Adam Fletcher isn’t the first to write a humorous cultural guidebook about Germany. There is the Xenophobe’s Guide to Germany by Stefan Zeidenitz and Ben Barkow and Wash Echte’s Ich werde ein Berliner: How to be a Really Hip German. But Adam Fletcher’s book is my favorite of them all. Why? Because it is funny, and genuinely informative. Fletcher isn’t just poking fun at the Germans (and the British), but offering insight into cultural nuances you will inevitably encounter during a stint as an expat in Germany. You can feel his love for the country between the jokes. And better yet: he keeps it brief. Better to quit while you’re ahead (and the reader is still laughing) than to drag something out that could be covered in a couple of witty sentences.
Fletcher’s book could be read as a checklist for assimilation into German culture. Do you wear house shoes? Do you have multiple insurance plans? Do you like Apfelsaftschorle? Nudity? Tatort? Congratulations, you are that much closer to being “German.” In fact, he’s put together an online quiz based on the book designed to tell you just how close you’ve come to being German. You can take it here.
Another bonus: How to Be German is actually two books. Read it in English, then flip it over, and read it from the opposite side in German. I read it in English so I cannot speak for its translation, but others have praised it.
Fletcher himself is based in Berlin, where he “mostly spends his days dreaming up a whole range of unsuccessful products for his business The Hipstery, eating chocolate and napping.” You can see some of his ideas in action in the Hipstery store where transplants to Germany can purchase Denglish totebags and t-shirts, alongside other Germany-related “hipster” gear. According to his blog, he has signed contracts for two more books: Denglish for better knowers and The Freedom Figure, both due out in 2014. You can find out more about him and his upcoming projects on his website.
For an example of Fletcher’s light take on German culture, his description of the Teutonic obsession with opening windows (no matter the weather) to air out the room:
“Because we’ve all praised German builders and engineers so much, many Germans have come to believe that they don’t build apartments and homes but air tight fortresses. As a result, many Germans believe Erstickungstod (death by suffocation) is a serious concern if fresh aid is not regularly allowed to circulate in their Zwei-Zimmer-Wohnung. Therefore, German windows have been built with a special Kipp (tilt) mode, leaving the window approximately 10% open, in a fixed position. Even in the dead of winter, it’s not uncommon to walk into a German’s bedroom and find the window kipped and the room cool enough to freeze meat. If not kipped, then regular Stoßlüftung (rush airing) is required. This is when you open the window filly for a short time to allow cold air to flood in and attack the evil, stale, warm air. This also explains why Germans are deeply distrustful of air conditioners, which just sit around mocking them, churning out old, recycled carbon dioxide.
“The love of kipping can be quite a problem for international relationships. The English put an apartment’s heat on fully from the 1st October, then don’t touch it again until late April. We’re not used to a winter of Fenster auf Kipp. So we have to play a sort of heating tag with our German partners. In which we wait for them to go to sleep, quietly close the window they’ve had open all day, then put on the heating to drift off into a warm, toasty slumber. By morning good times are over, as our spouses have awoken, surprised and thankful that they did not suffocate during the night, turned the heating immediately off, and reopened the window again.
“Brrr. Get used to that cold feeling, you’re a Kipper now.”
The only thing I disagreed with was Fletcher’s take on German bread—and I’m sure I’m not the first to say it. He says he gets hundreds of angry letters telling him how wrong he is. About everything. Acoording to Adam Fletcher, German bread is no good. But don’t take his word for it, grab his 50 Easy Steps and get started on your own journey into German-dom. You don’t even need to come to Germany to do it.