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German versus British beer drinking

I nearly died of a heart attack yesterday.

I was sitting, minding my own business in my office when Birgit suddenly piped up: “We should go down to the Christmas market next week – I’ll buy you a Glühwein.”

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frankfurt_Roemer_Weihnachtsmarkt_2004-11-28.JPG

Please observe and witness those words, readers. I’ll buy you a Glühwein. Spoken by a German. Not just any German, either. A Swabian. The legendary race of South German tightwads.

Is it any wonder that I was left reeling on my swivel chair, clutching my chest and gasping for air?

When I recovered the power of speech,  I enquired what had brought on this sudden and unexpected burst of generosity.  The response was no less extraordinary than the original offer.

“It’s my turn.”

Now, given that it’s been Birgit’s turn for the past twenty years, this came completely out of the blue. In the event that she actually goes through with the offer, I won’t know whether to drink the Glühwein or have it inscribed and display it in a cabinet.

You see, readers, there is a huge difference between British and German drinking culture. In Britain, when you go to the pub in a group, everyone takes turns to buy a round. In Germany, everyone buys their own drinks and pays for what they consumed themselves.

The problem for Brits arriving in Germany is that they make the fundamental error of opening the evening by getting a drink for everyone present.  The Germans are delighted. But it never occurs to them to buy you one in return. The British drinker will finish his beer and spend the next twenty minutes waiting in increasing agitation for one of the Germans to stick their hand in their pocket. Peering through the bottom of the empty glass at them will not work. Nor will pointed comments like: “Whose round is it?” Eventually the waiter will bring a beer over for the hapless Brit and mark his beermat with a line which means he will have to pay for that beer too at the end of the evening. He will descend into a sulk, the Germans will judge him a peevish lout and fifty years of improved international relations between Britain and Germany will have been wiped out in one single evening.

Wer soll das bezahlen? Wer hat das bestellt? Wer hat soviel Pinkepinke? Wer hat soviel Geld?

Of course the real reason why the beer-buying system is different in Germany and Britain is that German pubs have waiter service. In Britain, if everyone had to go themselves to the bar and buy their own drink, there would be a permanent rugby-scrum around the counter and nobody would ever get served. The act of buying for a group ensures that not everyone in the pub is permanently crowding around the bar.

In Germany, as the waiter comes to each table, they can mark each beermat quickly and efficiently and at the end of the evening it is simple to add up who drank how many glasses.  There is no pressure to keep up the pace with the heaviest drinkers. Everyone has as much or as little as they fancy.

But now I have Birgit offering against all odds to buy me a Glühwein. What am I to make of this? Is the entire edifice of a thousand years of German drinking culture collapsing around us? Is this the beginning of the end for the Fatherland?

More blog posts by Cathy Dobson can be found on Birds on the Blog

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