brings them out in a cold sweat. It’s a great comedic joy to watch tourists and foreigners in Germany buying water labelled ‘classic’, thinking that since ‘classic’ water—the kind that has fallen from the sky since the dawn of time—has always been still, uncarbonated water, it must be the same here, right? No! Millions of years of water history have been conveniently forgotten. ‘Classic’ means carbonated, of course. (…) Related to this is Apfelsaftschorle. You know the scene in movies when people go to therapy and then the therapist asks them to create a happy place? (…) For Germans that place is a lake of Apfelsaftschorle” (Adam Fletcher)
Germans like to drink fizzy water. Germans like their Apfelsaft (aka apple juice) and one day somebody came up with the idea of mixing them both. Apfelschorle or Apfelsaftschorle consists of 3 parts carbonated mineral water and 1 part apple juice. “Spritzer” or “Weinschorle” is wine mixed with carbonated water. Germans love mixing drinks. They even mixed Coke and Fanta and call it Spezi. You are doubtful? Unless you have tried Apfelschorle you cannot say you know what it is like to be German.
STEP # 11-14
Eat German Food
My husband’s eyes became as big as saucers each time we passed a butcher’s or a meat counter in a supermarket. There is German Wurst. And then there is other Wurst. And then there is more Wurst. “Being vegetarian here is probably about as much fun as being blind at the zoo.” (Adam Fletcher)
An oddity is Spargel (asparagus), not the green Spargel we usually get here but white Spargel, served with ham (there is the Wurst again) and a creamy sauce Hollondaise. “The only notable time of the year is Spargel-Saison, where the country goes gaga as the almighty Spargel is waved around everywhere, like a sort of culinary magic wand.” (Adam Fletcher)
What Spargel lacks in taste and imagination the German potato, which comes in many different dishes, makes up for. Wiener Schnitzel tastes best with Bratkartoffeln and Sauerkraut.
When we visited family, my sister cooked “Kartoffelauflauf” (potato gratin with no less than 1000 millilitres of real cream for the seven of us) on the first night, Kartoffelpuffer (potato latkes) on the second and Kroketten (potato croquettes made from mashed potatoes and fried on the outside) on the third night.
When we were shopping in the city we had “Pommes with Mayo” (french fries with mayonnaise, which by the way tastes very different from our mayonnaise) and “Pommes rot-weiß” (French fries with mayonnaise and ketchup).
And the only appropriate answer to “Ihr seid zum Grillen eingeladen’ (“You are invited to a BBQ”) is “We will make a Kartoffelsalat”, a real German one of course.
The one thing that cannot be forgotten, just like German bread, is the amazing German Kuchen. When you are invited for German “Kaffee und Kuchen”, you are in for a treat. The hostess might even have baked the cake herself. If not, she has picked a variety of cakes at the bakery, one more delicious than the next. If only it wasn’t for all the wasps as you are sitting outside in the backyard drinking good strong coffee and having a piece of Pflaumenkuchen (plum cake), Erdbeerkuchen (strawberry cake), both with lots of whipped cream, of course, or Sahneschnitte (a creamy roll).
STEP # 50
Greetings are different in different parts of Germany. You can say “Guten Tag” or plainly “Hallo” in most parts of Germany. When you get to the South you will hear the more Catholic greeting “Grüß Gott”. And instead of “auf wiedersehen” the South Germans will say “auf wiederschauen”.
However, one word seems to spread more and more all over Germany like a virus. It’s “Tschüss” which will vary from stretching it all the way out to singing a “Tschüüüüüüüss”, or even the more familiar “Tschüüüüssi”, or the more and more common “Tschau tschau”. It seems a short “Tschüss” or one single “Tschau” is not enough anymore.
So let me end my blog with the von Trapp family: So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, adieu… and tschüss, tschau, tschau!
If you are interested in the other steps of “Wie man Deutscher wird” (How To Be German), check out Adam Fletcher’s bilingual book.
FOR GERMAN LESSONS contact Claudia Angelika Baum, 905-286-9466