Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How to become German, Part 2


 --  Introduction to Part 2 from RSB  Since Part 1 was fairly well received on this blog, I'll keep (most of) these jewels from Alex Fletcher coming.  They are, in fact, quite funny, written as they are by a young Brit, who is finding himself in rather unfamiliar surroundings, and proud to notice a few differences.  I hope that any reader of this blog will look at these comments with humor, rather than with a notebook.  


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" (main dish) 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.  
Side note from RSB  who loves both Sauerkraut and Rotkohl and hope restaurants will continue serving them:  Both of these dishes continue to prove to be very healthy!  Unpasteurized, non-preserved sauerkraut has more great bacteria than yogurt.  It's positively awesome.


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?"



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 someone 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 inquire 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 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 must wipe our own rear ends". 


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 ... in need of a hand out. To them, the true capital is probably somewhere more like Frankfurt. You know where you are with Frankfurt.  


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.


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 ("Frei Koerper Kultur" = nude sun bathing). 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 friends, you haven't lived!"
Side note from RSB:  Perhaps because of the prevalence of the "Frauenklinik," it is far easier for girls in Germany to receive birth control prescriptions, no questions asked, than it is in the clinics or doctors' offices here.   


(Rather than having) German men...(drawing physical comparisons) against the other men they meet.... 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.


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 (= restful Sundays).

Side note from RSB:  Besides taking a family hike,...  There is of course one exception though. One Sunday activity that is compulsory, and that is:


In my first WG ("Wohngesellschaft" = dorm) 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 roommates 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.
Side note from RSB:  die Tat - the Deed;   der Ort = the Place.  Tatort is filmed in different locations around Germany, so there is different kind of incentive between them to keep the audience glued to the series.  It is also a way for Germans to pick up different dialects, and hear about other areas in Germany, as well as witness how one's own location is being broadcast to the viewers.  What kind of show is it?  It's a "Krimi,"  or crime-solving detective series, featuring different dectectives, depending on the host-network.

Thanks for reading, there is also now a part 3 here


  1. frau das ist jager
    i think the sauerkraut thing is true they are not obsessive eaters of this so i wonder why that is said and it is not all but forgotten it is important to keep even the food that you eat cultural this gives you different experiend=ces with the foods that come from around the world

  2. o frau also i believe that the apron on the bottom was something that would be cool to have in class

  3. Now I am wishing that I lived in Germany, so I could spend my Sundays doing nothing, but no, there is always church, athletics, and so much more to do on Sunday and all I want to do is sleep in and relax. Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest before you go back to another gruelling week of school, work, etc..

  4. Das ist cool, aber ich weiss nicht wie Sauerkraut.