My sister sent me this video of Chris D’Elia’s standup routine, “Scary Germans & British Heist Movies.” The scene where the Germans are at his birthday party and he’s afraid to eat their cake made me cry laughing. But in fairness to most Germans, they are an incredibly friendly and fun loving people, although usually quite reserved. My German teacher once remarked that when one gets on the bus, all the Germans are quietly looking out the window or reading a book and generally keeping to themselves and being German, but during festivals, everyone is hugging and waving hello…they’re acting like Americans.” It’s true that Germans are generally very reserved, which can make Americans perceive them as cold and creepy. It’s also true that many Americans stereotype Germans based on old WWII movies. Hello! We’re not all cowboys and Germans aren’t all evil spies or dictators. After living in Germany for only three months amongst “the Germans” and observing them in their natural habitat, I already feel compelled to stand up and say, “Germans are humans, too. And they’re nice.” But…first I have to tell this story that I think is hilarious about a German being not so warm….
On my first trip to Germany to visit S in December 2012, he wanted to take me to a special dinner in downtown Wiesbaden at a restaurant known for its traditional German cuisine, beers, and rustic decor, the Wikinger (pronounced Vikinger). I was so excited! This would be my first schnitzel and maybe even my first other German thing that I’d never heard of. We walked into the restaurant, with its half-timbered walls covered in animal pelts, drinking horns, and candles, and roaring fire in the center of the room, and asked to make a reservation.
We’ve since learned that this is a fairly common German reply.
“Really? We’re willing to wait.”
“Give us your number and maybe we’ll call you.”
Feeling a little like Tina Fey and Steve Carell in “Date Night” trying to get a table at the swanky new seafood restaurant in New York, we left our phone number and set out to wander around Wiesbaden and maybe russell up a bratwurst at the Christmas market. About twenty minutes later, we popped back into the Wikinger to see if anything had changed.
“Oh, we called you.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Sorry, we didn’t get a call.”
“Show me your phone!”
Whaaaat? This is when we first learned that the concept of customer service and “the customer is always right” that we were used to in the US does not exist here in Deutschland. Honestly afraid to disobey, we handed over the phone. Turns out they did call us. Twice. Whoopsies. Without exchanging a word, the host handed the phone back. Picked up two menus and started walking toward the stairs to the upper level. Noticing that we weren’t following, he stopped turned for a minute, made piercing eye contact, and continued up the stairs. We dutifully followed. Finally, he lead us to a small table in the far back corner. We sat down. He left. And we breathed a huge sigh of relief and burst out laughing. What happened next was one of the best meals I’ve ever had…probably because we felt that we had to work so hard to get it…but really, it was delicious. S ordered a steak, served raw on a super hot stone that cooked it to his own version of perfection. I ordered the rahmschnitzel, which has since become one of my favorite dishes in Germany. Both meals were absolutely delicious and melted in our mouths. Throughout, we put on our most polite faces, hoping the phone incident would be forgotten and that we’d be allowed back, and then left with happy tummies and a funny story.
About a year later, my parents and sister visited Mainz and, wanting to show them a traditional German meal and a really cool atmosphere, we took them to the Wikinger. By this time, the phone incident was the stuff of legend and so they were warned to be on their best behavior. “No special orders, Mom.” “And don’t make any weird jokes, Dad.” Again, in response to our first attempt to make a reservation, we got the “Not possible.” Then, literally five minutes later, they called (and we answered because we had been staring at the phone in the interim, terrified of making the same mistake as last time) saying that if we could be back in two minutes, we’d have a table. We ran. And to our amazement, were given a big table on the FIRST floor right next to the central fireplace. We were moving up.
The meal began. Mom made a special order and we all held our breath. The waiter rolled with it, but we were sure he’d spit in the side dish. We all ordered Franziskaner Weissbiers, except my sister, E, ordered something different. The food was DELICIOUS! And halfway through it was time for another round of drinks. E looks at the waiter, and with all the confidence in the world say, “I’ll have a Frankensteiner, please.” NOOOOOOOOOOOO. S and I sat there wide eyed, afraid to breathe, afraid to look at our stoic, German waiter, wordlessly communicating to each other, “We are never going to be allowed back here.” “Should we run now?” “Yes. You grab the coats, I’ll clear a path.” And then the greatest miracle of all time. Our waiter burst out laughing and even grabbed E’s chair back for balance he was so overcome with hilarity. We did it! We cracked the Wikinger!
So the moral of the story is, yes, Germans can be very absolute at times and this can come off as mean and scary. But underneath it all, they have a great sense of humor and love to laugh at Americans when they butcher their language. I love you, Germans. Thank you for welcoming me into your country and your restaurants.
If you’re in the Wiesbaden area, I highly recommend eating at the Wikinger (Grabenstraße 14, 65183 Wiesbaden; P: 0611 307622), but maybe make a reservation a day in advance….