How to Convince Your German Neighbors You Are a Thief and an Alcoholic (In One Simple Gesture)

Jelzin Vodka Bottle
Step 1: Cradle the bottle like a precious baby. Love it. Give it a name. Pay it an allowance. Children are the future.

On a Friday night not too long ago, I decided to make mixed drinks for myself and my lovely German wife. I call these drinks ‘Maschsee Mai Tais.’ They consist of a few ounces of rotgut vodka, an equal amount of bitter lemon mixer, a splash of tropical vitamin juice and a whole mess of fish-shaped ice cubes. (Funny ice cubes are the most important part, because smiles are in short supply after you’ve pickled your liver.)

fish shaped ice cubes in rubber tray
This ice cube tray is the one thing I have ever willingly purchased from IKEA.
Funny German Drink Mix Recipe - The Maschsee Mai Tai
I present to you, “The Maschsee Mai Tai.”

Without a single thought, I left our apartment and went to our local grocery store. There, I grabbed a bottle of vodka (or ‘Tears of the Russians,’ as I like to call it), went to the check out counter and paid for it. I took one step outside the store and realized I’d forgotten my grocery bag; I had absolutely no way of carrying or concealing my new purchase. Oh sure, I could have strolled home with a 5th of hooch clenched in my fist, but I find something unsettling about the people around me knowing exactly what I intend to do with my Friday night. “What are you all staring at? This is for cooking — I’m making a spicy vodka sauce over angel hair pasta. YOU’RE NOT BETTER THAN ME!”

Now, I was wearing a stretchy blue pullover at the time, so I glanced down at myself and that’s when genius struck: I jammed the bottle up my sleeve, cradling the base in my hand, and stuffed my hands in my pockets. Like an illusion of perspective painted by the Renaissance masters, the bottle was entirely concealed, and I finally had validation for those 4 years I spent in art school.

Below is a recreation of the subterfuge. Click one of the images to begin the slideshow.

I made it all the way back to our apartment building, but I encountered a problem I had not anticipated: one of the people who live in our building — a tiny Polish woman — had forgotten her keys and was waiting out front to be let inside. She recognized me and asked if I could open the door for her.

Now, my keys were in the right pocket of my pullover, sitting directly beneath the bottle in my hand. Trying to reach them with my left hand would have been physically impossible (though hilarious to witness). I panicked and looked at the woman for a moment, then proceeded to withdraw the bottle from my sleeve like an almighty bastard sword. Like King Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone. Everything seemed to move in slow motion: the woman’s eyes dropping down to the emerging bottle; her pupils dilating as she realized what she was seeing; followed by the ambiguous smile and world-weary nod of a woman who has just decided I hid this bottle up my sleeve because I stole it.

vodka bottle in germany
Step 4: Unveil your shame, take the ridicule and start mixing drinks until you remember nothing.

I transferred the bottle to my other hand, raised the keys and unlocked the door. The woman mumbled some words of gratitude, but I did not hear them; I was already halfway up the staircase with my baseball cap pulled low over my eyes, shouting for the entire building to hear:



53 thoughts

  1. Well, yep, if anything is going to convince your neighbours you are a thief and an alcoholic, that oughta do it! Made me laugh out loud, your poor tiny Polish neighbour!


      1. Oh, I love your blog! You always make me laugh. I’ve been a passive reader for a while now, I really enjoy your posts especially as I can sort of relate to many of them. (I’m not married and the nationalities are different, but many of the cultural differences and experiences of being in an expatriate relationship are similar!) :)


      2. That’s awesome, Gina! Glad you decided to write.

        Sometimes it like performing in front of bright lights… I can’t always tell if there’s anyone in the audience. Unless I can hear them breathing, of course. :)

        Have a great day!


  2. Oddly enough, seeing “German” in your blog title, and the German flag seems to trip the “Deutsch” switch in my brain- I read “rotgut vodka” and my brain went “Red good vodka? What does that even mean?”


  3. You might have already noticed – nobody gives a damn if you a thirty something, take a bottle of Wodka home – visibly. Not here in Germany, where people do try not even to notice a child sipping out of such a bottle … *sad but true*


  4. My friend once bought a 5 liter wine bottler from Germany and took it as carry on luggage on the airplane to Finland. She carried it in her hands and was very amused by the looks she got. P.S. the maximum amount of wine to take to Finland is 2l but nobody stopped her.


    1. My german better half is horrified and amused how EXPENSIVE alcohol is in Finland….and the concept of Alko-monopoly selling it.


  5. Excellent. I can definitely imagine the pause which took place between realising you were supposed to open the door, and withdrawing the vodka – such palpable social tension! Otherwise, a perfect bottle disguise – I’ll definitely be copying!


  6. hm… only a non-German would behave the way you did ….. us Germans don’t really care what the old neighbor lady thinks of us with a bottle of vodka in our hands ,,……. guess your wife should write a block “oh my god, I have an American Hubby…….” lol


    1. well I’m a German living in America , married to a British . lived in England for a while… and in the states for 17 yrs now. well I have a lot of days where I think oh my goodness these Americans ;)


  7. Reminds me of my younger days. My favourite item of clothing was a trenchcoat – yes I wore clothes underneath! The trick was the pockets. They were deep enough to conceal an entire bottle of acetone-like whiskey and with one in each pocket I was a walking party.
    Oh crap, I WAS an alcoholic!


  8. I can’t stop looking at those striped pants – with the exception wedding attire, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in anything but jeans. Where did those come from!?!?!?!


  9. I cried laughing. It doesn’t help that I’m an american living in Germany, and my husband is polish. I was totally picturing my Mother-in-law as your tiny polish neighbor.


  10. Loved the whole story and so glad you clarified that you weren’t wearing the striped pajama pants out in public. That doesn’t fly in France either but I’d totally rock the PJs back in the US. But then again, I’m weird. All the people where I live walk around freely w/their alcohol in full display. No shame! Not even at 9am when you’re in the checkout line with chips and three mega size cans of beer. See it all the time!


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