Wie man Deutscher wird – How To Be German

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

Betten

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

Deutsches Fruehstueck

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)

Eszet Schnitten

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

Kalendar

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

Apfelschorle

“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.

Schnitzel & Bratkartoffeln 2

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).

Kartoffelsalat 1

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

Tschüss

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

 

Celebrating Silvester: Neujahrsbräuche—New Year’s Customs

Every country has their own traditions for ending the old year and beginning the new year. Here are four German favourites.

 

Bleigiessen2

Bleigießen—“Lead Pouring”

For Bleigießen a small amount of lead is melted in a tablespoon and then poured into a bucket of water. It hardens into different shapes to predict what to expect in the New Year. For example, if the lead forms a ball, it means “luck will roll your way”; a heart or ring shaped formation suggests a wedding or commitment; a ship shaped formation symbolizes traveling; and a pig shaped formation means an abundance of food.

 

dinner for one2 dinner for one

“Dinner for One”

The butler’s question, “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” and the old lady’s reply, “The same procedure as every year, James,” are known to every German. These lines are familiar catchphrases from a short British cabaret sketch from the 1920s which has for some obscure reason become a German New Year’s tradition. Although this is a famous cult classic in Germany and several Scandinavian countries, it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world.

Every year around Silvester (New Year’s Eve), German television broadcasts the classic, black-and-white English-language version filmed back in 1963. All across Germany, from the 31st of December to January 1st, Germans know it’s the beginning of a new year when they watch this classic.

 

Feuerwerk_2

Feuerwerk—Fireworks

Fireworks on Silvester are not unique to German-speaking Europe. People all over the world use fireworks to welcome in the New Year. It goes back to the old days of driving out evil spirits with loud noises and fires. While in Canada these fireworks are more publicly sponsored fireworks in central spots, in Germany the fireworks are so common that one just needs to look out of the window at midnight to see the sky light up everywhere.

Feuerzangenbowle

Feuerzangenbowle—Punch

In addition to Sekt (sparkling wine), Wein (wine), and Bier (beer), Feuerzangenbowle (literally “flaming fire tongs punch”) is a popular German New Year’s drink. In rum dipped sugar is lit above the punch. Part of the popularity of Feuerzangenbowle is due to a classic novel and the 1944 film version starring the popular German actor Heinz Rühmann. The ingredients are Rotwein (red wine), Rum, Orangen (oranges), Zitronen (lemons), Zimt (cinnamon) und Gewürznelken (cloves).

 

Neujahrskarte3

Neujahrskarten—New Year’s cards

Christmas cards are not very popular in Germany. If one receives a card around this time of the year it is more likely a Happy New Year’s wish (sometimes combined with a Christmas wish).

Some ways of saying Happy New Year in German are:

– Einen guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr! (Slide well into the New Year!)

– Ein frohes und gesundes neues Jahr! (A happy and healthy New Year!)

– Ein fröhliches neues Jahr! (Happy New Year!)

– Alles Gute für das Neue Jahr! (All the best for the New Year!)

– Viel Glück im Neuen Jahr! (Lots of luck for the New Year!)

Typisch Deutsch – Typical German

We land in Germany at 6:06 a.m. in the rain. “Typisch deutsches Wetter!” (typical German fall weather), I am thinking. What else is typical German, I wonder. Travelling with my non-European partner, I am looking at Germany through his eyes.

The first confusion arises for him when we enter the airport restaurant to have breakfast. Nobody waits to be seated in Germany. Customers walk straight in and choose their own seats.

We then pick up our rental car. Standing in line waiting our turn, we hear the interactions with other customers. My partner is appalled at the lack of customer service. The tone is unfriendly, bordering on what North Americans perceive as rude. The customer agents behind the counter are impatient and confrontational. This is bad customer service, yes, but also a bit of “culture clash” and a different perception of what an adequate way of communicating is. The staff is not educated or trained enough to go beyond translating their German almost word for word into English. Their mannerism and idioms are different. They are not able to soften the tone or adapt their manner of speaking—which is very direct. When the lady behind the counter discovers she can speak German with me, I would still call her anything but friendly but what is rude in English sounds different in German.

driving

My partner can’t wait to drive on the German Autobahn after having heard all the tales of no speed limits and being able to cruise along at 200 km/h. The reality looks a bit different: Lots of constructions sites or areas on the highway where speed limits do exist. Sometimes the limit is 130km/h, other times 100km/h, or even 80km/h. When we are able to go 200km/h though, the high speed is barely noticeable. The highway and the cars are built for going fast. The road is smooth and the car easily glides along. If you are on the third lane, the other drivers get out of the way for faster cars. My Canadian is pleased. Does this make up for the personal rudeness in the interactions, I wonder? On the Autobahn, my partner also notices how everything is labelled very clearly and the exits are counted down in 100 meter increments. “Why don’t we do that in Canada?” he asks.

200km landscape

We stop at an en-route rest stop to have a coffee. He takes off into the direction of the restrooms to come back slightly confused. “Do you have 70 cents for me? It seems I have to pay to go to the restroom.” Yes, he does. Collecting money assures that the public washrooms are clean. If one buys something at the rest stop store, part of the amount (50 cents) can be applied to the purchase.

Bikers

We leave the highway and drive into the first city. There are bike paths and bikers everywhere and often the bikes have a lane of their own on the street. You better pay extra attention, especially when turning. “Why is their light only on when they are riding the bike?” asks the Canadian puzzled. “Because the bike lamp does not have a battery but a dynamo. This dynamo clicks onto the wheel and ergo only works when the wheels are turning.” He also notices that the traffic lights are different. They are not across the intersection but on your own side of the intersection, so somewhat harder to see. And then he points something out I hadn’t thought of in a long time. In Canada, the traffic light goes from red to green. In Germany it goes from red, to both red and yellow, and only then to green. “Why?” he muses again. “One does not need a warning that the light is about to turn green, does one?”

We arrive at the apartment we are renting and he comments “Wow, German locksmiths must make a fortune!” Why? Because German doors lock when you pull them closed. If you leave the house without your key, you have locked yourself out. Next he looks at the bed with horror. “How are we supposed to sleep in that?” It has two mattresses with a crack in between! “Yes, my love, German beds have two separate mattresses and two separate covers”. He is bewildered that there are no closets in Germany, but admires the beautiful wardrobe we get to use instead. Then he visits the bathroom. Confusion hits again until he has figured out how to flush the toilet. Instead of having a water tank with a lever, modern German plumbing is behind the tiled wall and all you will find is a small button on the wall.

Then we are ready to go for our first walk through the city. We are soon walking through one of many pedestrian districts, often times covered with cobble stones. Lots of people are walking or riding their bikes. Many pedestrians are smoking. Even bicyclists are riding their metal horses one handed while holding a burning cigarette. “Wouldn’t it be lovely if the rain stopped and we could sit in one of those many outdoor cafes or pubs?” “Yes, honey, it would. However, there again you will find people smoking at the tables next to you while you eat or want to enjoy your coffee!”

outdoor pub

Only recently has Germany changed the laws about smoking inside. What used to be normal when I grew up here, smoking inside all restaurants and pubs, is prohibited now. By the end of the vacation, we have decided that 75% of Germans must be smokers as one can’t walk along the street without breathing in second hand smoke all the time. In fact, when I research the statistics, it turns out it is “just” 34% of the adult population who smokes at least one cigarette or more a day, which is still every third person. The German fondness for smoking is a contradiction of a nation otherwise obsessed with health and the environment.

Federweisser

We have lunch inside and enjoy a glass of Federweißer with Zwiebelkuchen (a warm onion tart made out of a thick yeast dough). Federweißer is an unusual alcoholic drink produced and enjoyed only in the fall. It is made out of the early grapes. Federweißer is the product of freshly fermented grape must. The alcohol content can be anywhere from 4 to 10 percent, depending on the stage of fermentation. The name Federweißer (which means feather white) is due to the milky white color, and to the tiny bubbles, or “the dancing feathers” that the process of carbonation creates.

Bierdeckel

My Canadian starts a collection of Bierdeckel—the paper coasters the server puts your drinks on and keeps a tally of how many beers you have had. Over the course of the holiday, we get to try out all sorts of different beers: the Pilsener, the Kölsch (drunk from glasses almost as small and narrow as chemical test tubes) and Schwarzbier.

As we walk back to our apartment, he discovers that dogs are allowed not only in restaurants but also in stores. Being a dog lover, he is thrilled. Then he stops the next couple with a dog on the street, like it is his habit back home. They look at him with great surprise. Somebody wants to pat their dog. The husband is delighted, his wife is suspicious. What a strange man from across the big pond…

Going Shopping for Clothing in Germany

One of the differences you should be aware of when going clothes shopping in Germany is that the sizes are different.

A North American dress size 8 for women is a size 36, a size 10 is the German 38, or a size 12 is 40, size 14 is 42, and so on.

Shoe sizes are also in double digits. A lady’s shoe size 8 is size 39 in Germany, size 9 is 40, and size 10 is 41.

Children’s clothing uses the metric system. A size 140 for children means the child is 140 cm tall. So a size 140 is approximately a size 10 for children.

There are two big sales each year, one at the end of January, the “Winterschlussverkauf” (end of winter sale) and one at the end of July called “Sommerschlussverkauf” (end of summer sale).

However, during the year you can find “Sonderangebote” (special offers) and items marked as “reduziert” (reduced). The sign marking the items might say “ab 20,-” which means the items start at 20 euros. All prices already include the tax.

For information on the German currency, read my post on the euro.

If you just want to browse you can say to a salesperson approaching you, “Ich will mich nur umsehen” oder “Ich schaue mich nur um.”

When you are looking for a changeroom to try something on, find the sign saying “Umkleidekabine.”

Stores close earlier than in North America. Usually, they are open Monday to Friday from 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. In smaller towns, they might close even earlier. Saturdays, stores are only open until 4:00 p.m. On Sundays and public holidays they are all closed. In a smaller town, the banks, the post office, and smaller stores might close for a lunch break of up to two hours.

The German Currency, the Euro

Many Germans still pay for almost everything with cash, unless they are purchasing a very expensive item like a piece of furniture or household appliance. Credit cards (Kreditkarten) or cheques (Schecks) are not used as often as in North America.

20 Euros, 50 Euros, Coins

“Der Euro” (the euro) is the currency used in Germany as well as in 16 other EU countries: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

The written symbol is EUR or €.

There are seven euro bills: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 dollars.

The values of the euro coins are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents as well as a 1 euro and a 2 euro coin.

50 Euros and Coins

Visiting Germans

Germans tend to be more formal when it comes to inviting people over. Unannounced or casual visits are not common.

If you have been invited by Germans, you can expect that the visit has been carefully prepared. The house will have been cleaned and tidied up. Host and hostess will be dressed nicely. If you are invited in the afternoon, at least one cake will be served with coffee (“Kaffee und Kuchen”). If it is dinner time, the dinner will be ready or almost ready when you get there. Do not arrive more than ten minutes late. Germans are very punctual and it is regarded as rude to arrive late.

In the afternoon, it is customary to bring a bouquet of flowers or chocolates, or both. Remember to take off the wrapping before presenting the flowers to the hostess. In the evening you can bring a bottle of wine which can be purchased in a regular grocery store, or once again, flowers or sweets.

Wait for the hostess to sit down at the table with everybody or to urge you to begin eating before you begin to eat dinner. Children are usually expected to also sit down at the same table to eat dinner and are not permitted to leave until they get permission from their parents to get up.

To find out how the table manners are different, please read my post about “Eating Out.”

Eating Out in Germany

When eating out in Germany, one notices quite a few differences to North America.

When entering a German restaurant, men generally precede women. This might be a remainder from times when the man was the one to decide whether the locality was respectable enough for the woman to enter. In entering first, he would screen her from curious stares and if the decision was made that the locality was appropriate, he would choose the table.

There are no hostesses in German restaurants to greet and seat the guests. The guests enter and look for a table themselves.

Some more traditional German restaurants have longer and bigger tables and in that case it is customary to join other people at a table if there is no empty table anymore. You would approach and ask, “Ist hier noch frei?” (Are these seats taken?)

When asking for the menu say “Die Speisekarte, bitte.” If you ask for “Das Menü, bitte,” you are asking for the three course meal of the day (soup, dinner and dessert).

German table manners are different from North American ones. The fork is held in the left hand, the knife in the right, keeping them this way throughout the meal. The knife is used to push the food onto the fork. If eating only with a fork or a spoon, the left hand is placed on the table besides the plate, not in the lap. Placing your hand in your lap would be regarded as rude.

Germans rarely drink plain water with a meal. Beer, wine, juices, pop drinks or carbonated water are ordered. If you want to drink regular water you will have to specifically ask for “Leitungswasser, bitte,” or the server will assume you want to drink sparkling water from a bottle. There are also no free refills on drinks.

To ask for the cheque you say, “Ich möchte bitte zahlen!” (I would like to pay please) or “Die Rechnung, bitte!” (The bill please). Normally you pay your server at the table. Tax and service charge are already included in the total amount, so a tip is not necessary. However, most people round off the bill to the nearest Euro if they are pleased with the service. For instance, if the cheque amounts to EUR 15,50, they might say “Sechzehn Euro, bitte!” (Make it 16 Euros please). That indicates to the server that he will only have to give change for 16 Euros.

Most smaller restaurants expect cash payments as paying by credit card is not as customary as in North America. However, bigger or higher-end restaurants will accept credit cards.

 

“Du” oder “Sie”?

Both “du” and “Sie” mean “you”.

“Du” is the informal mode of address comparable to the French “tu.” Family members always say “du” to each other, children are always addressed with “du” until mid-adolescence and if people are close friends who are on a first name basis with each other, they also use “du”.

“Sie” is comparable to the French “vous.” People who work together usually call each other by their last names and use “Sie”, even after they have worked together for many years.

Germans distinguish between “Bekannte” (acquaintances) who are addressed with “Sie” and “Freunde” (close personal friends) who are addressed with “du”.

Young people tend to use the “du” form much quicker than older people.

When first meeting someone “Sie” is used and there is a formal process of offering the less formal address to the other person. Your age and gender determines who suggests to switch from “Sie” to “du”. It is up to the older person and/or the woman to offer this informal address to the younger person and/or male.

 

EXAMPLES:

An adult is speaking to Thomas: Wo wohnst du, Thomas? (Where do you live, Thomas?)

Thomas is speaking to an adult: Wo wohnen Sie, Herr Schmidt? (Where do you live, Mr. Smith?)

What time Is It? – Wie viel Uhr ist es? Wie spät ist es?

Germans do not use the a.m./p.m. system in an official context. When travelling to Germany you will have to become familiar with the 24-hour system, especially when dealing with the official language used on the radio and TV, or at train stations and airports.

Numbers 13 to 24 indicate the hours that English speaking people call p.m., for example

14.21 Uhr = 2:21 p.m.

17.45 Uhr = 5:45 p.m.

20.00 Uhr = 8:00 p.m.

 

Speaking in person to someone, Germans often use the expressions “morgens” (in the morning), “nachmittags” (in the afternoon) and “abends” (in the evening) to avoid misunderstandings. For example, “Wir kommen um acht Uhr abends an.” (“We will arrive at 8 p.m.”)

 

Saying hello and goodbye

Even though Germans also use the international “hello” or “hi” when they greet each other, traditional German greetings are more formal.

“Guten Tag,” sometimes shortened to “Tag,” is used all day long for hello. In Southern Germany the respective greeting is “Grüß Gott,” or if you are on first name basis with someone “Grüß Dich.” In Austria, people greet each other with “Servus.”

In the morning, you say “Guten Morgen” (good morning) or short “Morgen”, in the evening “Guten Abend” (good evening) or “Abend.”

“Auf Wiedersehen” means goodbye and literally translates to “until we see again”. A less formal way of saying goodbye is “Tschüs” or “Tschau” and is primarily used in Northern Germany.

Germans shake hands more than North Americans. They shake hands not only when they are being introduced but each time they see each other again. It is part of the everyday greeting and beginning of a conversation, especially for the older generation. Usually, a nod accompanies the handshake. Younger people shake hands less and hug friends instead.