So I’ve been living in Deutschland for three months and week now. That’s 13 weeks. Thirteen whole weeks. I’m pretty sure this now makes me an expert on Germany, so I have compiled a list of things you need to know about life in this great nation. They’re probably not the ten most important things to know but they are still good things to know about. So without further blather, let’s head to the list.
1. Inefficiency on public transport.
There’s this stereotype that German are efficient. I would like to call lies on this. Lies and slander. The breakdown of German efficiency is most clear on public transport. When picking a seat on a bus or a train, the majority of Germans will choose to sit in an aisle seat whilst dumping their stuff on the window seat. Fair enough when the bus is relatively empty, but when it starts to fill up, they never move over to the window seat and stow their bags on the floor. This means that despite the fact that ten people are standing down the aisle there could well still be twenty free seats. Don’t get me wrong, if you ask, they’ll move. But it just seems super inefficient to me. At least I can now ask “Is that seat free?” in perfect German.
2. Ordering McDonalds is a minefield.
Speaking as an English person, I find it impossible to order in McDonalds without giving away my foreigner status. Despite the fact that all the food has the same name, the pronunciation always screws me over. For example, Big Mac is pronounced Big Mek. And I find it inordinately hard to call fries ‘pommes frites’. I have given up on trying to sound German in McDonalds because it’s not worth it. If anything, ordering in English and then surprising the cashier by asking for mayonnaise rather than ketchup does rather make up for my obvious Englishness. (Mayo mit pommes frites is way more popular over here than ketchup is. Ask for ketchup and you might as well wear a sign saying ‘I’m not German.’)
3. Punk is not dead.
So this point may be more relevant in the East than in the West, or maybe it’s only relevant in Thüringen. But punk is alive and kicking. Tartan trousers and brightly coloured mohicans are not an uncommon sight round here. And so many people have plugs in their ears. As in the ones that give you a huge hole in your ear lobe, not the kind that makes it hard to hear. There’s also more non-natural hair colours than you can shake a stick at. Which is super cool. I want to bring all the people who go ‘oh, you’ll never get a job looking like that’ to Ilmenau, and introduce them to the teachers at my school with pink and purple hair.
4. The parent method of knocking*
When you knock in Germany, you then immediately go through the door. Which seems to make the whole point of knocking redundant. But I have been reprimanded for waiting outside offices after knocking, so I’m getting used to it. Even if it did mean I walked in on a colleague getting a dressing down from the Head teacher.
5. Wie gehts =/= you alright?
‘Wie gehts?’ means ‘how are you?’. Which to my mind makes it a suitable alternative to ‘you alright?’ I am wrong in this regard. If you say ‘wie gehts?’, you will get a proper response, not just ‘yeah, fine thanks’. The fabulous Mae Martin said that ‘hiya, you alright?’ was a purely British thing, but I didn’t believe her. Silly me. (You can find her thoughts on the three most British phrases at 01:58 in this clip. Warning: may contain swearing. I can’t remember and don’t have the internet data to check.)
6. Don’t jaywalk.
This is a fairly standard thing to be told about Germany. Tales of foreigners being fined abound. However, that is not the real issue. If you jaywalk, you have to be prepared for every German around to judge you. Judge you long and judge you hard. If they were British, they’d tut. Only jaywalk if you can cope with the stares.
7. Baskets in supermarkets, or the lack thereof.
Supermarkets in Germany are a lot smaller than those in Britain. There are no multi-storey leviathans where you need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back to the exit. So you would have thought that baskets would be the perfect thing. No. No, you can have a trolley or nothing. And the trolley is going to cost you a euro deposit. I once foolishly went to the supermarket without checking to see if I had a euro coin. I did not. Trying to balance cheese, milk and pizza is surprisingly hard.
8. Casual nudity.
I went to a girls’ school for seven years. While this does mean I have a tendency to hoik up my tights in public, this does not mean I’m completely at ease with women stripping off around me. In fact, thanks to the five years of compulsory P.E and the communal changing rooms, we all became good at changing clothes without ever actually undressing. So when I went into the changing rooms at Zumba in Ilmenau and everyone was casually wandering round in their underwear, you can imagine my shock. And uncomfortableness. (The longer I spend in Germany, the more I realise I am a walking English stereotype.)
9. Never complain to a German about getting up early for school/university.
My school here in Ilmenau begins at 8am. I have friends who are working in schools who start earlier than that; in some cases, a whole 45 minutes earlier. Therese, my flatmate, often has lectures for university that start at 7am meaning, that despite the fact that we live two minutes from campus, she is still up earlier than I have ever been for university in England. One of my German friends used to have to get up at half 5 to get to high school on time. So seriously, never complain about 9am starts to a German. They will have you beat.
10. Ja wohl, mein Herr.
Ja wohl is a phrase that is used. I did not realise this. I thought it was one of those German phrases that British war films had latched onto. Like calling every male German Fritz. But no, ja wohl is very definitely a German phrase that is alive and well. I dare you to try and use it and not feel like you’re taking the mick.
* While I have called this the parent method of knocking, my parents never did this. Because they’re awesome.