Posts tagged ‘Germany’

July 24, 2015

Different Rules for Dining Out

Now that I have been back in Europe for a while traveling different countries I noticed – or rather re-noticed – that there are substantial differences in the rules for dining out.  There are two in particular that I want to point out, one at the front end of the restaurant experience and one at the back end.

Dinner rules here and there. Photo: (c) Tina Baumgartner

Dinner rules here and there.
Photo: (c) Tina Baumgartner

Let’s start with getting a table.  There are two ways of doing so in the US: you call and make a reservation or you get in line. The first is easy and logical but sometimes one forgets or the restaurant does not take reservations.  The second is quite different from my experience here in Germany. In the US, at least in California every restaurant, including the fish&chips place by the beach and the fast food restaurant have an orderly process. You go up to the hostess and ask to be seated.  If she can’t seat you your name goes on a list and that list gets taken care off starting from the top as patrons leave the restaurant and vacate tables.

Sometimes there is no hostess but there is a list and people take it upon themselves to put their names and the number of people in their party on that list – in the right order, without cheating and without trying to skip the line.

Then one waits, patiently or not, that doesn’t matter, until one’s name is called.  Sometimes one just hangs around the front area of the restaurant or one is given a buzzer thingy that one takes along while browsing the shops in the mall or whatever. When it buzzes and blinks the table is ready and by that I mean it is ready for you to sit down and order: no half-empty glasses and partially eaten dinners are lingering.

In Germany there are also two ways of getting a table: you call and make a reservation or you outrun your competition for a table. What you do not do is stand patiently at the entry and wait for the next table to become available.  I mean you can do that but what will inevitably happen is that somebody else, who came long after you, has been pacing the place to get a good pole position.  That art starts with keenly observing the room to see who is close to being done and has asked the waiter to pay up, then one hangs out near that table and as soon as the first person at that table as much as lifts half a butt cheek those skilled in the art (everybody) grab that chair, plunk down and declare victory.

Meanwhile you have politely waited and taken a few steps towards that table as you see the patrons stirring but by the time you get there the whole posse already sat down, pushed the dirty glasses and plates aside, opened the menus, started discussing their wine selections.  And they certainly have no intention to leave the table to you.  In fact any such inquiry will be met with blank stares.  Securing a table in a busy German restaurant is a full contact sport.  I find it rather strange by now but if you want to sit down and eat you better play by the rules.

Now let’s assume you got that table and have had your food and a glass of wine and another and maybe a coffee, then there is another cultural difference to negotiate.  In Germany and other European countries I have traveled to now it is time for you linger; maybe have another glass of wine, in the olden days a cigarette or two, a little brandy and since we are all having such a grand old time, let’s have a round of Grappa.  The waiter would never, ever dare putting the check on the table (unless it is past closing hour by now), you call for the check when you are ready.  Then the waiter will come with an itemized list and – unless you are lucky somebody pays the entire bill – every person picks what they had, that gets added up and they pay their share.  In the rare case when an unclaimed beer remains  everybody will contemplate whether they in fact didn’t have three instead of the two they paid for and somebody is generally found pretty quickly who agrees to pay for it.  This I find a rather civilized way going about paying.

In the US the waiter will put the check on your table before you have even finished your last bite of dessert, sometimes before you even ordered dessert.  You can, of course, say that you want dessert and then the check disappears and the dessert menu appears.  Once you half-way through that triple chocolate cake the check will reappear.

Once you are done eating you are expected to pay and leave.  You want some more wine – that’s what the bar is for.  One simply does not linger once one is done with dinner.  It is time to pay up and leave.  I once observed a German couple getting totally outraged by the rudeness of the waiter who put the check on their table while they were finishing up their omelet.  “Honey” I wanted to say “they don’t mean to be rude, it’s just how it is done here.”

Then comes the paying part and this irks me to this day.  The waiter brings an itemzied list of everything consumed and expects that one person pays it all or the patrons figure out among themselves who pays how much.  Smart phones with calculators help some, but often it isn’t the math that is limiting.  What makes it infinitely more difficult in the US is that you need to add both taxes and the mandatory tip which people forget or sometimes “forget”.  So in the end there is never enough money in the pot and everybody feels that they paid their fair share along the lines of “I only had a sandwich for $8.50, I put $10 in so that should be enough.  Well, no, not in California at least, you need to add at least 25% for taxes and tip, so $11 would be closer to the truth.  The higher the bill the larger the discrepancy gets.

Another bad method is “going Dutch” where the bill just gets split by the number of people and everybody pays the same whether you had a small salad and water or the Filet Mignon plus appetizer, dessert, wine and a cocktail.   This works if you go out with your three best friends and everybody is conscious of not charging the others too much.  At your colleagues large birthday party – with a bunch of people you don’t even know – this spells disaster.  Especially if the Filet-Mignon-cocktail people need to leave early (oh so busy) and don’t leave enough money to cover their part.  After falling for this like a sucker one time I decided to never attend such large birthday parties again.

So, in the end, each culture could learn from the others.  The Americans do the getting the table part better, the Germans the paying up part.

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July 21, 2015

Articles – and now the exceptions

No rule without exception is the unfortunate truth with most languages – and pretty much any and all other rules.  In a prior post we were talking about the rules for the use of articles in English which leaves us to explore what the exceptions are. Here we go: certain fixed expressions of place, time and movement do not take articles.  Here are some examples:

  • I am going to school – not the school
  • He was in prison – not the prison
  • Let’s stay home tonight – not the home
  • we’ll go by car – not by the car.  However, it is “we’ll take the car” not “we’ll take car”

A more comprehensive list can be found here. Articles are also often dropped after the following expressions: after both, all, sort of, kind of and alike as in these examples:

  • Both boys and girls were playing soccer
  • All family members spent the weekend at the beach house
  • What type of food do you prefer?

Also double expressions often do not have an article:

  • Brother and sister came to visit
  • Cats and dogs often fight
  • We are available day and night

Also the following categories of exception exist: No article is needed for

  1. Words used in a general sense – “women love shoes” – it is a general statement, whether true or not or Japanese food is healthy – in general, not just the dish you are currently enjoying
  2. Countries, towns, continents, etc.  – I live in Germany – okay, there are exceptions to the exception such as “I live in the Netherlands” but the country is called “the Netherlands” (another: The United Kingdom) so it makes sense
  3. Languages – “I used to study Spanish”
  4. Acronyms as long as they are pronounced as one word such as NATO, FIFA, SCOTUS but an article is needed when the letters are pronounced independently such as UN, WHO, NIH, etc
  5. Holidays – Christmas is my favorite holiday.  Halloween is fun.

These are so to speak the official exceptions, those you can read about in books and on other webpages but then there are some that I have encountered repeatedly and I have grown used to but really can’t explain or find a proper explanation for.

Here is what I mean: When speaking about babies people often drop the article.  You will hear sentences like “make sure baby’s head is not covered with a blanket.”  If that sentence addresses a particular set of parents with a specific baby then the sentence should be “make sure the/your baby’s head is not covered with a blanket”.  If, however, one is speaking about babies in general the imperative would not be used and the sentence would be something like “Babies’ heads should never be covered by a blanket”.  I suspect “babies” or “baby” in such sentences is used as a placeholder for a name.  And since we don’t know whether this particular baby is called Michael or Michelle they are called “Baby” as name.  I suppose it is meant to sound more personal – to me it sounds weird to this day.

Keep the - aehm - your distance. pic source: http://www.drive-safely.net/safe-following-distance/

Keep the – aehm – your distance. pic source: http://www.drive-safely.net/safe-following-distance/

Something similar happens with legal counsel but probably not for the same reason.  In business you will hear sentences like “let’s run this by Counsel” or “we need to get Counsel’s approval.”  However, you wouldn’t say, “let’s run this by doctor/CEO” it would definitely be “let’s run this by the/your doctor/ the CEO.” Why Counsel here is treated like an general concept as in #1 above rather than an individual is unclear to me.  Maybe people want to give the impression that they have a whole, well-oiled legal machinery supporting them rather than one little lone lawyer – but I am just guessing here. Another confusion is around the use of “you/your” in certain instances where, e.g. in German and also in Spanish nothing would be used.   A recent example is from I trip I took to Austria.  On the freeways they had signs up that encourage people not to drive to closely behind the car in front of them.  And surprisingly, those signs were in English.  Discouragingly, though, they said “keep the distance!” “Wrong”, I screamed, “it has to be ‘keep your distance'”.  My German friends did not understand where the “your” is coming from and I couldn’t explain it.  I just knew that nobody would ever say “keep the distance”.  It just sounds weird.  Driving 90 miles per hour I missed the opportunity to take a picture of this faux pas – darn.

So here we have a few exceptions to mull over.  Like with all languages, the little things like keep your distance and keep the distance can make a the difference.

April 9, 2011

Restaurant Behavior

A lot of things can be said about eating in and out but a few things that are rather different with regards to restaurants between Europe and the US I want to point

The job of a hostess: seat you and give you a menu. Don't ignore her, pic: http://www.stuffwaitershate.com

out.

Unless you are eating at McDonalds or some such place you walk into the restaurant, stop at the hostess’ table and have her either seat your right away or take your name down on a wait list.  A variation is to write your own name down on a list provided for that purpose.  Still, a hostess will seat you eventually.  You never, ever just walk into a place and grab a table.  Even in an almost empty restaurant that is completely unacceptable behavior.

If there are several tables available you may ask politely to be seated at a specific one, often that is possible, sometimes not and that’s that.

In Germany the rules are different, in most restaurants you walk in and grab whatever table you fancy and is available.  If it means you have to outrun a possible competitor around a few fellow diners so be it.  You might shy away from knocking the other person down to gain an advantage but not-fancy places I have witnessed scenes that involved at least some pushing and the strategic deployment of elbows.

I have to admit, the American way is much more civilized.