Thursday, May 24, 2007


The lonely planet is a great thing to have when you are in a new place. It’s very difficult to say what is wrong with the book. It lists basically everything. For example who knew that’s its impolite to ask for tap water in a German restaurant. Or Germans when angry lower their voices. Pearls of wisdom indeed. Information one won’t get in the run-of-the-mill travel guides.

But as I soon discovered in the last few days, LP doesn’t give you everything. There are valuable lessons which one learns only when he is finally in the new place. Most of them are learnt through unfortunate personal experiences. So I thought wouldn’t it be a great philanthropic gesture if I took out time from my insanely busy schedule of checking mails and reading news, and wrote down some Do’s and Don’ts for a novice resident in Deutschland.

So here goes.

  1. Beer is NOT cheaper than water. All of you who plan to save a buck by having Becks or König-Pilsener after your meals instead of Adam’s Ale, kindly go back to your drawing board. Cheap beer is the greatest myth about Germany. If you want cheap beer, stay in India (which by the way is the greatest country in the world as I now realize. I will never complain about the costs there EVER)
  1. Nothing is free here. Nothing. My first visit to the supermarket entailed that I didn’t have any carry-bags. I saw a heap of them lying in one corner of the store apparently there to be taken. True to our great heritage, on spotting something apparently free, I grabbed as many as possible and happily progressed towards the cash counter with my trolley. What followed was the unhappy situation of trying to explain to the lady at the counter why I had 6 bags with me while I had just bough sausages and egg. When I was unable to give a coherent reply thanks to my vintage skills in the German language, an unhappier situation followed. I shelled out 6 cents for each of the polythene bags. From then on, I have never touched anything in this country without looking for the price tag.
  1. Know your football. To be more precise, know your Bundesliga. It’s the easiest way to start a conversation here. First thing I did after I reached here was to mug the current standings of teams. I assure you it will be very helpful. Knowing the players is obviously an added advantage. But be very careful about what you say about teams. Always discreetly find out whom the person you are talking to supports and then base your further statements on that fact. Nothing fuels more passion – and fights than soccer. For example shouting ‘Schalke sucks!’ anywhere near Gelsenkirchen might make things uncomfortable while proclaiming the same thing loudly in Dortmund a few miles away might get you a free beer.
  1. It’s a bad idea to eat in trams. You might get thrown out. Trust me. I know.
  1. It’s a very bad idea to travel ticket less in any public conveyance. German police normally don’t see much action and this is the only instance they can assert some authority. So don’t be surprised when you get surrounded by a mini army the moment you are apprehended. In case one does get caught, best line of defence is ‘I just came from India! I don’t know where to get a ticket.’ It always works. But don’t over-do it. There is a high probability you might be saying the thing to the same person twice.
  1. Always carry your passport. Thanks to out jihadist cousins, there have been too many cases of ‘over-zealous’ officers just doing their ‘job’. This point can be further discussed with Prof V Sundar of the Ocean Dept who had an officer holding a gun to his head.
  1. In the work-place never claim to know something you don’t. Germans verify everything. I will paste a certain conversation which took place.

Prof: Do you know how to use the TEM?

Certain Person we know: of course. I have used it many times before.

Prof: Oh good. Come with me.

Enter a TEM room.

Prof: ok, show me. Use this machine.

Certain Person we know: Hmmmm. Well I meant I have seen people using it many

times before.

  1. I was informed by my well-meaning friends that German girls are supposedly easy to score. At this point of my stay, I may grudgingly agree. But what I have realized is that language forms a very important part of the scoring process. You might be at your Sunday best with your Indian charm (!) oozing out but much advancement will be difficult if you are unacquainted with the intricacies of the Teutonic tongue (I refer to the language here. The literal aspect comes in later in stage 3.) English will not get you anywhere. The whole rendezvous will end up looking like the first lessons of the local Helen Keller Society chapter.

Lot remains to be told. Especially about the all-important Byzantine Factor. I hope these pointers are of some help to some unfortunate fellow traveller who remains perplexed by the bizarre oddities of this nation.