"A different language is a different vision of life" (Federico Fellini))



Manners and mannerisms

Found something? Don’t keep it!

(mfe) This article on Spiegel Online reminded me of a discussion we recently had. I was told that in the USA there is no such (legal) concept of “Finderlohn” (finder’s reward) the way we have it here in Germany. I wonder if this is true – please comment. People told me “finder’s keeper” is a common US phrase, meaning: Whoever finds stuff, may keep it. Under the term of “homesteading” this even applies to empty houses – look up “squatters”. And if you plan to buy a house in the states be sure to not leave it alone for too long.

German paragraphs regulate Finder’s Rewards

In Germany there is – as so often even a legal paragraph (and a whole legal concept “Fundrecht”) that tells us how to handle lost and found items: §§971 BGB defines who has to and how much finder’s reward has to be paid. So if you happen to find a wallet e.g. on a street in Germany, better be careful: you might commit an offence by simply keeping it. You are supposed to return it to a local “Fundamt or Fundbüro” (They even offer online search for lost and returned items!) or any similar office of the authority where you found it – on trains that might be the conductor or on a bus or tram the driver (The Deutsche Bahn even runs its own service ). Simply keeping precious things you found might bring you in trouble, it’s considered fraud. However, if nobody comes to pick up the lost item from the Fundamt, you may be allowed to keep it after some months of waiting. In the meantime, you could think of visiting one of the regular auctions that happen at the Fundamt. Yes, there you can buy lost items that nobody (owner nor finder) claimed within the legal period.

Fighting for Rewards – or not

In the story from Munich, a woman did not even want the hundreds of Euro reward that she would be supposed to get. I guess in the US this seems to be handled differently: In 2010 US rapper Ryan Leslie lost his laptop. His video announcing one million reward for the lost device went viral, because first he tried to find his laptop bag via Youtube, then he refused to pay finder’s reward he had promised, and in the end a court had to sentence him to pay the reward he promised – which he responded to in a Youtube video as well.


Question of the Day: Are Germans Always Complaining – or Are They Just Veeery Honest?

DeeAnn in her article “How are you? Wait, why are you telling me this?” already discussed the general topic from the US point of view – this article highlights the German counterpart 😉.

Shortly after SUSE had been acquired by Novell, quite a few of us SUSEans traveled to Salt Lake City to attend BrainShare (the Novell customer and partner conference). With us we had a young German colleague who never before visited the US, and probably had not much interaction so far with colleagues from other countries. He was a bit stressed out by the travel, and did not feel that well.


The same day we arrived, in the evening the Welcome Reception took place. Of course we all showed up there, and our new boss from the US approached that young colleague with a “Great you are here, how are you”. Instead of just answering “Thanks” or even “Doing well”, the young man started to give a speech about his state of mind and of health, saying something like “Oh well, I am not really feeling good, I am missing Germany, and I am tired as I could not sleep during the flight” and so on and so forth. With every word he added, our new boss got more and more pale – you could really feel how his state of mind did change – and he did not know how to react.

Fortunately we ‘succeeded’ in stopping our colleague’s flood of words, and we explained to him that next time, he should keep his answer to something like “Thanks, how are you”. He was quite confused, and replied: “I didn’t want to be rude at all. But I was asked a question, and  I answered honestly. Should I have been lying?”


The next day, our new boss asked me “Is there something wrong with this guy because he was complaining so much?” “Well – not in his perception – he just wanted to be honest. It could easily be that next time when you ask him ‘how are you’ he showers you with a flush of positive emotions instead.”

Sometimes “truth” and “truth” are two different things. So the question is: are Germans complaining 😭– or are they too honest 😲? (mc)


What’s the difference between Frühstuck and Frühschoppen?

When asked this question last week, my teenage daughter replied “well, that’s easy! Frühstuck is breakfast and Frühschoppen is when you go into town early to buy clothes.”

Of course, this is not the right answer.

When someone invites you to their house for Frühschoppen, this is usually the same as breakfast, although a bit later and with alcohol involved…

In Bavaria (and also Franconia), Frühschoppen usually consists of Breze (pretzels), Weißwurst (boiled white sausage), Weißenbier (wheat beer) and süßer Senf (sweet mustard – you’ve really got to try this – it’s an absolute must!)

suser-senfAlthough this is not always the case and can come as a variety of cold meats and cheeses with freshly baked bread and jams.


This can be a fun experience with friends and a nice alternative to partying into the night.

The term “brunch” is also commonly used. Personally I found this rather amusing that the Germans would use an English word. Once I was even asked to explain the meaning of brunch to my German class. Breakfast and lunch rolled into one. Hence, br(eakfast)+(l)unch=brunch.

I find it rather strange that the Germans should use the English term for this, especially when they have the wonderful words as “Fr(ühstuck)” and “(Mittag)essen”, from which they could make the word “Fressen”, right?

Fastnacht, Fasching, Karneval … in Franconia

(mfe) Okay, here’s the POV from a Bavarian guy who’s not into the concept of Carnival, but I won’t be nagging, just explaining: Every year, six weeks before Easter, some parts of Germany go virtually insane and crazy for a few days. Officially starting on November 11, at 11:11, some Germans – in fact a huge number – start to celebrate their “silly season” (Närrische Zeit), which they also like to call “the fifth season of the year”. It’s a long tradition, introducing the Christian habit of the fasting period “Lent” as a preparation for Easter (thus the six weeks). You might be familiar with Mardi Gras in the US (with New Orleans as the stronghold) or the Carnival of Venice, which base upon the same concept. Here’s the encyclopedic background: Karneval, Fastnacht und Fasching (Wikipedia, German)


Especially along the Rhine river, but also in Northern Bavaria this has a long tradition, where people dress up funny, similar to Americans around Helloween.There’s a different name for it, depending on the region, and people will react strongly if you use the wrong term! But we weren’t Germans if we didn’t do the whole Carnival thingy it in our own, very organized way with a lot of beer. There’s satirical (mostly not really that funny) courts and government meetings, like this “Prunksitzung des Elferrats” here:

What to expect?

Be prepared to see satirical street parades on Monday and Tuesday – “Rosenmontag” und “Faschingsdienstag”, especially in Cologne, Wiesbaden, Mainz and other cities – and full media coverage on TV. They say for 2017 there was a record amount of Donald Trump whigs sold.

Many bavarian cities do parade on “Faschingssonntag”, (Sunday) or on Saturday – so the inner city streets will be blocked. Not only, but especially in the evenings lots and lots of Germans are going out, crazily dressed up like Indians, cowboys, cops, astronauts, zebras or something you cannot understand nor describe.


Remember that the concept of political correctness doesn’t matter that much over here like e.g. in the States. Germans will go out fo dancing, screaming, singing, partying and drinking, in the evening heading for traditional guesthouses, usually with huge ballrooms. Younger people tend to do similar, but in disco clubs or bars. The hangovers are legend and a great topic to wail and socialize about.

Here’s a video of what happened on Nürnberg streets in 2016, not far from our office, so be prepared:

Kisses and tie-cutting women

Generally the amount of people running around wearing masks during work hours, while happily shouting “Helau, Alaaf”, or different non-sense words like “Radi Radi” (in Regensburg), drinking beer during daytime, hugging and kissing complete strangers no matter if those want or are okay with it  has been steadily decreasing over the years. But if you don’t like a stranger’s kiss or your tie being cut with a scissor on “Weiberfastnacht” (the Thursday before Fasching), then you definitely should not go to Cologne during these days, and maybe generally  avoid citiy centers in Northern Bavaria on the evenings of Rosenmontag and Faschingsdienstag. Remember: On Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch) everything is over – an old German saying: “Am Aschermittwoch ist alles vorbei”

In the meantime, you could happily enjoy some “Faschingskrapfen” – special donuts that German bakeries provide in the weeks before Fasching, filled and topped with a multitude of sweet sugary stuff. If you get the one with mustard filling, don’t worry, ask the host, because you maybe just have won the grand price – an old German custom, too.

How are you? Wait, why are you telling me this?

In the U.S., “Hi! How are you?” and “Hey! How’s it going?” are commonly used as greetings and pleasantries (for example, when passing by someone in a hallway) so it can be a surprise when the person you are asking in Germany responds with anything besides “fine” or “okay” and start telling you how they are (because of course you just asked them). And it can be awkward (and even rude) if you don’t stop to talk and keep walking past them, because you expected the chat to end there. This habit I still fall into sometimes (even after some months here), but now most times when I ask, I am planning on having a real conversation. (dl)

Kaffee und Kuchen

The equivalent to the British afternoon tea is the German Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). This ritual is common when visiting, let’s say, the parents of your recent girl/boyfriend for the first time. It’s slightly formal and usually occurs sometime between 15:00 and 17:00 and the combined sugar and caffeine rush is enough to cause insomnia for several days.

Sometimes Kaffee und Kuchen might extend into the less formal Bier und Abendbrot (beer & snacks/sandwiches), particularly when the conversation is going well. This should be considered as a good sign if you’re visiting your partner’s parents.

Don’t say sorry too often!

As an Englishman I have been conditioned to say sorry to everyone.

For example, “I’m sorry to hear that your father died last week.” Or “I’m sorry to disturb you. I need your advice about something.” Or “I’m very sorry. I didn’t quite catch what you said.”

While living here in Germany, I realize that “sorry” is not seen so much as a word to express empathy, but instead a word used as an admission of guilt. So on a couple of occasions, having said “sorry”, I have had the response “why? it’s not your fault.”

And on a few occasions, “are you admitting responsibility?” and that’s when things get unfortunately serious.

Most German people appreciate a “sorry” once in a while, but just don’t overuse it.

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