(The first thing I want to say, kind of like as a caveat to the following rant, is that Britain is getting ruder – and more racist – and Germany in general, and Berlin very much in particular, is getting friendlier and friendlier every day, and also, on a superficial level at least, less and less racist. Despite all the Nazi stuff, which is bad, and the AfD, but let’s be honest, has always been there. I fully expect to live here for another 19 years and, by the time I move home, Berliners are all friendly and smoooooooooth and Americans and the British are all gruff and snarky and narky. I’m fucked-up like that. I hate myself more than you ever can, that’s the greatest thing about me.)
So, people. ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY, THAN I SHALL BEGIN! I have been living in Germany, and mostly Berlin, for nineteen long years. I hadn’t been here for longer than two weeks, when a nice, fairly respectable-looking white German woman, kind of barged into me. Now, I am not particularly polite, not by British standards. In fact, if I had to, I would say I am slightly below average on the British politeness scale – which of course means, that by UrBerliner standards I am more polite than any born and bred Berlin type who has ever lived ever because I am telling you there’s literally orphaned wolves with better etiquette skills than these barbarians. So, fairly respectable-looking German lady barged into me.
“Oh, Entschuldigung!” I said. I wasn’t even trying to be polite – I was more surprised than anything else, and I was making a sound to acknowledge that the surprising thing had happened, and I was alive, and she was alive, and we were sharing this surprising moment together.
The respectable German lady barked into my face, in the most angry tone a stranger had ever spoken to me, even including ones in London who had literally wanted to beat me up: WHY ARE YOU APOLOGIZING TO ME, I AM THE ONE WHO BUMPED INTO YOU!
Welcome to Berlin, bitches.
I’ve lived here nineteen years, and I don’t want anyone who’s just arrived to make the same mistakes I did. Basically I’d say I spent the first half of my time in this city flinching at almost anything any white German native speaker said to me. And I’ll be honest, I thought people were lots more racist than they really are – I assumed that all that huffing and puffing and growling and jauling and performative schnaubery was aimed at me for being you know, a bit tinted/vaguely non-white looking, And probably some of it was, but I don’t think as much of it as I thought. I remember this epiphany I had at Netto – or perhaps it was Plus – after I had been living here a good six or so years. A granny was in front of me in the queue and she was sniping at the cashier who was sniping back. They were really enjoying tearing strips of skin of each other, shredding each other to pieces, I can’t remember why, it was possibly a fight about a Pfandbon or maybe strawberries which actually had to be weighed, that kind of fight. But they really spoke to each other like they were mortal enemies, and they really enjoyed it too, and I had this moment of enlightenment, this blitz of Erleuchtung coursed through my body.
THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT ALL RACIST, SOME OF THEM ARE JUST CUNTS.
I’ve got so used to the Berlin gruffness, the German rudeness, that when I get back to the UK, I’m always offending people – waitresses, people in the train. I’m too curt, too cold, too impersonal. But even though I am used to it, I have never truly embraced it, to be honest. And what I think is really pathetic, even to this day, what really annoys me – is the way people are literally proud of it. They are smug and proud of what is essentially a personality defect. I think it’s truly mendacious and just straight-up dishonest, too, the way people go on and on and ON and on and ON about how being as rude and impolite to strangers in the train (or even your partner who has just cooked you dinner sometimes!) is “authentic” and how to treat other human beings with basic courtesy would be “heuchlerisch” and inauthentic. How little must you know yourself, to think it is “authentic” to always imagine that anything that goes wrong must be someone-else’s fault – and that you have a moral duty to attack them for it? Armselig, echt, German people.
One thing Berliners delight in is this loud stöhning if someone is taking too long doing anything – at the kasse at Kaufland or heaven forbid, at the ATM-machine. But the truth is, you don’t know why the person “ruining” your day by dithering a bit at the ATM-machine is dithering. Yeah, they might be an arsehole – or they might have had a stroke yesterday, or found out their boyfriend left them, or be coming down from MDMA. You don’t fucking know. I mean, for God’s sake, they might be fucking lernbehindert, for all you know. It is actually just as INAUTHENTIC to assume they’re an arsehole as it is to think they might be having a hard day – and it is totally totally inauthentic to not realize that the reason you are angry is not because of the six, seven, or God forbid eight minutes you might wait wasting time for them, but because your inner child is screaming out in unmet pain.
There are lots of Old Skool-style Berliners – and a lot of white Germans, too – who are literally PROUD of their ability to be cruel to strangers – like it is some kind of achievement (which I suppose it is, in a way, I would die of embarrassment before I would be willingly rude to someone I didn’t know, just for the sake of it). But that’s not the worst bit – they aren’t just proud of their own amazing cuntishness, they are also contemptuous of anyone who actually thinks that maybe not everyone you don’t know yet deserves to be treated with total disdain. I have actually had German friends say to me “You don’t need to be so polite to the waiter, we don’t know him!” and once even “It’s so clever of you to be friendly with the photographer, and remember his name, I guess he might take photos of you again some day, that’s a clever tactic I never thought of it.” Like what weirdos, seriously. I am just polite to people I don’t know because it costs more energy to be rude than to be polite. Like, that is literally it. That is literally the reason. You would find this out if you had ever been polite to a stranger ever, but I guess you never are so I guess you never will.
I sometimes used to think to myself: God, what kind of country would Germany be if people got as angry about racism and sexism as they do about people taking seven minutes too long to do something in front of them?
But this is what I have some to realise: the Old-Skool Berliners and white Germans aren’t really angry, they aren’t really upset, they aren’t really feeling those feelings at all. Really, they just get off on that rudeness. They enjoy being rude. They are literally enjoying themselves. They delight in it. You know that gasp slash tut slash groan they do – come on, we all know that noise – that exasperated groan – they ENJOY it. It’s pleasurable for them, being openly cuntish in public.
And what they also enjoy: the reactions. They like seeing the way it makes foreigners, non-white people, polite women, disabled people, minorities etc, crumple and crumble inside, they like the power this gives them. But they also like the interactions they have with white people who think this is normal, that kind of snippy, verbally aggressive interaction which either ends in the cops being called or everyone saying they are going to phone a lawyer or one person saying “Nein, Sie sind das Arschloch.” They enjoy it. They literally enjoy the cuntery.
You know what they don’t enjoy? What they actually literally cannot bear? If you not only pretend to not notice that disgusting grunty tut noise they are making – but also respond in a really friendly, polite, almost upbeat manner. Now, don’t misunderstand me here, I do not believe in killing people with kindness. I do not think Ellen should hang out with George Bush, and I don’t think refugees should bake cakes and bring them to people on pegida demos. This is not killing people with kindness. This is driving white Germans to suicide with passive-aggressive politeness.
PEOPLE HERE ARE SO RUDE THAT IT LITERALLY TRIGGERS THEM IF YOU ARE POLITE. Be as shamelessly, tackily, gloriously American about it as possible. We’re thinking Cher from Clueless, Reese Witherspoon in that lawyer movie, or a young Jennifer Aniston on a mix of coke and speed and MDMA and a bit of ketamine. Big cheesy grin. Light laugh. They’re stöhning because you can’t find the right change for the Ticketautomat. Turn around. Now you go for eye contact and you giggle again. Roll your eyes like you think they’re being all bitchy and frustrated about Ticketautomats/life in general and not you in particular. Now this is the bit which will actually drive them over the edge: “Tschüssiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Schönen Tag noch!” It has to be Tschüssi and not Tschüss just so they are absolutely certain their stöhnen hasn’t got to you.
Passive aggressive politeness, it’s the expat’s superpower. Another secret deadly trick is for especially bitchy Berliners, Hausmeister, people who work in the Deutsche Bahn Reisezentren, etc: Get as close to them as possible and murmur as sweetly and quietly as possible: “Ich spüre das Schmerzen Ihres inneren Kindes.”
I suppose I should have, as well as giving all normal people tips on how to cope with the high levels of cuntishness in this city, have given the rude cunts some advice too (stop being cunts all your lives, people.) But I guess that will, now, have to wait for another day.