#1 PUT ON YOUR LITTLE HOUSE SHOES!
Now, you’ll need to carefully make up your half of the bed (you will probably be sleeping in a double bed made up of two single mattresses and two single duvets). What it lacks in nocturnal romance, it more than makes up for in practicality (each makes his/her own side of the bed) the most prized of German possessions.
Now, careful! Don’t step off of the Bettvorleger yet, there is a very high chance that the floors will be ever so slightly colder than you expect! So cold you may go into some kind of morning shock. That’s why you need house shoes! They are requirements of Germanism.
I would like to be able to tell you why Germans are so in love with their house shoes, I’ve asked several but their answer is so incredibly unromantic, so sensible, practical and boring that my happy little barefoot brain has no idea where to store information of that nature and so just gives up committing it to memory.
Actually, that these little house shoes prevent the outside dirt from creeping through the tidy German household is something Brits understand far less than do, for instance the Japanese. OK. There. How very practical, indeed. Is there hope after all?
#2 EAT A LONG BREAKFAST
For the Germans, it’s a different story, they are happiest and spend the most time in their kitchens. It’s the most practical room in the house. You have a table, water, coffee, food, radio, serious, correct-posture-encouraging seating. They’ve correctly realised, if trouble does come calling, they’ll be best prepared for it by holing up in their kitchens.
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 contents of all the cupboards out onto the table.
The first time I experienced breakfast in a German WG (= Wohngemeinschaft, or dormitory) it lasted so long that I drifted off into a sort of breakfast coma and they had to wake me with some Nutella, which is a sort of chocolate strip you put on bread. I didn’t know you could legally combine chocolate and bread, it was quite a revelation. Now I just eat Nutella with everything, and slowly I’ve learnt to eat more and also slower, during the long drawn out German breakfasts.
#3 BE PREPARED
Now you need to enter the headspace of the Germans. If you want to be one, you need to think like one, which is a big task and we’ll cover it in more detail in later steps. But for now, start accepting the three central tenets of Germanism. The three P’s. Planning, Preparation, Process.
Being a good German is about understanding the risks, insuring for what can be insured, preparing for what cannot. You are your own life’s project manager. Plan and prepare. Make spreadsheets, charts and lists. Think about what you’re doing each day and how you can make it more efficient.
Is it possible you arrange your shoe storage so that the most used items are nearer the top, reducing bending time? I don’t care if you’re 17, it’s taking you nearly a full minute to get your shoes on, buy a shoe horn! Optimise your processes!
Just because they call it 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 holidays until 2017. -- To make it easier, just go to the same place. How about Mallorca? All the other Germans go there, there must be something to it.
#4 GET SOME INSURANCES
Don’t be surprised if the Germans you meet all have personal insurance advisors.
My girlfriend communicates with her insurance advisor more often than I do with my mother. If someone invented insurance insurance, an insurance against not having the right insurance, we’d all be treated to the sight of 80 million people dying of happiness.
#5 DRESS SERIOUSLY
Now it’s time to change out of your Schlumperklamotten and head outside to face the day head on. You’re going to need to get appropriately dressed.
*WARNING! AUSLÄNDER! WARNING!* Outside is this thing called nature, nature is fickle and not to be trusted! It dances to its own illogical, changeable tune. Best dress on the safe side. You need – expensive outdoor clothing! After all, you’re going outdoors, it’s called outdoor clothing, therefore it must be necessary.
At all times, you should be dressed for a minimum of three seasons. Get some of those funky Jack Wolfskin shrousers, the trousers that zip off into shorts.
If there is even the slightest possibility you may at some point leave a pavement, be sure you are wearing high-quality hiking boots. The Germans consider anything else an act of ankle suicide.
Should you show your Ausländisch self and suddenly find yourself unprepared in the elements, prepare for serious snickering in your direction.
#6 LEARN GERMAN!
In principle, it’s not that hard. It works in two stages. Learning words and learning the grammar. Learning words is fun, most are even similar to English thanks to our shared ancestry, you’ll zip along making great progress and really enjoying wrapping your tongue around such delights as Schwangerschaftsverhütungsmittel, Weltschmerz and Zeitgeist.
Then, confident at all the little snippets you’ve already accumulated, you’ll start learning the grammar, the putty that builds your mutterings into real, coherent German sentences. This is where you’ll start to feel cheated....
English, at least linguistically, has always been the biggest slut in the room. Giving and taking from other languages. Trying to make you like it. Keeping it simple. My pet theory is that the Germans, despite their committed efforts, were not as successful as the English in their world power plays and so the English language has always, historically, been forced like a bridge made of glue to ford whatever cultural divide lay between us and whoever we were conquering, sorry colonising this week, so we had to smooth down its rougher edges, which is a poetic way of saying, kick out all the hard bits.
English was forced to evolve in a way that German had not been. German retained the grammatical complexity of Old English. Take genders as an example, present in Old English, still present in German, yet assigned utterly arbitrarily. Sure, there are some sort of vague guidelines about how words end or that almost everything to do with time is der. That’ll help you with maybe 30 per cent of nouns. That still leaves 70 per cent that you’ll have to learn by heart so you can decline correctly.
(PRO TIP: never learn a noun without its article, going back later and adding them in is very time consuming and inefficient). Without knowing the gender of the noun, you can’t accurately decline the endings of the sentences, nouns and adjectives or adverbs. Without it you’ll say very embarrassing things like "einer grosser Wasser", instead of "ein grosses wasser." I know, cringeworthy.
Of course there are far harder languages to learn than German, that’s not my point. English also has its stupidities, like a staunch commitment to being unphonetic. The difference is that English was kind enough to be easy in the beginning, it ramps up slowly and encouragingly. German just plonks you down in front of a steep mountain, says “viel spass” and walks off as you begin your slow ascent.
When I first started learning the language, I was gently reminded by a friend that some of the smartest things ever written were written in this language. First you need only respect it, later you can learn to like it. And you will.
#7 EARN YOURSELF [A FEW MORE] QUALIFICATIONS!
But the Germans, on account of their excellent school system (at least in comparison to the English), and the extraordinarily long time they tend to study (now reducing as they’ve adopted the Bachelor/Masters system) are an intellectual bunch. As a result, they also tend to have a great number of qualifications.
Vanity always needs an audience, it’s no different with intellectual vanity. So the Germans needed to create situations in which they could gently remind other Germans how much more qualified they are than them. An outdated idea in English culture, where everything is on a first-name basis, I am Adam, he is John, it’s what in our heads that shows our qualifications and intelligence.
Here in Germany, it’s the letters before or after our full name, letters we use when addressing each other, for example Herr Dr or Frau Prof Dr.h.c Schmidt, none of this first name over-familiarity. Even the humble doorbell offers an opportunity for neighbour one-upmanship, where academic qualifications can be listed.
You can expect occasional smirks and reassuring pats on the shoulder, when you tell them you only have a BA in Theatre Studies, as if they’ve a new found respect for the fact you’ve managed to dress yourself properly.
#8 OBEY THE LITTLE RED AMPELMÄNNCHEN!
I think the often exaggerated stereotype that Germans love to follow the rules all comes down to one little illuminated red man: Guardian and God of the crossing pedestrian. To dare challenge his authority and step gingerly out into a completely empty road when he is still red, is to take great personal risk.
Not of getting run over, the road is completely empty after all. Bar being struck by an invisible car, you’re safe.
No, what you really risk is the scorn, the tutting and the shouts of “Halt!” from nearby Germans, who will now consider you an irresponsible, possibly suicidal, and certainly a social renegade (well-- especially if there are impressionable kiddies nearby).
Halt! Await the GREEN Ampelmännchen. Consider it an elaborate exercise in self-control. You’ll need all that self-control not to freak out and start shooting the first time you visit the Ausländerbehörde and find out they don’t --want to -- speak English.
#9 DRINK APFELSCHORLE!
It’s a great comedic joy to live in a country where you can watch tourists and foreigners buying “classic” water, thinking that since for millions of years now “classic” water, you know, the kind that fallen from the sky since the dawn of time, was still, uncarbonated water, it would be the same here, right?
Oh no. Millions of years of water history have been conveniently forgotten. “Classic” means carbonated, of course. You big silly.
Learn to like it. If not, when visiting the homes of your new German friends, you’ll request tap water and they’ll look at you like you are some primitive savage they just found in the woods covered in a blanket of your own hair.
Related to this is Apfelsaftschorle. You know in movies when people go to therapy and then the therapist asks them to create a happy place. A safe, tranquil spot they can turn to when the world gets too big and scary. Usually it’s a beach, or a rocking chair on the front porch of an idyllic childhood home?
For Germans, that happy place is swimming naked in a lake of Apfelsaftschorle. Tired after a long day of stamping and form filling, confronted with a 15-page long restaurant menu, baffled by the burdens of choice, they always retreat to their happy place and order Apfelsaftschorle. It’s steady, reliable.
For more than a century Germans, smug with their discovery of fizzy water, all their abundant breweries producing fine beers and ales, they didn’t believe it could get any better. Then some bright spark tried adding a little apple juice to that fizzy water. Creating something equally refreshing, but 6 per cent more fun! It was a near riot.
People were not ready. It was almost too fun. An all-night discoparty for the tastebuds. Of course, it won’t taste like that to you, with your funny foreign pallet. Apfelsaftschorle will taste to you as it really is, a fractional improvement on water’s boring taste.
#10 EAT GERMAN FOOD!
It’s hard to discuss German cuisine without mentioning Wurst, at which point you’ll feel like I’m smacking you about the head with the stereotype stick. So I won’t. Wurst is important, but I think more for what it represents than how it tastes. Here, meat is the linchpin of every meal. Being a vegetarian here is probably about as much fun as being blind at the zoo.
The notable exception is Spargel Saison (asparagus season), where the country goes gaga as the almightly Spargel is being waved around everywhere, like a sort of culinary magic wand, which coincidentally it does rather resemble. Almost every restaurant features Spargel in almost every course.
In conclusion, German cuisine is to the world of food, what the band Eiffel 65 are to the history of popular music: present, but largely a footnote.
You are probably wondering how I wrote an entire entry about German food without mentioning that lumpy S word – Sauerkraut. Fear not, it deserves an entire entry of its own….. It's certainly present as a side dish to many a meal. Would you have it any other way? YUM! Right?