Saturday, August 13, 2011

Kato's Guide to Eating Out in Germany Without Causing an International Incident

There are things that a lot of people wouldn't think about as being different in other countries, I'm guessing. Personal space is one. Eating out is another.  To keep you from embarrassing yourself so badly that you spontaneously explode and take out several Germans nearby and end up being labeled as a U.S. terrorist and starting yet another war until people realize you were just an uneducated tourist while idiots on the fringe continue to write books and websites psychoanalyzing your life to prove that it was a plot to infect all German bread with a Deadly Death Virus, I have written a handy-dandy guide to surviving German restaurants.

First, you must learn the difference between a restaurant and a non-restaurant. A non-restaurant looks like this:
Note how people are standing. Standing people are a very good indication that you should also be standing. I don't have a picture of a restaurant, but I think it's safe to say that if there is no central glass case with food inside that has people standing around it, then it is a restaurant. Sometimes they will try to confuse you by being both a restaurant and a non-restaurant. I usually figured that if they had tables with menus on them outside, then it was a sit-down-and-come-take-my-order restaurant. If you're unsure, I suggest camouflaging yourself  as a hobo against an opposing building and watching for 15 or 30 minutes to see what other people do.

Pick up a menu as soon as you sit down. Not only will you have something to hide behind, but you will also be able to see if Coke is cheap enough to justify buying it. Germany doesn't really do water like America--you'd have to specify "Leitungswasser," or tap water, because "wasser" is going to be sparkling. Drink menus in Germany are designed specifically to annoy Americans, because in addition to the no-water thing, there is also the fact that soda is small and expensive.
It's always .2-.3 liters (~6.7-10 ounces), and somewhere around 2.40 euro (give or take twenty cents), which is about $3.50. Refills? In your dreams. Although to be honest, most drinks aren't going to be that much better, be they juice or tea or whatever. Basically, Germany really wants you to be dehydrated and/or broke.

One of the waitstaff will probably come to take your drink order initially, but after that if you want something you'll have to flag them down. If you are used to America and the waitstaff coming to check on you every ten minutes, this is an exercise specifically designed to bring on anxiety attacks (or death spirals in your brain, which are closely related).

It's simple, really: sit up straight and swivel your head around quickly so that you cannot possibly miss your target. Don't blink, you might miss making eye contact. When you have obtained contact with your target's eyes, raise your hand and eyebrows in tandem. This way they cannot possibly mistake your gestures. Have your menu ready and say "Ich moechte [food], bitte." (I'd like [food], please.) Point as you say this because there is a 90% chance that they won't understand you anyway. If you have no clue what the menu says, I'm sorry you weren't smart enough to at least look up food-words on Google before you left. Just point at something and hope that it's edible.
You might get lucky. This was a really good quesadilla.

To pay, repeat the flagging-down-the-waitstaff exercise and say "ich moechte zahlen" or "bezahlen" or something. Supposedly this refers to paying, but no one could actually explain what it means so I just mumble something along those lines while holding my wallet. If you're part of a group, Germany hasn't quite grasped the concept of separate checks (but then again, tax is rolled into the prices), so you'll have to remember what it was you ordered. If you don't, hide under the table until everyone else has paid and the pay for whatever's left.

If you follow all these steps, then there is at least a 50% chance that you won't be too embarrassed to show your face ever again! Congratulations!

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