Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Ways in Which I Am Not Yet German


When we moved back to Germany from the UK four years ago with two small daughters in tow, I decided that for their sake I had to commit to the culture so that they would fit in and find their place in it. I suspect we are still regarded as those weird foreigners by many, but I like to believe that I have made a staunch effort to assimilate. For example, I always speak German, even to people who detect my accent and immediately start speaking English to me. It becomes somewhat competitive – who’s going to give in first – and l’d like it on the record that I always win, even with people whose English is better than my German. I’m determined that way. And extra points are given if the interlocutor then starts speaking Dialekt. That’s when I know I’m really good – even if I can’t actually understand them.

Other ways that I and my family fit in are:

  • I bake cheesecake
  • We now call fairy cakes “muffins”
  • My children immediately take their shoes off on entering any home
  • We eat “hot” at lunchtime
  • I shop at cheap no-name brand supermarkets, proudly
  • We recycle
  • We invite guests for coffee and cake on a Sunday afternoon and then we go for a walk afterwards
  • We don’t get hot under the collar if we are ignored by a waitperson in a restaurant, because we know we will finally be served. For this, we feel no guilt in tipping small.
  • We respect society’s quiet times. Most of the time.
  • I get very shirty if someone queue-jumps. I had an altercation with a teenager who tried to butt in front of me while I was queuing for popcorn with my kids at the movies. I told him he was not a special human being and he needed to get in line like everyone else. Luckily German teenagers still appear to respect their elders.
  • Oh, and I reprimand other people’s children. Even if they are taller than me.
  • I have become a lot more frank

Here are the many ways in which I still don’t fit in:

  • I don’t like lace curtains. Our cleaner, the divine Frau M, was so appalled at our lack that she provided lace curtains and a rail for the kitchen. Having already received very ugly angels, egg-yolk yellow bedlinen, heart-shaped vases, and plastic flowers as gifts from her, I had to draw the line at the lace curtains so I frankly but politely told her, “They are not to my taste”. She was deeply saddened.
  • I find public spitting disgusting. This seems to be the preserve of teenagers and a certain kind of man, but nevertheless it happens a lot. When one of my children spat recently as a sign of disapproval for some parental ordinance, she was firmly reprimanded and placed on the Naughty Step – for rather a long time.
  • I don’t eat or buy Leberwurst
  • However, we do eat Marmite. Lily’s teacher is on a health food drive at the moment, and she questioned the appearance of something dark and chocolate-looking on my girl’s sandwiches. I had to write a note the next day saying, “Marmite is very healthy. It is made of vegetables!”
  • I don’t wear slippers or Hausschuhe in my own home, but will offer to remove my outdoor shoes in someone else’s home
  • I wear an excessive amount of jewellery (usually three rings, a necklace and earrings – all at the same time!)
  • I will never give in to any inclination to get a tattoo, no matter how much Weizenbier I have drunk
  • I think pale skin is more attractive than orange skin
  • I do not jump queues
  • I am not a confident bike-rider and probably will never be. The chances of Ollie being transported in a baby-trailer or bike-seat are very slim. I am well aware that I am depriving my son of a formative German baby bike experience.
  • I still find it odd that my neighbours, who are the same age as my parents, call me “Frau Otter”
  • I have no fear of my circulation collapsing or of being killed by a draught

Maybe it takes a lifetime to become a real German. Perhaps I never will, or perhaps I won’t stay here long enough to find out.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

25 thoughts on “Ways in Which I Am Not Yet German

  1. They have that draught-phobia in Germany too? I’m pretty sure they have specialists here in France, perhaps even whole hospital departments, for medical conditions you can catch from standing in a draught.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this post! You make Germany seem like such a beautiful, mystifying country. I would love to have people over on sundays for coffee and cake, and then go for a long walk! But I’m with you on the lace curtains. Yuck.

  3. This is a great post! I should be a copycat and do mine 🙂

  4. When you reprimanded the teenager at the movies, did you speak German or English? Nice that you wear jewelry with children around — I keep forgetting that. I’m so glad to hear you don’t have a tattoo. That’s one thing that is truly, someone else’s business, but they do bother me.

  5. Susie – it was in German and I gave him major Teutonic attitude too. It’s a great language to be chilly in. I do actually manage jewellery, but only by never taking it off.

    Ash, please do yours! I’d love to know how Dutch you are …

    Thanks, Courtney … after the kitsch angels and plastic flowers I had to draw the line at the lace curtains.

    Lesley, maybe northern Europe draughts are especially lethal. You never know.

  6. Oh, Charlotte. This post is why I eagerly check my blog list every day. I love when you post something because I can really sink my teeth into it. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I can relate to the foreigner thing, or the fact that you write so simply yet beautifully about anything and everything. I love it.

    Er, that was a bit more effusive than I intended, but I hope it got my point across without making you think that I am coming to Germany to be your new best friend.

  7. Nat, feel free to effuse! I rather like it. Now, when you are going to (or have you already) post about being a Marmite-eater in the US of A? How long have you been there?

  8. Hello, I don’t really have anything specific to say, just thought it would be nice to mention that I have just finished reading your whole blog (took me three days) and that I found it hilarious at times, entertaining at times, and very inspirational. I kept popping up from the computer and running to the living room to tell my boyfriend about the various exploits of your children.

    I have a blog, but I haven’t touched it in ages, anyway, it’s in Hebrew, so there’s no point in leaving an address. I got to your blog browsing google for blogs about books and got caught by your descriptions of your family. Told my bf I want a family just like that (I’m just nineteen, I’m allowed to act a bit childishly yet 🙂 ).

    I’ll keep reading here.

  9. Hmmmm…except for the fact that I recycle, I don’t think I’d fit in at all well in Germany. I’ll leave it to braver transplants such as you. But if you’re any indication, I think I’d fit in quite well in your native South Africa.

  10. Ooh I reprimand other people’s children too…

    And we wear slippers at home…and eat hot at lunch…and shop at cheap – no-name brand supermarkets…(ugh remember OK Bazaars? and Checkers? – it used to be Woollies or Pick n Pay for me . I know – I was a shop snob)…

    And I wear way too much jewellery…the bling queen but it seems the norm here in France…

    but otherwise our lives seem very different.

  11. Leore, thanks very much for your lovely words. Children do make great blog fodder … I try not to shamelessly over-exploit them, but sometimes I give in to the temptation.

    Yes, Emily you are probably more of an African at heart than a German. I didn’t mention though that it’s a very dog-friendly culture though – dogs allowed in restaurants, shops, hairdressers – which shows a level of kindness that maybe doesn’t always come across in my posts.

    Oh Wendz, if I could do a Woolies shop just once a month, that would be heaven. Where I shop is decidedly not glamorous, but it does mean that I’ve learnt to make the stuff I used to just buy. I make a mean hummous, for example, and watch me a roast a pepper! Germans tend to be very non-bling. As a result, my daughters think I am extremely rich because I own one diamond (a very modest one at that).

  12. I like this! I laughed about the suspect chocolate a.k.a Marmite sandwiches. Vegemite is one thing Kiko will eat and I have not yet assimilated to the Mother Ship yet because I still keep calling it Marmite. They better not test me on that at my Australian citizenship interview. Hey, maybe I’ll do a: “How I’ve turned into an Australian” post! (Those aubergines are becoming eggplants, the pesky things!)

    Ooh, and cake on Sunday and going for a walk afterwards… what a lovely idea!

  13. Hah! This was fun to read.

    Costa Ricans are safe from those dreaded European drafts, but the rain! Oh, the deadly, deadly rain!

    And think of the babies! The poor, fragile little babies being taken OUTDOORS! In the AIR! While they’re still BABIES! Fleece! Bring more fleece! Knit something quick, or the baby will come down with…

    Ah. Hmmm. I’m not sure what exactly, is the dastardly consequence of under-wrapping young babies in the tropical heat, but I’m certain it’s DEVASTATING!

    I can’t tell you the number of babies I’ve seen wrapped in heavy blankets (not just a light flannel to keep the sun off) and thick knitted caps, being carried by mothers in shorts and a sleeveless top.

    Yeah, I may not be entirely Costa Rican, just yet.

  14. Charlotte, this is a great post! I love the notions of what might make someone more or less German. I think I’d be a lousy German…

  15. Hmm, could I be a closet German?
    1) LOVE lebenswurst
    2) remove shoes at door
    3) reprimand other people’s children
    4) sometimes respond to my children with a firm, Teutonic “nein!”, more rarely “ja vohl!”
    5) will bake cheesecake when I get around to buying the right pan
    6) hot lunches almost every day
    7) recycle
    8) would have lace curtains if my hubby agreed

    Unfortunately I also dislike bike-riding and public spitting, and enjoy fresh air.

    I love reading about personal experiences in different cultures, and your blog gives me 2 for 1! Thanks Charlotte!

  16. Why wordpress inserted a smiley instead of #8 I don’t know!

  17. Great post – reminds me of the year and a half I spent living there. And it is such a fabulous language to give major attitude in! I thought the English had queuing down but the Germans! I never did get used to no-name supermarkets, though.

    What about the bread? Can you imagine living without German bread again?

  18. Yeah Helen, and is it courgette or zucchini? We definitely need a post on “How Australian is Helen?”. Oh and the cake followed by a walk is very civilised. We did it today, just the family, and it was very pleasant.

    Jen, the image of those poor overheated, overwrapped Costa Rican babies is too much for me. However, today I felt guilty taking Ollie out in the pram without sufficient coverage against a brisk breeze (coat, hat, scarf, boots = not enough).

    Kathryn, perhaps you should just visit and have cake!

    Henitserk, my pleasure. I know you have a German Oma, so it’s probably cultural that all this stuff is fairly normal and acceptable to you, spitting and lethal breezes excepted.

    (Un)Relaxeddad, a German queue is not a place to relax and daydream – you have to fight your corner, and not only against teenage boys, but against dangerous little grannies who’ll slip in in front of you given half a chance. I am German in that I do love the bread, but I am also not German in that I try not to eat it at every meal.

  19. So funny, Charlotte. I remember when one of our year abroad students returned from Germany after a year’s teaching experience, he said the biggest culture shock was realising that someone in the back row of his class was knitting! Even the troublemakers are productive.

  20. I think I could get behind your Germanification except for calling fairy cakes “muffins.” So unordinary!

  21. Ha! I love this. Except for the marmite and the jewelry (only a ring and earrings for me) my list reads exactly the same as yours does. I don’t think I’ll ever learn to ride a bike properly. Oh, OK, and I do wear slippers, but only because me feet are always cold, not because I want to be a German. 😉

  22. Litlove I like those subversive knitters. It’s a great image.

    LK, it’s a conundrum that concerns me. What in America is a cupcake is a muffin here is a fairy cake in the UK.

    Christina, how German are you? I’d like to know …

  23. What is a muffin in German then? Or am I just confised because I’m convinced that fairy cakes need wings and soft icing and cup cakes aren’t cupcakes without hard icing?

    I’d be pretty good in Germany I rekon. I’d even give up marmite. Please let me give up marmite…

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