Let them eat cake… with coffee.

“But if you don’t have coffee and cake, then what do you have?”

Was the question I was asked after noting that I thought it was abnormal to have cake around 3 or 4pm every day. I clumsily tried to explain what we Americans do instead.. but I simply couldn’t come up with a good answer. At most I might grab a latte at a local coffee shop, but I have never had any type of daily ritual that involved always having cake in my house. Don’t get me wrong, I love cake and coffee. Or in my case, a Simpson’s-esque donut and coffee. It’s one of the best times of the day, but this wasn’t the first time that German food/drink culture caught me off guard. Just a couple of days ago, I was out having lunch with the boyfriend and his parents when his dad asked me if I wanted an “Aperitif.” I admitted that I didn’t know what that was, so he looked it up on his German English Dictionary app and guess what the definition was? Aperitif. This wasn’t just a hole in my German vocabulary, oh no. I was missing out on an entire life experience. So naturally, I accepted the offer and was brought a little glass of champagne to whet my appetite.

All of this has got me thinking about the differences between American and European dining etiquette in general. Maybe Idaho is just too laid back to worry much about really specific table manners or maybe I just missed that bit of knowledge growing up. Either way, eating and drinking like the Germans do has been one of the more challenging things for me to learn! Here are a few tips I have picked up on for any of you other beginners out there.

Food is not for your fingers: Aside from the occasional street food or bread, Germans will rarely eat something with their hands. This seems like an easy enough rule to follow… until you try to eat an entire burger and order of fries with a knife and fork. That one hurt my little American soul.

Proßt!: Germans love to raise a glass. “Proßt” is the German equivalence of “Cheers.” When you toast with the Germans, be sure to make eye contact with each person to avoid any bad luck. The first time I tried this, I really over emphasised the eye contact thing and gave everyone the crazy eye. One of the hazards of having really big eyes, I suppose.

Punctuality: If someone invites you to their home for any form of food or drink, you should arrive on time. Americans have the tendency either to arrive fashionably late or, if they are trying to impress the host, arrive about fifteen minutes early. Don’t do this.

Come bearing gifts: It is customary to bring some sort of small gift for the host. You can never go wrong with flowers or wine. Just make sure you don’t call it a “Gift” to your German hosts, because “Gift” is the German word for “poison.” Gotta love those false friends, right?

Guten Appetit!: If you take away nothing else from this post, remember this: Do NOT start eating until you have said “Guten Appetit” and someone has said it back to you. In English, we would say “Enjoy” but rarely do Americans insist upon saying it. I haven’t quite understood why the Germans are so emphatic about saying this little phrase before eating, but I’m pretty sure something bad will happen if you don’t say it. If not making eye contact while making a toast will bring you bad luck, I don’t even want to know what not saying “Guten Appetit” will get you.

If you want to know more about German dining etiquette, check out this nifty article here.

What type of interesting customs have you encountered abroad? Let me know in the comments!


5 Ways to tell you’re surrounded by Americans in Germany

Sometimes all you need is a good dose of American cinema in English.. and sometimes you have to ride the train for a while to get it. Last week, I travelled to Kaiserslautern to see a movie and spend the afternoon with a friend who lives there. My friend informed me that Kaiserslautern has two nicknames. The locals refer to their hometown as “Lautern.” The second nickname comes from the Americans living on the military base thats stationed just outside the city. The “Amis” (Germans’ nickname for Americans) call it K Town, which drives the locals crazy. In Kaiserslautern, it’s not too hard to see that something is a little different.

Here are the tell tale signs that you are surrounded by “Amis”

1. The movie theater had salty popcorn. Germans prefer their popcorn sweet.

2. The movie was shown in English, without any German subtitles.

3. The café served me a water with ice in it. Usually, you never get ice in Germany.

4. People are walking around in PJ pants and/or tennis shoes. Germans wouldn’t dream of wearing either of those things outside of their proper setting. Rules are rules, you see.

Here we have the double whammy. PJ pants with tennis shoes. Sorry the photo looks like a bigfoot sighting picture, but in all honesty, seeing PJs in public in Germany is about as likely as spotting bigfoot.

Ami sighting

So meanwhile, I’m laughing to myself at all these silly “American” things and my first reaction is “ha! This is great! I need to post a picture of this!” As I pull out my phone to start documenting these things, my friend laughs and says “Social Media. That’s so American!”

5. Overuse of Social Media. Guilty as charged.

Ein guter Vorsatz für das neue Jahr

My “guter Vorsatz für das neue Jahr” otherwise known as my New Year’s Resolution, was to start speaking exclusively in German with my boyfriend. This has proved to be more difficult than I expected. We met in Boise while he was studying abroad and I was just starting to get the hang of the German language. Since he was in Boise to improve his English and I sounded like Yoda with my poor German grammar, we stuck to speaking English.  Once you set a precedent like that and then stick to it for a year, it is hard to break. It feels very unnatural to switch over to German and not just for me. Half the time, he starts speaking to me in English without even noticing. One of the other strange side effects is the lack of good terms of endearment. Trying to find replacements for our English go-to’s has been a bit of a struggle. This might not be groundbreaking information to you readers, but German is not the most romantic of languages. Schnuckiputzi, Hasipupsi, Zaubermaus, Mausibärchen, Knuddelmuddel, Zuckerschnecke?? Half of these I can’t even translate and the rest sound like weird hybrid mythological creates like Bear-mouse, magic-mouse and any other mouse variety. Let’s just say, this is going to take some getting used to.

Me and my Kuschelbär

Me and my Kuschelbär

How to “versacken.”

After climbing with a couple of guys at the local bouldering gym, we decided to grab a beer. There’s basically nothing better than a good cold beer to wrap your hands around after climbing. We decided we’d just drink one beer and then call it a night. As we were walking up to the pub, Johannes says “Da kann man gut versacken.” Ok. In-head translation.. That’s a great place to ____. A good place to do.. something? What the hell is versacken? Well, I learned through experience. We got into the pub, sat down with some nice people and ordered a beer. The pub was so gemütlich (cozy) and that first beer went down so fast… soooo one more wouldn’t hurt, right? Ok, ok, just one more beer. As we were getting down to the last few swigs of our second beer, some kind German soul realized something terrible was about to happen. We were about be with empty glasses! So, naturally, they bought us a round of beer. When someone puts a nice glass of free beer in front of you, it would be a shame to waste it. Lesson of the night: Versacken is the phenomenon that makes it impossible for one to have just one beer.

Klettern Bouldern Arena in Dudweiler

Klettern Bouldern Arena in Dudweiler

For the Birds

I was sitting at the lunch table with my boyfriend and his parents. They’re all German, mind you. We were making small talk by watching the birds outside in the birdbath and identifying them. In the spirit of learning, boyfriend’s dad whips out the bird book so I can flip through it and learn some new bird names. I managed to identify one of the birds as a chickadee with the help of the book and was ready to drop some mad bird knowledge. I turned to boyfriend’s dad and said confidently “Guck mal, du hast eine Meise.” Boyfriend slapped his hand on his forehead, his mom started giggling and his dad’s eyes got big right before he burst into laughter. Shit. I thought. What did I just say? It turns out, my translation was correct in a direct way. I did say “Look, you have a chickadee.” What I didn’t know, was that what that actually means in a colloquial way is “You’ve lost your marbles.” So rather than dazzling everyone with my superior bird watching skills, I called my boyfriend’s dad crazy.