Ich werde ein Berliner

How to blend in wiz ze Germans

22. Allusive weekend chit-chat

Depending on your level of command of the German language, you might have been left more or less puzzled by a recurring ritual of elite German people — the allusive weekend chitchat. This ritual can usually be observed from Monday to Wednesday, or every day of the week if you are located in Berlin. It involves a group of two or three German people who happen to have spent the bygone weekend together, and another group of people (usually just you), who for some reason didn’t attend the party, club, or concert they went to. From Monday to Wednesday, your German acquaintances will actively seek out an opportunity to get you in a setting which is 1) so boring they can casually start a conversation and 2) where you are forced to listen because there is nothing else to do. A good example for such a setting would be a train ride, lunch, or waiting in line at the Genius Bar.

The ritual always starts the same way: Out of the blue, one of your German acquaintances will cleverly construct a segue from some trivial observation, like:

German person: “Oh, I see you are taking medicine, did you catch a cold?”
You: “Yeah, I guess, but nothing too strong though, it’s just Aspirine.”
German person: “Ha! I bet it’s not as STRONG as Jürgen’s WEEKEND medicine…right, Jürgen? He he he…”

Then, the German person will give that Jürgen a slight, tongue-in-cheek bump with his elbow, accompanied by a husky cackle and followed by an exchange of smug, knowing glances between your German acquaintances. Feeling intrigued yet? Good, because that is the whole point of this ritual. It doesn’t stop there, though. The German person acting as the emcee will now pose a few vaguely phrased questions to keep the chitchat going as long as possible:

German person: “By the way, Ralf, did you get THAT SMS yet, you know, from your new BEST FRIEND? He he he…”
Ralf: “No, not yet, maybe THAT FRIEND got cold feet?”
German person: “He he, maybe, so should I call THAT OTHER person we were talking about THE OTHER DAY to see if she can help with THAT THING?”
Ralf: “No, thanks, I guess I got too damn drunk on our new favorite cocktail with you-know-who…let us just leave IT at THAT, if you know what I mean? He he he…”
German person: “I don’t think DRUNK is the right word for it, but whatever you say. He he he…”
Jürgen: “Speaking of drunk, did I tell you about this crazy THING that happened to me on the way to the after party at that SECRET LOCATION?”
Emcee: “You mean THAT AFTER PARTY? Because somewhere in between I lost count of how many AFTER PARTIES we went to, especially after we met X at Y and did Z…”

This is the point where, at the very latest, you are expected to be so completely intrigued and impressed by your German acquaintances’ increasingly obscure allusions, that you can’t take anymore and finally burst into their chitchat, anxiously yelling out “Okay already, stop fooling around and just tell me about last weekend!”

Halt, Auslander! Think again. You will have to understand first that this conversation apparently does not serve to actually exchange information about past activities — after all, your German acquaintances have spent the previous weekend together. No, the scene unfolding before your eyes is nothing short of a highly advanced form of conversational combat with the objective to assess whether there is a person in the room who may have had an even wilder weekend. By teasing that person with an endless stream of juicy innuendo, German people try to force their prey to make that crucial error and ask a question about their weekend. Once they get you to admit any amount of interest in their wild weekend story, they have sufficient indication to estimate your weekend must have been less wild than theirs, and you are therefore the less interesting, more mainstream person.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Among other criteria, elite German people like to measure another person’s level of interestingness by the quantity and quality of their wild weekend experiences, and will quickly feel uncomfortable if there is an individual around whose previous weekend’s wildness factor remains undetermined. Through the copious use of allusions, they can keep the potential adversary guessing and give their own weekend a mystical, larger-than-life pretense. German people love these win-win situations.

How can you free yourself from this pinch? The best advice is to not respond to the teasing allusions at all, but keep a poker face until your German acquaintances lose interest and their conversation fizzles out. If you are able to keep it up long enough, one of your German acquaintances will finally turn to you and indignantly ask “So, what did you do on the weekend?” This means you have successfully broken their will to come up with more allusions and now have the upper hand. Play it carefully. From here on, the recommended way to answer depends on location. If you aren’t based in Berlin, an easy victory can be scored by just casually dropping the Berlin nuke:

“Oh me? I went to Berlin for the weekend…”

This will render any further explanations unnecessary, as it is understood among elite German people that a weekend in Berlin is a) impossible to trump in terms of wildness and decadence and b) asking about details would make them appear like backwater doucherockets.

If you happen to live in Berlin, things are not so straight-forward. As it is unlikely you will be able to exceed a Berlin person’s machiavellian determination to spend a wild and edgy weekend, the only way out is to say a white lie and tell a story how you went home to see your family in a spurt of spontaneous homesickness.

As basically all elite Berlin people come from rural areas in south-western Germany, and often foster huge self-doubts about leaving their families back in the outskirts of Stuttgart, this is the only way to earn some empathy from your German acquaintances and keep intact your reputation as an edgy Auslander who may be beneficial to hang around with.