How to be German in 20 easy steps - part 2

Posted on November 12, 2012 by Adam Fletcher


This blog post has now become a series of Spiegel best-seling books book published by Beck Verlag and Ullstein Verlag.  How to be German (July 2013), Denglisch for Better Knowers (July 2014) and Make Me German (Jan 2015). 

Welcome, would be Germans. If you came here randomly, you'll probably want to read steps 1-10 first at Venture Village. Ready? Let's continue. 

11. Eat Sauerkraut

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 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.

12. Look for a job

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?"

New book! Make Me German


A funny, entertaining look at integrating (or failing to) into every day German life. Learn more.

13. Learn how to open a beer bottle with anything but a bottle opener

The bottle opener has existed in various formats since about 1738. The only logical reason why Germans can open bottles with just about anything, except bottle openers, must be that bottle openers didn't arrive here until 2011. Since then they've been viewed with suspicion and anyone caught using one declared a witch and burnt at the stake. I remember there was a website that every day, listed a new way to open a beer bottle, over 365 days. Some said they'd run out of ideas by the end, when they suggested opening it on the edge of a Turtles shell. Germans didn't read the blog, they knew all these ways already. Turtles shell? Easy, come on. Try and think of something a little more imaginative. Don’t you dare suggest a bottle opener.

So Ausländer, you need to learn at least 10 ways. Two of which must be with a lighter and a spoon. Turtle shell method optional but not discouraged.

14. Say what you mean

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 something 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 enquire 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, do it, 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 shit in the toilet". 

15. Feel mixed about Berlin

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 that only turns up when hungover, and in need of a hand out. To them, the true capital is probably somewhere more like Frankfurt. You know where you are with Frankfurt.  

Updates since this blog posts was published

Update (July 2013): Thanks to the more than one million of you who've read, liked, linked and shared it. Steps 15-20 have moved into the book, along with 30 new ones, all of them illustrated in . Get the book at Amazon (it's a dual language, 50 steps in both English and German). Published by Beck Verlag

Update (March 2014): How to be German has now been on the Spiegel best-seller list for the past seven months. Thanks to everyone whose supported it! You are the best. The new book Denglisch for Better Knowers will be released on May 9th 2014. It's a love letter to the German language, touring through its best ideas, phrases and words. It's available at Amazon

Update (Jan 2015): How to be German has now been on the best-seller's list for one and a half years, selling more than 75k copies! I have no words. Well, that's not entirely true. Because I've just published book three in the series - Make Me German. It's a funny, entertaining look at integrating (or failing to) into everyday German life. Released by Ullstein Verlag





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