Saturday, March 11, 2017

Things that Kill Americans but not Germans, and vice versa

This post is probably long overdue. Perhaps it will be helpful for Americans visiting Germany as exchange students or guests in homestays. I know there have been plenty of times during past visits to Germany that I saw something shocking to my American brain which I just couldn't understand. There are bound to be things I regularly do that seems strange - or even risky - to Germans.

I'll start with the things that are potentially Lebensgefährlich (life-threatening) to Americans.

Leaving cooked food on the stove overnight

After we've finished our meal and I've cleaned up the kitchen, we often leave the leftovers in their pot on the stove. We have more than once forgotten the leftover Schnitzel in the oven until the next morning. The heat is not on - the food just rests at room temperature, which is admittedly probably cooler than in most American kitchens. The first time M did this, it was the leftover fondue soup with pieces of tenderloin that had escaped from our forks during the meal. OMG!!! Meat in beef broth sitting out - not in the refrigerator - overnight?!? We'll definitely get sick if we eat that the next day!

Not true. For the noon meal on New Year's Day, we heat the soup back up again and have it for lunch. We've been doing this for years and are still alive. Truth be told, we've even done this in Wisconsin with the fondue soup and lived to tell about it.

Homemade chicken broth - same. M puts it in the fridge only when he remembers that not doing so kills Americans.

We're having Gulasch tonight for dinner. M made it last night (Gulasch must be made the day before!), boiled it for a few hours, turned off the heat, and left it. Tonight we'll heat it back up and serve it with boiled potatoes.

If cream is involved in the sauce we nearly always put it in the fridge overnight, but sometimes we forget. Again, still alive. And never once have I gotten sick after eating something that wasn't refrigerated overnight. (M has been in the army. Nothing affects his stomach.)

That's where our Rindergulasch has been sitting since last night.

Raw meat touching a surface that other raw meat has touched

I will say right away that poultry is not involved. However, even at the butcher we frequent, sometimes a raw pork tenderloin will be weighed on the same surface as a piece of beef, and it's not disinfected between (again, poultry is another matter). Aufschnitt (cold cuts) are always weighed on paper, so those never touch raw meat. There's a steel container where chunks of beef and pork are kept together to be ground fresh as ordered, and there's no problem. 

Americans are sure that any raw meat that touches a surface touched by any other raw meat will lead to cross-contamination and possible food poisoning or death. At home we have cut up chunks of raw beef and then on the same cutting board chunks of pork for Gulasch, and again - no problem. Gulasch meat is all pre-packaged together in the grocery store also - it's just not a problem. We have never experienced any ill effects from any of the above situations.

Not refrigerating eggs

The eggs in grocery stores in Germany are stored on shelves, and they are not refrigerated shelves! Madness! Eggs have to be kept cold all the time, don't they?!? They actually don't, as I have learned here. The fresher the eggs are, the less need there is to keep them cold whether they are hard-boiled or raw. German egg cartons have two dates on them: the earlier date is the date until which the eggs can be stored at room temperature, and the later date (about a week later) is the "best before" date. Whenever possible I buy eggs from a local farmer rather than from the grocery store. Our butcher sells eggs from a farmer nearby (and stores the cartons on unrefrigerated shelves!), so it's not even inconvenient.
room temp until Dec. 12,
and they're good in the fridge until Dec. 22.
(This is obviously an old photo.)

The absence of warning labels and signs

"Slippery when wet" is a fine example. When we were leaving the VHS the other day and a janitor was mopping the floor, I pointed out to my students that there was no "slippery when wet" sign in sight. Germans can figure out for themselves that a smooth surface that has just been mopped is bound to be slippery. They also don't need to be told "Warning: this large plastic bag is not a children's toy" or "harmful if swallowed" on household cleaners. You'll see fine print first aid tips for what to do if the cleaner comes in contact with one's eyes or if swallowed, but the "harmful if swallowed" warning is self-evident to Germans.

Another thing along these lines - when I started riding lessons at a stable not far from home, I simply brushed and tacked up the horse while the instructor/owner watched on my first day, and from then on she trusted that I knew what I was doing. I never had to sign a form promising not to sue them if one of their horses kicked me in the skull, and I was never given a list of barn rules to sign. They don't even have emergency contact numbers for me, so if I were to get thrown off or knocked unconscious, I'm not sure what they would do. I leave my purse/i.d. in my locked car and my car key in the horse's brush box. So M and I made a deal that at the end of my lesson after the horse is stabled and munching on her carrot, I'll send him the following text message:

"I didn't die today!"

And here's what freaks Germans (Europeans?) out.

Going outside with wet hair

I have never personally been approached about this because on the days my long hair is wet I have it in a bun and you can't really tell it's wet. But I have read posts from other bloggers who have said that total strangers warn them about the impending doom resulting from waiting for the bus with wet hair. Apparently one is at risk of getting a bad cold or worse. Tell that to someone not from Wisconsin.

Drafts (Draughts, for my British readers)

This is mainly a Swabian thing, from what I understand, but drafts are apparently suspect. At times I've been sitting in a restaurant or café on a blistering hot day with the window near me slightly ajar offering the faintest of breezes. The waitress will come over and offer to close the window if the slight breeze is bothering me, and while I flash my American smile and say sweetly, "Nein, es ist gut so", I'm screaming inside, "Are you mad?! This breeze is the only thing keeping me alive right now!"

On a hot, smelly train years ago when the windows still could be opened and I was enjoying the wind blowing my hair around, a fellow passenger jumped up and slammed the window shut with a panicked, "Es zieht!!" ("It's drafty!!"). I remember thinking, "Wait, that's a bad thing?" As soon as she disembarked I opened it so I could breathe comfortably again - earning stern and disapproving looks from others seated not far away.

The Germans love fresh air, but apparently not if it's blowing where it shouldn't. Breezes outside seem ok, and lüften is all but required; it's just drafts slipping through window cracks that are dangerous.

I'm not sure if it's germs, viruses, or evil spirits that come with drafts in southern Germany, but I have yet to get sick or die because of one.

(Women) Sitting on cold stones

Germans believe that if a woman sits on a cold surface outside in the winter, she will get a bladder infection. I'd heard of this from other bloggers and wondered about it, but then it happened to me. I was waiting for M outside his office one fall day and sitting on the steps to their front door. A woman came to the door to visit M's business partner's wife. As she passed me and I did the American smile-greeting thing, she said to me with great concern, "That's too cold. You shouldn't be sitting there!"

"Honey, thanks for the warning, but I'm from Wisconsin. I was born on a cold stone."*

*Total exaggeration, but still.

Crossing when the Ampelmännchen is red

Just. Don't. I don't care if there is no car within an easily visible 300 yards. I don't care if it's dark and there are no headlights anywhere to be seen and no witnesses standing next to you. Just don't. Be a good example to children, even if there are none around. If you cross when the red Ampelmännchen tells you not to, you'll either end up in the IC ward or in the seventh circle of hell. Save yourself, and wait.

Drinking ice cold liquids when it's hot outside

This doesn't exactly freak Germans out, but there's a general concensus that one is better off drinking room temperature beverages on hot days because it is less of a shock to your system. I think this is where the myth comes from that "Germans drink warm beer." It's not warm. It's just not ice cold. And because it's actually good beer, it doesn't have to be ice cold. Kellerkühl (cellar-cool) is cold enough since Germans don't heat their cellars.

One reason for this is also that German refrigerators are not as monstrous as American ones and there just isn't enough space to keep beer, soda, water, etc. chilled. Germans keep the liquids that require chilling in the fridge - milk and a bottle white wine, typically.

You won't find ice cubes in most German houses either, and restaurants don't serve drinks with ice cubes. The good thing about that is that you get more of the beverage, rather than half a glass of soda in a glass filled with ice cubes - which is nice since refills are not free in Germany.
What is there, like four tablespoons of actual Coke in those glasses?

What did I miss? Have you noticed anything that Americans find risky that Germans don't or vice versa?


  1. The food handling thing here definitely sqeezes me out a bit. I did make a vegan dish and left it out overnight and I didn't die, but I don't have the courage to do that with meat or dairy. Also, I see that people reuse jars AND lids for canning. I took a USDA canning class and they say it's a big no no to reuse a lid because it might not deal correctly. I still buy the jam from the ladies' groups but I feel as if I'm courting disaster, if not botulism.
    Regarding the cold rocks: my experience is linked.

    1. The link didn't work for me, but I found the post and added it as a link in my text! That was a fitting story. I know they're just being thoughtful, but it's kind of funny. I'll very likely get sick from touching door handles and the handles of grocery carts - but sitting on a cold stone? I'm pretty sure that's not going to get me sick. :-)

  2. Anonymous12/3/17 11:46

    Oh man! You are so right. I can't tell you how many times my German husband has tugged on the back of my shirt to pull it down for fear that if my back didn't stay toasty warm, I'd get a kidney infection!

    Two summers ago, it was sooooo hot one day, and we were visiting my husband's grandparents. The first thing his grandma said when we arrived was "Es ist heute so heiß!" And she fanned her face. So what did I do? Well, naturally, I went around and opened all the doors and windows. There was a lovely breeze that day and I instantly started cooling down. Boy did I get in trouble!!! Unfortunately, she has passed this ridiculous notion on to my husband, and he runs in fear of all drafts. If he's sweaty on a hot summer day, we CANNOT roll down the windows or use the air conditioner because if the hot wind hits his sweaty neck he's 100% convinced that he'll get sick. I have been near passing out before as a result. It's at those times when I say, "Get over yourself, dude. I'm dying here." It's horrible.

    1. I've heard that breezes cause stiff necks as well. I do think there's something to the over-cooling (with air conditioning) on hot sweaty days, but we surely use our a/c in the car. I think another part of the "problem" is that Germans don't have a issue with sweating, but Americans do (unless we're working out or playing sports).

  3. Oh, in my comment it should be the lids wouldn't seal correctly, not "deal." Darn autocorrect. Another thing that made my eyes almost pop out of my head was when we were learning how to cook a pork dish, the German chef tasted some raw pork to see if it had been seasoned correctly. We were then supposed to do the same. No way in heck was I going to do that! I don't even like being around or looking at raw meat. My cooking partner, also German, refused too.

    1. I already need to have a follow-up to this post. My husband thought of 3 more, and the tasting raw meat can go on there, too! I've been told repeatedly that it's very important to taste the raw meat-spinach-herb mixture of Maultaschen to make sure it's seasoned well enough. I have done it (and survived), but I don't know what I'm tasting for anyway. We got a good tip at our Swabian Kochkurs, though - you can heat up a pan and fry a small bit of the mixture before tasting it. This is what we do now!

  4. Raw meat touching other raw meat is fine. It's all going to be cooked together isn't it? So even if I cut it up separately it will touch as soon as I put it in the pan! Cutting vegetables on the same chopping board I've just cut raw meat on is another matter.

    My boyfriend once cycled through a red (pedestrian) light on a cycle path at about 1 a.m. A policeman was watching and he was actually stopped and fined. There were definitely no children around at that time! It is illegal though, no matter what time it is.

    Apparently Germans think reheated spinach is poisonous.

    1. We don't cut veggies on surfaces that touched raw meat either, even when the veggies and meat go in together also. My Shepherd's Pie recipe says to briefly sauté onions and carrots together, then add raw ground meat to cook thoroughly.

      At 1 a.m...that's brutal. The officer must have had a bad day. I think I've heard the spinach thing! But there's a ton of spinach in Maultaschen, and we reheat that... odd.

    2. Anonymous1/4/17 07:40

      Police imposing fines on bicyclists is not limited to Germany!
      My daughter, who went to college in Portland, Oregon, bicycling home from a friend's house at 1 am ran a red light on her bike because she didn't want to wait for a reld ight in a bad neighborhood.... Oops - the police who suddenly appeared issued her a $165 ticket!

  5. haha thanks for the extra tips

    1. You're welcome! Stay safe out there... :-)