How to Out Yourself as an American in Germany (In 2 Seconds or Less)

American Tourist in Germany
“Oh yeah, you blend…” — Image Credit: Antoine K ( — Subject to CC 2.0 License

Sometime in November of 2012, The Wife and I ventured into the university district of Hannover known as Nordstadt. Nordstadt is home to Leibniz University, where watery-eyed nerds go to study science and engineering. (And I bet they eat a ton of Döner Kebabs too. German nerds love Döner Kebabs.)

We found several pubs around the university and settled into one called Gaststätte Kaiser. The word ‘Kaiser’ immediately brought to mind Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects… and also a round, soft bread roll with a crisp crust. (Delicious!)

The waitress approached our table and I attempted to order beers for myself and my wife. What follows is our interaction if you were to translate everything — directly and literally — into English:

ME: “A pretty evening to you. We here… I mean, the us, would very gladly have two massive pilsner beers.”

WAITRESS: *Smiling* “Two, one-liter beers?”

ME: “Oh God. Um… yes. Wait. I mean one, one-liter beer to me, and a half of a one-liter beer to my German wife.”

WAITRESS: *Giggling* “Okay.”

*The waitress then turned, very obviously, toward my wife.*

WAITRESS: “Would you like anything to eat with that?”

THE WIFE: “Not just yet, thank you.”

Now, the waitress understood me just fine, yet she asked my wife if we wanted anything to eat. Clearly I had outed myself as someone not fluent in German. Perhaps I’d even identified myself specifically as an American, with my accent and proudly displayed ‘Oh God, My Wife Is German.’ t-shirt acting as indicators. But what I really wanted to know was, at exactly what moment — which word or gesture — had given me away.

So, I marched my sweet Yankee butt cheeks right up to the bar and asked her. She replied in English, and explained I had ordered ‘pilsner’; the students in Nordstadt simply order ‘pils.’ Nice, I thought to myself. It was a cultural outing, not a linguistic one.

I returned to our table and shared this bit of insight with my wife. She agreed with the assessment of the waitress, but went on to further explain the reasons for my outing:

“You pause before you speak German. Like, you take a deep, long breath, and hesitate. Then you speak very deliberately, very slowly, so people think, ‘Is he retarded, or just foreign? Oh, foreign.’ “


44 thoughts

  1. Hysterical! Let’s be foreign ‘tards together. I thought maybe you were outed when you held up the wrong two fingers for two beers… like in Inglorious Bastards. (PS My American politically correctness delayed my typing of retard… thought ‘tards was less offensive, no?)


  2. Can you be both retarded and foreign? Because I’m afraid that’s how I would end up looking with my rusty high school German. Every response I give would have to include the word “window” because that’s the word I remember!


  3. Oh, that waitress is being so hard on you. Guess it’s a “Pil” next time. Good to know, not that I’ll ever come nearly close to being thought of an a local. First, of course, I need to visit Germany first!


  4. My favorite way of outing myself as an American in Europe was by ordering massive amounts of alcohol (because I didn’t understand how much a ml was) or trying to rent skis for a 3 ft tall, 800 lb person (because I reversed the formulas for converting to metric measurements).


  5. Ha! So true – I can’t tell you how many times I have thought to myself (or said it to my husband after the encounter) “I’m American, not retarded!” (forgive my political incorrectness) – just because I don’t speak fluent Italian doesn’t mean I don’t understand what a modem is or that mine is not working properly (and a dozen other examples)!


  6. Retarded or foreign. It’s brilliant, if it wasn’t so obvious in our case I’m sure everyone else would be thinking the same thing. Or perhaps, they have just replaced the ‘or’ with an ‘and’.


  7. I’d like to tell you that this will get better, but if you and your wife mainly speak English, well, hang in there. Try to immerse yourself in any way you can, and know that children and the elderly will be nice and treat you like a normal person :)


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