Moin from the rainy city of Hamburg, Germany’s bastion of the north where I have now been for more than two years! (two years?! When did that even happen?)
Despite the duration of my current residence, I never really got around to blogging much about it (I never really got around to blogging much at all, but that is a lament for another day). So without any further ado, here’s a post about some of the little oddities that I came across after moving here:
On the bed of my first (temporary) accommodation, I found a pair of rather large, misshapen pillows that were decidedly square. I initially put this down to one of those hotel oddities, and only later realised that not only was this the norm, but people actually seem to like them! The “standard” size is 80 x 80 cm and I once made the mistake of buying one from IKEA – it took up over half my bed. There actually are smaller ones, but these are mystifyingly narrow (40 x 80), which essentially makes them too small to be any good. The silliest part is that even if you do manage to procure what I can only describe as a “normal” sized pillow, getting a pillowcase that fits will be next to impossible.
Every country does this differently. In Germany, the postcode comes before the city name and most addresses do not include an apartment number. This is because the names of all the inhabitants of an apartment building are listed outside the building – a visitor need only ring the bell corresponding to the name in order to be buzzed in (which leads to a fun walk up the stairs peering at every door if the resident forgets to tell you which floor they live on). The whole system is quite unnerving because it goes against the general preference of anonymity that permeates other aspects of life here (privacy is one of the most oft-cited reasons for people preferring cash payments instead of cards, and also why - unlike most of its neighbours - Germany has terrible coverage of Google street view).
It’s everywhere. Woe betide you if you order water and forget to specify that you prefer still water. Not only will you imagine yourself being judged, but you’ll also have to drink a liquid that is as unlike water as it possibly could be. In the supermarket, bottled water usually comes in three varieties: still, carbonated, and even more carbonated. To add to the confusing, these can be labelled in a variety of ways – ohne, naturelle, still, classic, medium, sprudel, original, mild, and probably more! Also most water dispensing machines feature carbonated as the largest, easiest to press button, to which of course yours truly fell victim more than once.
Prost is the German version of “cheers” (side note: it’s kinda sad that Hindi does not have its own version of “cheers” – whenever a bunch of people from different countries gather for drinks, everyone talks about how they say “cheers” in their language and when it’s my turn I have to sheepishly explain that the only one I know from India is the regular run-of-the-mill “cheers”). It’s what you say when everyone gets their drinks but here’s the twist – it is common to clink glasses/bottles individually with every person present, which is quite a feat. Another rule is to look the other person in their eyes while doing so – forgetting to do this comes with the curse of seven years of bad sex – a rather disproportionate retaliation if you think about it.
Greetings are different in different regions of Germany.
In Hamburg and the North, “moin” is the way to go, or “moin moin” if you want to self-identify as not being from the region. The linguist in me absolutely loves these regional variations, although apparently not enough to remember any of the other ones. I found a good overview of the greetings in different dialects on YouTube.
PS: DW has a series called “Meet the Germans” on YouTube, which has some entertaining insights into German culture from the eyes of a non-German.