Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].
Every other day I get yelled at by some German (usually a man) for accidentally brushing a car while biking, crossing on red in front of a small child or merely speaking English loudly in a public place. What is wrong with these people? How should I react to them? “Fick dich”? Or would it just confirm to them that I am the illiterate subhuman piece of shit they suspect me of being?
– Lucy Charwick
Hans-Torsten: When responding to the Shouting German – often an over-40 male – staying calm is essential. Turning into a hysterical Ausländerin at the flip of a switch will only give him immense pleasure. Sputtering “Leck mich am Arsch!” (“lick my arse!”) doesn’t do the trick.
A friend of mine from Hamburg believes that native Berliners are a submissive breed – thanks to Prussia’s militaristic society – who need to be reminded of their place in the social hierarchy. He says that a cold-blooded “Entschuldigung, und wer sind Sie?” (“Excuse me, and who are you?”) uttered with confidence directly in your offender’s face is enough to get him to run off with his tail between his legs.
Sometimes it might also help to evoke previous eras of German history: “Jawohl, Herr Blockwart!” is a good retort to fling at the neighbour lecturing you about your insufficient recycling skills. During Germany’s darkest historical period, the Blockwart was the resident assigned by the Nazis to monitor people in his building.
Playing polite and dumb can really put shouters off guard: “Entschuldigung, ich habe Sie nicht verstanden.” This could have the effect of causing them to walk off in a huff, mumbling to themselves.
A common, more aggressive put-down that should always be within reach in your linguistic arsenal is “Sie können mich mal!” (“You can **** me!”, with the omitted word left to the listener’s imagination). it will help you vent rage, without resorting to swearing.
But if you feel compelled to respond with an arse-themed expletive, say “Arschgeige!” (“ass violin”) with a big smile and walk away, feeling happily integrated.
Originally published in issue #115, April 2013