englishman abroad, the German way

Things you didn’t know about German New Year’s Eve

Today is New Year’s Eve, and in the English-speaking world the Americans have their ball drop in Time Square, the Australians are launching 14 tonnes of fireworks in Melbourne alone, and Britain? Britain has Alan Carr… oh well.

But what’s going on here in Germany?

  1. German’s don’t have New Year’s Eve

Rather, they have Silvester. Saint Silvester was actually an old pope who was made a saint and gives his name to this day. You could go to church to mark the feast of Saint Sylvester if you’re so inclined, but most people just get drunk in the evening like the rest of the world.

  1. Playing with toxic material is encouraged

Every country has their quaint little traditions, don’t they? Bleigießen (lead pouring) is the German tradition of divining the future and risking lead poisoning. Small lead ingots are available for purchase from all good retailers along with a steel spoon. You heat up the ingot on the spoon until it melts, pour it into water and interpret the shape of the molten metal to determine your fortune in the coming year. On the plus side, molten lead is fun for kids! On the downside, molten lead is toxic and fun for kids!

I will, of course, be doing it tonight with family and friends. We’ll be testing a real lead version as well as a newer, safer wax version.

  1. The same procedure as every year

Apart from the church and the pagan divination, what else is a staple of German New Year’s Eve? If you answered, “I don’t know, something else suitably eclectic and mismatched?” you’d be right!

In Germany, they’ve been watching a piece of British comedy called ‘Dinner for One’ since the 60s. Dinner for One is entirely in English with English actors Freddie Frinton and May Warden (ask your grandma, she might know). In which Butler James becomes increasingly inebriated in his attempts to placate a demented old bag who’s invited her long-dead friends to dinner.

It’s actually pretty funny, but practically unknown in the UK. Here it is:

Christmas, englishman abroad

The Christmas (booze) Market

The Christmas market is in town. If you don’t know what a German Christmas market is like, imagine a winter-themed funfair with lots of food and booze. The one in Oldenburg has a Ferris wheel, a shy (throw-a-ball-and-win-a-prize game), carousel, and other assorted games including a stage where Santa reads Christmas stories. It has a stall where you can buy sides of flame-cooked salmon in bread rolls, it has the requisite German sausages and Reibekuchen (potato cakes /latkes).

But the booze is the most interesting. There are myriad places where you can buy Glühwein, Eierlikör and Feuerzangbowle.

Glühwein

                Glühwein is the German take on mulled wine. Usually it’s red wine, but sometimes white is used, and it’s always really hot. Anyway, it keeps the cold out and you always get some money back when you return the glasses (there’s a deposit on them).

Glühwein mit Schuss

                Glühwein with a dash of something else in it. Typically a shot of rum. My father in law bought me one and I liked it so much I‘ve decided to have everything mit Schuss from now on. Coffee mit Schuss. Cola mit Schuss. Cornflakes mit Schuss. The Schuss really takes it up a notch.

Feuerzangbowle

Its Glühwein again, but this time its definitely only the red variety. If you thought the Schuss was taking it up a notch, stand by. They take a gigantic sugarloaf (it’s what they had before granulated sugar, I suppose) and soak the thing in rum. I mean they drench it. Then they set it on fire, and as the burning, molten, boozy mess drips into the bowl of Glühwein beneath they serve it to you. A huge plus with the stall that specialises in this drink is that it gives you free Spekulatius.

Eierlikör

If this is made properly it tastes like boozy custard. I honestly don’t know exactly what is in it but I would hazard: egg, advocaat, some other spirit and custard powder. I know that can’t be right, but the truth would probably be even worse. Google it at your peril. All I know for certain is that it definitely has egg in it, as one year I had some and also got a whole raw yolk in my mouth. Haven’t been too keen on it since.

 

englishman abroad

If Germany was like Britain…

My daughter is finally a British citizen. After quite a bit of faffing around, her shiny new passport has arrived and I’m somewhat relieved from a measure of Brexit-induced stress. Whatever happens, she’ll always have the option of living in a different country. I started to wonder, what if Britain and Germany weren’t so different?

If Germany was like Britain…

  1. There would be Church of Germany with schools for children to attend.
  2. The Kaiser would give speeches every Christmas, people would watch.
  3. Plenty of young boys would flock to join the German Boy Scouts, no one would think it was ‘a bit too Nazi’.
  4. There would be a lot more German flags flying everywhere and German nationalism would be celebrated.
  5. Bavarian nationalism would thrive similarly to Scottish nationalism; Lederhosen-clad, Zither-playing, blue and white flag-wavers would campaign for an independent Bavaria.
  6. Germans would insist everyone spoke German and refuse to learn any other language.
  7. People would be a lot politer and a lot less productive.
  8. The wine and beer would be a lot worse and the cider much better.
  9. Many Bundesländer would print road signs in their own languages (just like Wales).
  10. Fish and Chips would be wildly popular but there would still be far less water to fish in.
  11. There might be a TV show called ‘Nur Narren und Pferde’ and it would have a cult following.
  12. A charismatic German spy would feature in many popular films and be renowned for his wit and seduction. His name might be Jacob Bund.
  13. Germany would regard Europe sceptically, and leave the EU.

It’s unthinkable, isn’t it?

 

englishman abroad

The difference between Brits and Germans

Women can’t drive, men can’t multitask, Americans love their guns and the French are cowardly. Stereotypes are fun. They make jokes easy, and enrich life if not taken too seriously. They provide a cultural shorthand that facilitates communication. If we say that someone is ‘posh’ the stereotype is a monocle-wearing, mansion-inhabiting, caviar-eating aristocrat. If we say that someone is ‘a white van man’ (this is a very British stereotype) we presume that they read ‘The Sun’, work a manual job and smoke. Obviously, most of us know that a white van is not a reliable indicator of tobacco consumption, monocles don’t equate to social class, and there’s probably a man out there somewhere who can multitask. Maybe the Bermuda Triangle or Area 51.

However, not everyone has met a German before and I’d to clear up two stereotypes that exist about the dear Krauts.

  1. Germans speak an impossibly difficult language

It’s true that German has a couple more cases than in English, specifically the Dative and Genitive. But talking about time in German is much simpler than in English. The Germans tend to use the present perfect to talk about every past event. For example: ‘I have eaten’. Only very rarely do you hear ‘I ate’.

English constructions like: ‘I have been eating’, ‘I had eaten’ or ‘I had been eating’ confuse Germans greatly and are a nightmare to teach.

And let me lay another myth to rest: Germans do not have impossibly long words. Rather, they have compound words; here’s an example: Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung. I know it looks long but bear with me, it means ‘Certificate of employment disability’.

Now look at this: Certificateofemploymentdisability. A compound word is simply several words stuck together. We don’t do it in English very often, but you can’t really call four different words a new word just by removing the spaces, surely!!

  1. Germans are rude

From stealing all the sun loungers on package holidays to telling people bluntly that their food is terrible, the Germans have a reputation for rudeness. Is this reputation deserved? First, let’s have a look at this classic advert from the early 90s

Those tricky Germans trying to snatch the sun loungers! But let’s be fair, they were up first! The early bird catches the worm! It’s a little silly to feel entitled to something you turned up late to, isn’t it? Germans tend to value productivity and get up early accordingly.

Secondly there’s the abruptness. Germans are honest and direct, it’s a cultural thing that they expect straightforwardness in most areas. The British are subtler and more ironic, we are less honest when you think about it. Here are some British phrases and their real meanings:

  1. ‘Well, it’s an interesting idea…’        – your idea is impractical and I don’t like it
  2. ‘This isn’t your best work’                 – this work is terrible!
  3. ‘Isn’t the weather awful?’                 – silence makes me feel uncomfortable…

In Germany, this is madness; it’s better to be honest for points one and two. As for point three, let me put it this way: many Germans genuinely think that the British are obsessed with the weather. Silence is not a stigma.

I’ll probably make another post like this one in the future because there’s so much to talk about. If you have an idea then leave a comment!

culture, englishman abroad

Eurovision Song Contest

Just a short post today, it’s Mother’s Day and there’s lots to do!

Last night Portugal won the Eurovision song contest for the first time. Britain did much better than usual with a song called ‘Never Give Up On You’ by Farage and the Brexiteers Lucie Jones. Still didn’t win though. Germany did abysmally, coming second from last with something very forgettable. Beaten by Australia and Israel! At Eurovision!

Maybe they should have sent Bibi H instead…

It got me to thinking about the music here in Germany, and whether it’s very different from the UK or USA. Well the answer is jein (that’s ‘yeeeee-no’, for non-Germans). Ask a German and they’ll say yes, of course, we have Schlager! Schlager is pop music. People may insist that it isn’t, that it’s somehow special, magic German pop music but it is not.

What’s much more interesting is German gangsta rap, not because it’s different from any other gangsta rap but rather because it’s German. The stereotypical German is an über-productive, rule-following realist. Not very gangsta.

Having said that, the stereotypical Briton is a tea-drinking, bowler-hat-wearing, mild-mannered, perpetually-rained-upon gentleman. Also not very gangsta.

Generally the music is pretty similar, or so it seems. What do you think, did I miss something?