Free Advice from a Novice Expert, German Living

Arguing with Germans: a Lesson in Futility

Here is my advice to you: never get into an argument with a German.

Germans are rational people, and they usually have reasons for the things they do. For the most part, I agree with their reasons and admire their focused attention to the sense of things.

But sometimes Germans do things that just plain don’t make sense. When a crosswalk light is red, for example, you will not find any decent German human being who will dare to cross that street. It doesn’t matter if there are no cars or trams or anything to be seen anywhere. They are out there somewhere, waiting to run you over at the slightest hint of your dodging out into the seemingly nonexistent traffic. And Germans will also argue that who even knows who is watching your sinful ways when you cross the street on red? Several crosswalks around Munich have the following sign posted next to them: “Nur bei Grün– den Kindern ein Vorbild!” which means “Set an example for the children– only cross on green!” Because heaven forbid having to explain to a child, “No, my cute mouse, that’s just a reckless American sprinting across the street on a red crosswalk light. Ignore her. As you get older, you will learn that Americans do a lot of disturbing things, like riding the train illegally (black riding!), being halfhearted about recycling, and just really butchering the good name of all things sausage.  You must figure out a way to both accept their madness and also completely overlook it.”

When Germans do things like this that don’t make sense, you shouldn’t try to talk sense into them. Instead, you should just accept that you are about to lose an argument.

I learned this over the summer when I went to a German birthday party. On the way to the party, my roommate asked her boyfriend if he happened to know the exact date of the person’s birthday. He didn’t, and my roommate looked slightly concerned at his response. After finding out that I also didn’t know what day this person was born, she began a hasty internet search to find the mystery birthdate. I asked what the big deal was, and she explained that in Germany you are only allowed to wish someone a happy birthday if it is actually their birthday. I was getting confused: “But the other day when we went to your friend’s birthday, I told her ‘Happy birthday’ and it was the day before her actual birthday.” My roommate’s eyes widened in alarm, and she exclaimed, “Why do you think everyone sang the Happy Birthday song at midnight?!” And I retorted, “Because the [World Cup semi-final] game was over!” “No,” she replied. “It was because it was her actual birthday!”

While she and her boyfriend anxiously texted their way through their list of friends in a desperate attempt to uncover this all-powerful exact birthdate, I asked what would have happened if the party had been after the person’s birthday. “You would have said ‘Happy belated birthday,’ of course.” I was pretty sure I would have still said ‘Happy birthday,’ but I was having a hard time getting them to understand that a birthday should be celebrated whether the celebrating happens early or late.

Since I was quickly getting nowhere in this argument, and especially since I don’t like to lose, I poured all my logic into one emphatic response: “You don’t have to celebrate your birthday only on your actual birthday!”

And then I heard the one German word that silences all opposition: “DOCH!”

Doch translates roughly as “How dare you contradict me when I am clearly right in this rather tiresome dispute?” It starts out sounding like the sound Homer Simpson makes and ends up with the velar fricative “ch” of loch, and if you hear this word, you know you have been defeated in your verbal dispute. It doesn’t matter if you are actually right, because once your opponent has unleashed doch, the rest of the conversation can only continue in strings of “Doch!” battling your armies of “No!” until both sides are exhausted and want nothing more than to sit down together and enjoy a Weisswurst with a side of sweet mustard.

You will also be defeated with “Doch!” if you say, “Football and soccer aren’t the same thing!” Germans will shout at you, “Doch, football is football and American football is weird.”

You could try out, “Germany doesn’t have the best football team in the world!” But even still you will hear: “Doch! Wir sind Weltmeister!” which means “Hahahahahahahahahaha you Americans are hilarious.”

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You: “Molly, you aren’t really German.” Me: “Doch! I have a German flower lei and am therefore the German Kapitän of the World.”

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2 thoughts on “Arguing with Germans: a Lesson in Futility

  1. Johnny Wink says:

    Carissima Hilaria —

    What all are you doing in Germany besides delighting the very dickens out of me with your Frogmartian Chronicles?

    Ut valeas,

    Senex

    • Senex! The secret is that I am actually back in America now. I will update the blog world with this news soon. But while I was in Germany, I was teaching English as a foreign language to lots of businessmen and women. I also traveled around to Paris, Prague, Rome, and Vienna!

      PS: Happy birthday (belated birthday? The Germans have confused me to no end)! I hope you are enjoying the beginning of your septuagenarian reign!

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