“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!