How to be German? Top 5 steps!

Step 3 Stick to the rules

If you’re been to the cinema here, you’ll know the seats come in two types and prices – neckache and non-neckache. Neckache is the first rows from the front, and to be at the back you’ve got to pay more. I’ve not seen tiered seat pricing in other countries. It’s a pretty horrible system when you consider that instead of just watching the film on your laptop, in your bed, you’ve gone to the effort of putting on your coat and shoes, leaving the house, going all the way to the cinema to pay to sit in an icy cold, dark room to watch a movie that won’t even end properly with a nice conclusive “happy ever after” like it did in the old days, because now everything has to be a trilogy, and then a prequel trilogy, and so on until you notice it, you’re sitting down to watch Spiderman 417. Really cinemas should pay you for making all the effort to actually visit them, rather than charging you extra to sit in the back, but I’ve wandered off my original point…

Why I really like going to movies is because it’s one of the rare times I have the pleasure of watching my German girlfriend break a rule. For a fleeting moment we’re not our normal lame selves, but are transformed into retentive, suitably depressed, tax paying Bonnie and Clydes. Why? Because we never pay for the expensive seats. But we always sit in them. Feel free to be greatly shocked now…

In the beginning, it was not easy to coax her to the back. In fact, she flat out refused. There was a system. Germans respect rules and systems, which is the point of this step and what you must learn. In this case, it’s a very capitalistic system, but a system and the rule nonetheless. A rule the majority of Germans follow. I have no doubt that if the average German entered a Kinosaal to find it completely empty, except for one other person who was sitting in their prescribed seat, they’d checked their ticket five times, and then asked them to move.

Then I came up with a plan. When asked where I would like to sit by the ticket seller or when reserving online, I began picking the far left corner of the front row, which annoys her so much, she’s willing to break the rules and come with me to the back in a premium seat. It does result in me getting hit several times, which I consider merely an acceptable cost of doing nefarious business. She accompanied me to the back with great trepidation. As if we were not merely defrauding the cinema of couple of euros, but defrauding the European Central Bank of millions in an elaborate heist involving safe crackers, gymnastic midgets and exploding pens. Once seated at the back, she refuses to relax until about half way through the movie when she’s absolutely certain the seats we’re in will not be claimed by any rightful owner.

Until then she visibly squirms in her contraband seat every time the doors open, looks in genuine physical pain, and repeatedly says “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you”. I am not sure what she means by that. I’ve no time to think about it, since I’m busy staring straight ahead and enjoying the movie from our vastly superior and neckache-free seats.


The text is an excerpt of the Adam Feltscher’s “How to be German book“. Published in VOX blog by a kind permission of the author and the publisher.

How to be German? Top 5 steps!

Step 2 Say what you mean

English is not about what you say, but how you say it. German is both, but more the former. So what Germans say tends to be direct and prepared with minimal ambiguity. Ruthlessly efficient, if you will. In English, for example, if you want someone to do something for you, you do not merely go up to that person and ask them to do something for you. Oh no. That would be a large faux pas of the social variety. Instead you must first enquire about their health, their family’s health, their children’s health, the weather, the activities of the previous weekend, the plans of the upcoming weekend, the joy or sorrow related to the outcome of the most recent televised football match, and only then, finally, can you say “by the way”, after which you can begin the actual point of the conversation, before reinforcing that you feel guilty for having to ask, and only it it’s no trouble, but would they be so kind as to possibly do this little thing for you. You will be eternally grateful.

Germans do not dance around the point in such elaborate, transparent displays of faux friendship. They just say “I need this, do it, by this date”. Alles klar? then walk off. Once you’ve practiced regularly getting to the point, you may find the way to be short but very enjoyable.

As for saying what you mean, Germans have rightly realised that sugar coating is best reserved for cakes. If I’m having one of the my momentary delusions of grandeur, I know I can always rely on my German girlfriend to bring me swiftly back down to reality by saying something like “Get over yourself, we’re all born naked and shit in the toilet”.


The text is an excerpt of the Adam Feltscher’s “How to be German book“. Published in VOX blog by a kind permission of the author and the publisher.

How to be German? Top 5 steps!

Step 1 Speak German

Every nation has done things it should be embarrassed about. Dark acts in its history. The Germans are no exception. You know of what I talk – the German language.

Deutsch is mostly an incomprehensible jumble of exceptions. A dungeon designed to trap foreigners and hold them hostage, repeatedly flogging them with impenetrable and largely useless grammatical devices, whose only merit is to state in very, very explicit detail who has what and what is being done to whom, by whom.

The bad news is that for you to fully blend with the Germans, you’ll need to learn their language. In principle, it’s not that hard. It works in two stages: learning vocabulary and learning grammar. Learning vocabulary is fun. Most words are even similar to English thanks to our shared ancestry, so you’ll zip along for a while making great progress and really enjoying wrapping your tongue around such delights as Schwangerschaftsverhütungsmittel, Haarschmuckfachgeschäft, Muckefuck and Streicheleinheiten.

Then, confident at all the little snippets you’re already accumulated, you’ll start learning the grammar, the putty that builds your mutterings into real, coherent German sentences. This is where you’ll start to feel cheated. German grammar is nonsense.

English, at least linguistically, has always been the biggest slut in the room. Giving and taking from other languages. It tries hard to make you like it. It keeps itself simple. My pet theory is that the Germans, despite their committed efforts, were not as successful as the English in their world power plays. So, unlike German, the English language has been forced, historically, to bridge the cultural and linguistic divides that lay between us and the countries we were conquering (sorry, colonising). Over time, we’ve had to smooth down the rougher edges of English, which is a poetic way of saying kicked out all the hard bits.

English has been forced to evolve in a way that German has not. Which is why German has retained the grammatical complexity of Old English, while English got busy dumbing itself down for the masses.

Take genders as an example. Present in Old English, but long since removed to everyone’s relief. Sadly, still stubbornly present in German in the form of der, die and das, yet they are assigned utterly arbitrarily. Sure, there are some sort of vague guidelines about how word endings can suggest the gender, and some groupings, e.g. all days of the week and all months are der. That’ll help you with maybe 30% of nouns. This still leaves 70% that you’ll have to learn by heart so you can decline correctly. You can also decline to learn them if you like. See what I did there? Oh, how I amuse myself. Anyway…

You’ll waste much time memorising genders (PRO TIP: never learn a noun without its article, going back later and adding them in is very time-consuming and inefficient). Yet, without knowing the gender of the nouns, you can’t accurately decline the endings of the sentences’ nouns and adjectives. Which is utterly pointless anyway and does next to nothing to increase comprehension. Without it, though, you’ll say very embarrassing things like “einer grosser Wasser”, instead of “ein grosses Wasser”. I know. Gringeworthy.

Of course there are far harder languages to learn than German. That’s not my point. English also has its stupidities, like its staunch commitment to unphoneticism. The difference is that English kind enough to be easy in the beginning, then it ramps up slowly and encouragingly, with minimal grammar. German just plonks you down in front of a steep mountain, says “Viel Spass” and walks off as you begin your slow, painful ascent.

When I first started learning the language, which mostly consisted of me getting nowhere and just sitting around bitching about it, I was gently reminded by a friend that some of the smartest things every written were authored in this language. First you need only to respect it, later you can learn to like it.


The text is an excerpt of the Adam Fletcher’s “How to be German” book. Published in VOX blog by a kind permission of the author and the publisher.

Foreign Languages as Key to Success

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Although this quote by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is already more than a hundred years old, it is especially relevant again in today’s world. Languages open doors for you in many ways. How best to learn languages and what role stays abroad play in this.

The language portal “Ethnologue” currently lists around 7100 spoken languages worldwide. Anyone who speaks only one of these can quickly feel small and insignificant in the face of this large number. However, speaking just one or even several foreign languages can be a great advantage in numerous situations in life. Not only can you make yourself understood abroad, but knowledge of foreign languages can also be an enormous advantage in a professional context. Those who master foreign languages are in demand in many professions. Good examples of this are the catering industry, the IT sector and the retail trade.

The importance of languages in the era of globalization is particularly topical and is becoming increasingly important.

Igor Botchkarev, founder and CEO of the VOX Language School, provides information about the special relevance of foreign languages in today’s world: “The importance of languages in the era of globalization is particularly topical and is becoming increasingly significant. Languages are not only an instrument of communication, but also an important component of human personality, because our identity is mostly expressed in the act of speaking.” According to the expert, the constantly changing professional world directly influences the importance of language skills: “At our time of specialization in every conceivable profession, the role of multilingual communication is increasing enormously. A good specialist can no longer be a lone wolf, but must bring his or her efforts to bear in interaction with a wide variety of company departments in a very often multicultural context.”

Language learning made easy

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But this does not apply to learning a foreign language, as expert Igor Botchkarev reveals: “To learn a language successfully, there are few simple rules to follow. The prerequisite for a successful learning process is a properly chosen internal motivation.” But learning a language is much more than just cramming vocabulary: “Next, you have to understand that you can’t learn to speak without actually speaking a language – just as you can’t learn to play a musical instrument without playing it. Because what we’re actually practicing when we play the guitar is the connection between the brain and the muscles in our forearm that are responsible for the corresponding movements. When we learn to speak, the exact same thing happens: We train the connection between the brain and the articulatory muscles, which is responsible for speaking.”

The prerequisite for a successful learning process is a properly chosen internal motivation.

According to popular opinion, children learn languages more easily than adults. But why is that? According to Igor Botchkarev, in adulthood it’s simply a matter of the mind: “The difference between children and adults in language learning lies mainly in the psychological limits that get in the way in adults, which disable the imitative tools once mastered.”

The Role of Time Spent Abroad

Stays abroad are particularly popular among young people, for example as part of a gap year after graduating from high school. But to what extent do stays abroad really contribute to learning a foreign language? Igor Botchkarev says: “When learning a language, the brain needs to be flooded with information so that it understands that the language is now an inseparable part of reality and starts to help you integrate it. This is best done abroad, where you are surrounded on all sides by the language, accordingly, a stay abroad is a great way to make rapid progress in a language.” In addition, he provides another valuable tip for learning foreign languages: “Just don’t be shy and have fun imitating.

But to what extent are stays abroad actually useful? “Stays abroad make sense in that in a language area you get many more points of contact with the linguistic reality and opportunities for imitation, so that you can build up your new linguistic identity more quickly,” explains Igor Botchkarev. However, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of living abroad for a long period of time, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of kilometers from home. Consequently, the question arises: Why going abroad? You can learn languages just as well in your home country. That’s true, but learning a foreign language at home can have a significant disadvantage, as Igor Botchkarev reveals: “When you learn the language at home, there’s a danger that you focus too much on writing, comprehension and grammar. Then you still have to learn how to speak. It’s quite important to focus on active speaking and pronunciation from the beginning, whether at home or abroad.”

Foreign Languages as a Professional Door Opener

Those who master foreign languages generally gain an enormous professional advantage. “Nowadays, it is impossible to imagine everyday business life without different languages,” clarifies Igor Botchkarev. “When you speak a person’s language, you are suddenly a part of their culture and consciousness. When you speak the same language, it’s a perfect icebreaker and an access door to faster and more complex interaction, which definitely brings many advantages in the professional environment.” So if you want to boost your resume, learning foreign languages is a good idea.

Interview of Igor Botchkarev to Fokus.Swiss