BEFORE YOU READ ON, know that I am genuinely fond of Germans and Germany. For the last three years I have lived in Berlin. I have German friends and deal with German people on a daily basis. My experiences here have been overwhelmingly positive, but you don’t live in a place this long without learning a few things. Here, then, are some surefire ways to upset a German person, should you need to….
Cross at a red light (with small children)
The simplest and best way to provoke some classic Teutonic anger is to meander across the road when the light is showing red. You’ll be risking a fine for jaywalking and you may even be mowed down by a speeding vehicle, but it’s worth it to witness the expressions awaiting you on the other side of the road. Elderly, hunched women, beefy tattooed workmen in overalls, sensible parents authoritatively clutching their young children – all united in their righteous mix of incomprehension, disgust and outrage. For maximum impact, skip across the street with a couple of small children, whistling cheerfully as you go.
Stare back at them using binoculars
If staring was an Olympic sport, the Germans would win Gold every time. In places like the UK and the USA, staring at strangers for sustained amounts of time can get you yelled at, punched or even killed. In Germany, staring openly is something that just happens – like breathing, walking or developing a long and unnecessarily complex vocabulary (see below). People here don’t just stare at you, they stare through you, mostly through genuine curiosity but sometimes critically (it’s no coincidence that the most intense surveillance apparatus in European history, the Stasi, occurred in East Germany). Staring back only creates a stand-off which no one can win, so the best counter-attack is to use the element of surprise: whip out a pair of small binoculars and return eye contact at close range. Failing that, ask loudly (through a megaphone if you can find one) if they’d care to take a photograph.
Use fancy English words they don’t understand
Most Germans (of a certain age) speak very good English, which makes them slightly smug, especially when only three non-natives in the history of the world have ever been able to master German. This is mainly because many German words, as Mark Twain once noted, are “so long that they have a perspective.” One of the shortest words in the German dictionary is Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, for example, which loosely means “No”. The longest word in English, Antidisestablishmentarianism, is pathetic in comparison, so a long-word battle isn’t going to work. Instead, take advantage of English’s arcane vocabulary, sprinkling long-forgotten words like “circumbilivagination” and “epalpebrate” throughout the conversation as if they were commonplace. This method is guaranteed to replace the smugness on your companion’s face with something way more anxious.
Urinate standing up
This one is for men (obviously) and is based on a subtle cultural anomaly in Germany where men tend to pee sitting down. There’s even a name for men who do this: sitzpinklers; those who insist on standing — and therefore spraying, maintain the (mostly female) critics — are called stehpinklers. This is not a massively advertised national trait and applies mostly to domestic situations; even the most house-trained German men don’t wee sitting down in clubs or public toilets. But it’s a very real phenomenon and you may well find pro-sitzpinkler stickers adorning lavatories. So in order to be ultra-annoying, you need only (literally) stand up for your male rights.
Say you don’t like asparagus, especially if it’s white
Germans are – there’s no other way to put this – absolutely, uncontrollably cuckoo-crazy about asparagus (spargel). It’s been dubbed the ‘vegetable of kings’ and ‘edible ivory’. What’s more, it’s not the usual green variety they obsess over, but white asparagus, which the rest of the world generally regards with suspicion. More of the stuff is eaten in Germany than anywhere else in the world except Switzerland. From the end of April to the end of June they literally eat nothing else, day and night, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Normally sensible restaurants transform their menus into a list of asparagus recipes, wooden huts pop up at roadsides, and public toilets absolutely reek of the stuff. While Germans are generally not known to spend large amounts of money on food, they’d sell their own grandmothers to land them some-o’-that ‘White Gold’. So if you are ever invited for dinner during asparagus season, advising them you are not a fan of the stuff, “especially the tasteless white version,” will guarantee you instant enmity, if not a good kicking and deportation.
Germans were busy recycling things back when most of us were still learning how to use our opposable thumbs. Hence their recycling infrastructure, refined over various millennia, has very strict rules involving colored bins for different forms of rubbish (plastic, tin, food etc.) and a veritable army of binmen rumbling about the place. As well as the recycling systems that are inherently part of each household, you’ll also find large green, white and brown containers on the street, which are used for correspondingly colored glass bottles. To irk a decent segment of any local neighbourhood or town, simply rock up to these containers with a trolley full of bottles and start placing them in the wrong units. Even a quiet street on a Sunday morning will quickly witness scenes of mass outrage, as old men with sticks and pony-tailed schoolgirls alike sprint from their houses and hang from their windows to shake their fists at your stupidity and ignorance.
Break the news that no one outside Germany has seen Dinner For One
Asking a German person if they know Dinner For One is a guaranteed way to make their eyes light up. The film is about a bonkers aristocrat (Miss Sophie) who celebrates her 90th birthday with friends who, given they’ve all died off, are imaginary. Her butler, James, comically fills in for each of them, mimicking their voices, drinking their toasts in turn and getting steadily more sloshed. It’s been shown every New Year’s Eve in Germany since the early 70s and is nothing short of a national institution. When your acquaintance, hours later, is done enthusing and quoting, quietly point out to them that, despite holding a Guinness Record for the most aired TV program in history, Dinner For One has never, ever been screened in Britain or the States, and only a few times in Australia.
Set your alarm and grab the sun loungers first
Yep – you can even annoy Germans outside their own country. Vacationing Deutsch folk are notorious worldwide for their lounger-bagging. So much so, that in 2009, Thomas Cook set up a booking service to help Germans bag their loungers before they’d even boarded the plane. For maximum vexation, set an alarm to get up in the middle of the night and cover all available sun loungers with towels. (Extra points if the towels are imprinted with a Union Jack).
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Paul Sullivan is a freelance writer, author, editor and photographer covering music, travel and culture. His writing and photography work has been published in The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel, National Geographic UK, Matador Network, Wax Poetics, XLR8R and more, and he has scribed/snapped several guidebooks for Time Out, HG2, Rough Guide, Cool Camping and others. He currently lives in Berlin, where he runs the sustainable travel portal Slow Travel Berlin. Check out his photography website, follow him on Twitter or join hisFacebook photography page.
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