Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Mahlzeit! The Topsy-Turvy World of German Meals

Today, I had crisps for lunch. Yup, just crisps. Perfectly normal in Britain, seriously weird in Germany. (I might add that a sandwich or salad would actually be my staple.) Here in Germany it is still the norm for people to have what they call a "warme Mahlzeit" (hot meal) slap-bang in the middle of the day, i.e. at 12 noon. (There is a restaurant with an outdoor seating area opposite our house, so I can vouchsafe for the fact that coming up for 11:50 the tables are starting to fill up, and by 10 past 12 the restaurant is full)  a perfectly acceptable German "Mittagessen" (lunch) would be a very traditional meat and 2 veg option with lots of gravy. Schnitzel, Gulasch, Hackbraten would be on offer in most German restaurants, households, and of course canteens. Germans do not (yet) hold with an al desko lunch, and would definitely expect their work canteen  to come up with "Hausmannskost" (traditional cusine).

To make up for these hefty lunch-time eats, Germans tend to have a very frugal supper. Rightly called "Abendbrot" (literally '"evening bread") this is quite a sorry affair in most families. Germans dine early, mostly around 6pm. You could typically expect to find a few slices of rye bread, and a choice of one cheese, and slices of cold cuts on an average German dinner table. This would probably be accompanied by the ubiquitous "Essiggurke" (gherkin, but literally translated as "vinegar cucumber" which seems an apt description.) Supper is not an opprtunity to celebrate family life, dine à deux by candle light, or try out light but raffinés courses. It's a very pragmatic "eat or you'll be hungry later" affair. The bready meal would be accompanied by apple juice, or herbal tea, or indeed a fairly strange concoction called "Malzbier", a sort of malted ale but without any alcohol content. At the end of this rather uninspired meal, people will settle down to watch TV.

Even with a keen intercultural mind-set ever eager to find differences and cultural shadings interesting, I have to say that the German way of meal-planning strikes me as slightly odd. During the day, when most people are busy working - why would you interrupt the flow with a hefty sit-down meal, thereby prolonging your working day by an hour? Also, isn't it all a bit heavy - making you feel lethargic during your afternoon stint? And reversely, an evening (at least in my books)  is a time to unwind,  let the day pass by, have a chat over a lovely meal, accompanied by a glass of wine, and generally enjoy yourself. And most of us don't work on farmyards anymore, where we might be glad of a square meal in the middle of the day...

So whilst to me it seems an upside-down structure, Germans, even today stick to their customs. My husband's colleagues are genuinely baffled when they see him having "just" a sandwich at lunch-time, and will ask him if  his wife will at least have a nice meal on the table when he comes home of an evening. A very tradtional lot, those Germans!

1 comment:

  1. Finns are quite similar to Germans in that they too sit down to a proper lunch - however, people do tend to nowadays have salads instead of the gravy based meat & veg. And they also have a meal in the evenings! Just like in Germany people in Finland too eat early - going out at 11.30 to have lunch is not at all unusual.

    Great post.

    Helena xx