How to be mistaken for a local in Germany
Helen Long studies German and Spanish at Nottingham University. She is spending the first six months of her Third Year Abroad as a Language Assistant in a primary school in Berlin, before relocating to Madrid to spend five months working in a university. For more of Helen's adventures, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.
You’ve mastered the accent, you’ve nailed the grammar and you’re just one bowl of sauerkraut away from feeling like a true German fledgling. However, there are some loopholes in the university’s syllabus that leave you struggling to shrug off that little hometown glow that still exposes you as a newcomer. Here are 10 handy (ish) tips that will have you feeling German in no time.
1. Stick around for the credits
It's an odd moment when the credits begin rolling and NOBODY moves. A scrolling list of names is usually the cue to stretch and get to work on the "So, what did you think?" routine while scuttling towards the exit. In Germany, you might as well be leaving in the middle of the film. To fit in, be sure to get your money's worth and watch the entirety of the credits, only getting up to leave when the lights finally go up; after all, safety first.
2. Be kind to the environment
Germans are very good at global warming awareness. Too good, in fact. You may see yourself as a fairly environmentally friendly person, but in Germany you may as well be rampaging through the streets ripping catalytic converters off cars and wrapping plastic bags around ducks. Recycling and saving energy: that is the true way of the German. My flatmate once nearly had a heart attack when she caught me using the large electric ring to heat a non-correspondingly sized pan.
3. Wish people 'Guten Appetit!'
If someone sits down to eat before your eyes, let it be known that you hope they enjoy their meal with a hearty “Guten Appetit!”. It doesn’t matter if they made the food themselves, if you yourself are eating or not, or even whether you were already chatting with them or are just passing in the hall – German ears long to hear that bon appétit.
4. Throw a 'ja' or a 'doch' into every passing sentence
This one’s for the hardcore Germanatics. If you want to sound German, and I mean willing to sell your identity and soul to a street currywurst seller, you will need the modal particles. These are the secret to unlocking your emotions in German, the key to finally making you sound less like you’re reading straight out of a grammar book and like you actually have feelings – in multiple languages. There are well over 30 of these bad boys, but if you can master even a few, you are well on your way to optimal German-ness.
5. Don't say 'please' too much
Nothing screams "I AM BRITISH" quite like being incredibly polite. Although we love our 'pleases' and 'sorrys' and wish to extend that passion to our European cousins, it just isn't necessary on the continent. Instead of tacking a ‘please’ or a ‘if you wouldn’t mind’ on the end of every sentence, the Germans love a simple “Ich möchte” or “Ich hätte gern”. Although it has to be said, the 'danke' deserves some sort of lifetime recognition award for having clung to the German language with all its might, as it can still be heard echoing throughout Germany and may be used at will.
6. Shake hands
This one is fairly self-explanatory. Shake hands. With everyone. With people older than you, with people younger than you, with your new friends, with your friends’ new friends, with your landlord, with your milkman, with your next-door neighbour’s cat…
7. Speak like an American
It’s no secret that the German language is now littered with Anglicisms. Unfortunately, if you want to sound properly German, sometimes you have to bow to the masses and incorporate some of these English words into your German vocabulary. But be warned, say them like a British person and it’s game over, as most Germans default to American English. To them, this largely involves pronouncing an "a" as an "e". Case in point, you would not ask for a “sandwich” but a “sendvich”, and that thing you’re talking into is not a “Handy” but a “Hendy”.
8. Get your fünf a day
The Germans sure are a healthy bunch, and if you want to fit in with them, you’d best leave that battered cod at home. Yes, bread and potatoes still have the nation’s heart, but it’s also very much about fresh fruit and veg. Despite being one of the country's favourite dishes, you don’t see a great deal of porky people in Germany.
9. Drink fruit tea
This is a real test of loyalty to the cause: could you give up your PG Tips in favour of lukewarm, slightly flavoured water that smells a lot better than it tastes? If not, it might be time to confine that tea habit to the innards of your apartment and keep it as a dirty secret you keep locked away in shame.
10. Make eye contact when you toast
And finally, when in Germany, be very careful around alcohol drinks, for their glasses be magical. They have the ability to wreak havoc on a specific number of years of your life if not handled correctly. As an honorary German, when you clink your glasses together to the usual cry of “Prost!”, you must look directly into your fellow clinker’s eyes. The general consensus of this is that failure to do so will result in some form of bad luck, although usually in the form of seven years bad sex.