1. Unlearn the art of queueing.
Think about everything you ever learned about queueing – from early memories at theme parks where kids who queue-jump get escorted in shame by staff to the back of the line, to the sniggers and muttered words directed at adults who attempt to cut a queue – and forget it all. Yes, you have been cultivating this art for years, but now you need to adapt to your new environment. Here’s a rough guide:
- If you notice that a new line is about to be opened at a supermarket check-out, don’t bother allowing the person in front of you to go before you and instead fully take the advantage to jump a few places yourself.
- When fellow passengers stand swarming around the airport gate waiting to board, stay firmly seated reading your paper until the gate actually opens and then attach yourself carelessly somewhere near the front of the swarm. There will be so many of you jollying for a better position in this way, that your rude behaviour will go unnoticed.
- Beware of little old ladies, they are often the meanest and best at the queue-jumping game. Don’t be taken in by their outward appearance of frailty.
- Don’t ever, ever expect to hear the words ‚after you‘.
2. Develop a taste for sparkling water.
Even if they are too polite to say it, your German guests will expect to be offered sparkling water at your dinner party. Make sure you have a 6-pack at home so that you are prepared for such occasions. I have even known patients to complain because the sparkling water provided by the hospital was not sparkling enough. Be aware that there are indeed varying grades of sparkling water so that you know how to provide alternative options in emergency cases. Try and wean yourself onto drinking sparkling water and get used to paying for your water at restaurants. Requests for tap water are uncommonly heard.
3. Learn about bread.
Thought bread could just be white or brown? Think again. Here’s the minimum in vocabulary you need to be armed with before setting foot into a bakery: toast (what you know as white bread), weiß (white – the white bread you know but without the added butter), vollkorn (wholemeal), mehrkorn (multi-grain), roggen (rye) and dinkel (spelt). That’s the basics. Be prepared for regional variations (Berliner Landbrot, Schwarwalderbrot, Rheinisches Schwarzbrot are a few examples) which may throw you. Once you’ve said your goodbyes to white, fatty bread, you will never look back. There will come a time when you will be pining for Germany bread if you are away for longer periods. Warning: some dinkel varieties can be extremely hard. Knee-caps can be hurt when carrying shopping bags home and teeth could potentially be chipped, particularly if the bread is a couple of days old.
4. Learn the work etiquette.
- The standard way to answer the phone is ‚Surname, hallo‘ in a slightly questioning tone. Or if you prefer to be a little brisk, just your surname will do. While you’re at it, learn to refer to yourself as Frau or Herr so-and-so. In your daily working life, you will rarely be called upon by your first name.
- Use the formal you (Sie) for anyone who looks older than you or who is more powerful than you. When in doubt, side-step the use of the word ‚you‘ until they address you as either ‚Sie‘ or with the informal ‚du‘. You’re not expected to get this right straigt away as a foreigner, but it will get you taken more seriously.
- Introduce yourself to everyone and anyone you see at work when you start. Otherwise you will be known as the impolite new colleague who didn’t introduce themself.
- Say good morning to every person you encounter on the way to your work-station every day. Just a nod or a smile will not do. And even if you are in a hurry or in a bad mood, looking the other way and pretending you did not see them will not work. You have to greet everyone. Everything else is considered rude.
5. Learn to defend the restaurants and food in the UK.
Every so often, acquaintances will choose to press upon you their thoughts on the terrible state of British cuisine – most commonly based on a first-hand experience gained as a 16 or 17-year old some 20 odd years ago. They will be immune to any of your attempts to explain that this is really no longer the case. Many are so traumatised from these early experiences that they can neither be persuaded to make another visit to see for themselves, nor to refrain from making similar unfounded comments at a later date.
6. While you’re at it, expect to have to defend the NHS.
At some point you have to accept that the NHS has a bad reputation in Germany. But you will be overwhelmed by a sudden maternal instinct to stick up for the NHS and find yourself uttering something about ‚free at the point of care‘ with venom and just a little bit of pride in your voice. It may be ok for the Brits to criticise the NHS, but it is certainly not ok for outsiders to do so.
7. Learn to make the right sounds.
Yes you’ve been bravely battling with articles, irregular verbs and sentence orders. There’s no way around that. But get the sounds right too. This will lend authenticity to your speech despite your strong British accent. Here are a few examples to get you started. Keep your ears open to pick more up along the way.
Puh: sound of complete exhaustion.
Oje: oh dear
na ja: oh well
8. Learn to love ‚Tatort‘.
If the Germans are honest with themselves, they will admit that ‚Tatort‘ (literally crime scene) is nothing but a mediocre weekly television crime series. Mediocre script, mediocre production and mediocre acting. But it’s been running since 1970 and partly because of reasons of nostalgia, everybody loves it. The series is set in a different German city every week, so that most people have their favourite commissar. If you want to integrate quickly (and by the way it’s not bad for practicing your German listening skills and acquainting yourself with regional accents), learn to settle down to it every Sunday evening at 8.15pm so that you can take part in all Tatort-related discussions with your colleagues on a Monday morning back at work. Keep an eye out on your Facebook timeline feed on a Sunday afternoon, as occasionally reports will be bandied about that tonight’s Tatort episode is a particularly exceptional one. This is code for ‚watchable‘ for all non-Tatort lovers.
9. Say goodbye to pubs and hello to bars and cafes.
The Germans are good at beer. If you are a beer lover, you will be in heaven. But don’t expect to find a friendly local pub and say goodbye to the tradition of a quick after-work pint. The ‚old-man’s pubs‘ or ‚Kneipe‘ in Germany are very literally reserved for old men. On the plus side, you will be stunned by the myriad of bars and cafes that are on offer in every city. The strong coffe and cake culture along with the wonderful options for brunch will leave you underwhelmed by Costa Coffe and Starbucks when you head back to a British highstreet.
10. Visit an ice-cream shop.
Thought that ice-cream parlours are something that belong to 50s America or to countries with warmer climates? The weather is not really any better than it is in the UK, but summer means ice-cream shops. You should be able to locate one around the corner from where you live. Meet friends for an ice-cream and revel in the many flavours and forms. Small tip: try the spaghetti ice-cream.