While we can’t do anything about the mumbling, tutting, and eye-rolling you might get from locals as you stop dead in your tracks to snap yet another picture of that castle in the distance, we do have some tips to help you avoid standing out like Paris Hilton at a MENSA Conference while in the land of beer, bratwurst, and BMW.
1. Stand tall like a local
German men (5’11½”) and women (5’6”) are a towering two inches taller than their average American and British counterparts. If you want to avoid feeling like a Lilliputian abroad, some thick-soled shoes or sassy heels will put you on equal footing with the locals, and help make for a sleek travel outfit to boot. The Germans’ sky-scraping stature may also explain why Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise (5’7”) has never been a local favorite while David Hasselhoff (The Hoff is an outlandish 6’3”) got a gig atop the Berlin Wall and outsold his pint-size contemporaries such as Michael Jackson (5’9”) and Prince (5’2”).
2. When in Rome…
Germany has some of the world’s most relaxed drinking laws, with a legal drinking age of 14 for beer and wine. This means that your 14-year-old of debatable maturity might not be able to watch The Hangover, but he’s well within his rights to wake up with one. Don’t be surprised to see little Sabrina sipping on a Riesling or Wolfgang downing a few pints of lager at Oktoberfest, one of Europe’s most iconic fall festivals.
3. Respect the German constitution
We don’t mean the piece of paper dictating how the country is governed, we’re talking about their personal fortitude. Brits and Americans are in a pickle when it comes to drinking with the locals – it’s considered rude to turn down a drink, but with several extra years of training, the Germans will outdrink you. If you find yourself with some new drinking buddies, you just have to accept your fate, and join the fun. As your still-sober-but-genial host reaches for that second bottle of Schnapps, you’re more likely to be vomiting in the bathroom sink, mistaking the bidet for the toilet, and confusing the dachshund for the toilet paper. Just remember to apologize the next morning as you fight down your Fischbrötchen (fish and onion sandwich) – just one of Europe’s many traditional breakfast dishes.
4. Shoot straight
There’s a reason why every sentence in German sounds like it’s a barked command — it often is. The Germans don’t waste time with niceties and boring small talk. Straight to the point is the order of the day. Skip that “Nice weather we’re having, don’t you think?” and get straight to “Hey! I’d like to find a restaurant where I can eat a whole pig”. Don’t bore the locals up with banal pleasantries and they won’t think of you as a boorish tourist. It also helps if you learn a few handy phrases for your European travels.
5. Keep in line
The Germans love order as much as Czech Republic loves beer. They strictly respect the Sunday noise curfew and never jaywalk. Seriously, don’t even try it. That little red man on the pedestrian crossing garners more respect than The Hoff prancing along the Berlin Wall. Even if it’s 3:00AM, and you haven’t seen a car for an hour, don’t risk it – someone, somewhere will catch you on their camera phone, and that money you’d set aside for the bargain lederhosen from Lidl will have to go towards your misdemeanor fine instead.
6. Don’t be a clown
Germany is officially the least funny country in the world according to a survey by Badoo.com. They know that the British view the typical German as a “mercilessly efficient but humorless engineer”, and have done little to dispel the notion. While the view isn’t exactly accurate – their humor is closely tied to their language and culture, and usually very straightforward. Despite their love of The Benny Hill Show, you won’t see much clowning around, so it’s best to follow suit and leave humor to the professionals. You can see them in action at one of Berlin’s many comedy clubs while exploring the city.
7. Learn some local customs
The key to truly blending in with the locals is to adopting a few of their customs as your own. Start with something small – Germans forego bottle openers as they’re for soft foreigners, and instead turn to table-tops, car doors, crustaceans, tortoises, and a variety of body parts. Follow suit and you’ll soon be cracking ‘ein bier’ open with the best of them. If you’re in Germany during a holiday and want to blend in with a bang, get your hands on some heavy-duty pyrotechnics (they’ll have some in your local Lidl), and launch them off your high-rise balcony at midnight to join in the festivities. It’s just one of the reasons to visit for Christmas.
7½. The Backup Plan: Know your stereotype
Although the Germans dislike their own stereotype, they do love laughing along with other countries. There’s a reason why Angela Merkel’s favorite TV show is Downton Abbey, and many Germans are proud owners of the DVD box set. While they appreciate you trying to fit in, your foreign quirks can also be an endless source of entertainment- ask for the best burger joint in Hamburg, or see if anyone is up for a champagne picnic and grouse hunting after a trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the most magnificent castles in Central Europe, and bond over the ridiculousness of your own stereotype.
Very useful tips! I’m planning a trip to Berlin next spring so I’d better get some practice in and start opeining beer bottles with my teeth. (Robert, Earl of Grantham)