Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sometimes Germans are Really, Really Great

I think I just received the most adorable email ever composed by anyone.
Subject: maybe birthday???

My dear C;
I feel like in a double windmill (in German a famous saying: ich stecke
in der Zwickmühle).
I know that your birthday is around this time, and I think it is tomorrow;
but last time I spoke with L about it (which is nearly one year ago),
he meant it was last year a monday (which would be today).

It is so unpolite to ask, and whenever I need to see Damon during lunch
in the mensa, of course he is not there!
Thus I will wait until tomorrow for congratulations, because it is
better to do it belated than in advance.

Best wishes, have a nice day and it would be so nice to let me know!


PS: I hope, I am not completely wrong and your birthday is any other day :(
Can you identify all the German things about it?


  1. 1. multiple question marks instead of one to convey the point that the speaker is really not sure.
    2. plenty of exclamation points.
    3. the usage of 'nice'. not 'i would like to know', but 'it would be so nice to let me know'.
    4. the precision of who was spoken to when and how that leads to the conclusion on the dates.
    5. the proclamation that it is better to be late than early.

    but indeed a very nice mail. :-)

  2. I still can't get over it how Germans are against celebrating birthdays in advance. Better belated? I don't get it.
    Happy Birthday!

  3. What pops out at me is its stiffness and formality... and the fact that Germans really do put an over-emphasis on birthdays. But the latter could be because they expect the birthday girl to splash out on them instead of the other way around. :-)

    Happy Birthday! OK, it might be today, or yesterday, or tomorrow...

  4. I still can't get over it how Germans are against celebrating birthdays in advance. Better belated? I don't get it.

    I don't get it, either. At work in our department birthdays are no big secret for the people who've been there awhile — there's a list the secretaries maintain. Last year I noticed a guy with whom I'd previously worked quite closely had an upcoming (by like 2 or 3 days) birthday. Naturally I wished him Alles Gute zum Geburtstag in addition to the usual water-cooler-style chit-chat at our office's Teeküche and he got all cold on me. "Das macht man nicht im Voraus," he said. Then it got awkward and he left the room.

    Doh! What did I do?

  5. If I were the first one to comment I would have pointed out one or another linguistic mistake (which, of course, would be ‘unpolite’, but I haven't spoken to L in the ‘mensa’ yet...).

    When it comes to “the fact that Germans really do put an over-emphasis on birthdays” I'd like to mention that I don't put any emphasis to my birthday (nor do any of my friends). I'm glad that there is no “list [of birthdays] the secretaries maintain” in my office. That'd be awful...

    I also learned today that multiple question marks is a German thing...

  6. Heather: You're good :)

    Bek: I think that's the main German thing...it's very bad to acknowledge a birthday in advance here! If it is too early I could be jinxed and not make it to the day at all! Anyway, thanks!!

    Ian: Yes, it's adorably formal! And thanks! (Yes, it's around here somewhere...)

    Cliff: My office here did the same - the secretary has a list and keeps cards out on the desk for signing in advance of birthdays. The dept gives the birthday person a 10 EUR gift and they are expected to host Kaffee & Kuchen in the kitchen.

    Sandy: I'm not looking for linguistic errors, that wouldn't be very nice :) Just funny little things like fear of mentioning it in advance! I think the question marks may be a generational thing (?).

    I still think there are a couple more German things about it that haven't been directly mentioned yet.

  7. I love Germans. At least they care! *stares at Swiss people*

  8. Germans think wishing someone a happy birthday in advance IS very bad luck. As to the formality of the Germans, Americans have never had to live in a limited space for long as a culture. When things get tight we Americans move out west, or the suburbs etc. Germany does not have that, the people and culture are shaped from thousands of years of living in a set space with set people. If everyone is formal you know the social rules. This is a good thing when you will be dealing with that person possibly from your birth until death in the case of small towns. Germans have a hard time in the US with friendship because everyone is their “friend” until the need to lean on that friendship then Americans flake out on them. In Germany it takes years to get to be a friend, but then you are a true friend.

  9. Yes, I once congratulated someone at 11:58 p.m. on the eve of her birthday, and you would have thought that I had cursed her.

    Then the 'last year a monday' thing.

    And all the other points noted by others.

    And the fact that it took nearly four sentences to convey each thought ....

    Very German indeed, nevertheless very nice.

  10. Ha ha! Hilarious and so very German but cute all the same. Double windmill - heh.

    Yeah, the "never congratulate someone ahead of time" thing is really weird. I think they DO think it's some kind of a voodoo curse if you do it. And I love how some people HAVE to celebrate their birthdays on the exact day, no matter how inconvenient it might be. Or that they HAVE to make their 30th, 40th, 50th etc into such a big thing and throw a party for 87 of their closets friends.

    I also don't buy the reasoning that so many German cultural traits are based on the lack of space. There are plenty people living in close quarters in other countries who don't share these odd "Germanic" traits.

  11. Happy belated birthday! I share the opinion of those who see nothing wrong with wishing a happy B-day in advance or a couple of days afterwards. Since I come from both cultures, I once was a believer in the "bad luck" factor, but I have reformed. Birthdays are a very important occasion in Germany (possibly because of the low birth rate?????) Ha, note the many question marks....

  12. Haha, yeah that is a nice e-mail and so German. He meant ...

  13. that must be what my German looks like when I try to write.


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