How to be German in 50 New Steps by Adam Fletcher Digs Deep into the Quarky-Goodness of Being German
By Andrew Cottrill . September 5, 2016
In new book How to be German – Part 2, Adam Fletcher manages to steer the reader as far away from stale cliché as a German would a room that hasn’t been correctly ventilated.
This is no “Step 1: The Goose-Step” book. Instead, Adam gets us deep into the Quarky-goodness of the German national psyche, building links and back-stories between his 50 latest steps, giving us (“the Ausländers”) a greater understanding of why these people we’ve chosen to live amongst are just how they are.
He’s not a man who’s smelt sauerkraut for the first time. This is the second How to be German guide and, as he said in our interview with him, “I think of the first as the Anfänger edition, with this as the Profi”.
It’s three years since the first How to be German book was released and since then Germany has changed. BER Airport, The Hamburg Philharmonic, the Volkswagen lie to the world about their cars’ efficiency… Could it be that ‘German efficiency’ might soon mean something completely different? The 21st century’s ‘Made in China’?
In this new edition, Adam Fletcher wades through recent changes to the notion of Deutschland, both good and bad, both at home and abroad, to see how they’ve affected the German psyche. Is what it means to be German actually changing, or is this stubbornly bent-on-tradition people destined to always remain the same – resolutely German? Either way, How to be German – Part 2 deftly navigates German life from an outsider’s perspective, celebrating the minutiae of ze Cherman way.
Whilst reading How to be German – Part 2, there were many instances when I realised his steps had perfectly crystallised thoughts I’d already had but struggled to describe during my time here. Some things had happened to me just the week before I’d read the book, the wounds still fresh in my mind.
Take Step 44: The Apotheke, for example. In it, Adam explains the uneasy relationship all who live here have with the Apotheke. He describes a scene I’d endured just the week before with such precision it made me wonder: is Adam Fletcher THAT good or is German life THAT predictable? I mean, he even got what I was prescribed (and the amount I paid) correct – and I’ve still not used that damn €20 nasal douche.
The step is accompanied by an illustration that pastiches the ‘The Godfather’ logo, with the red Apotheke “A” as the puppet master’s control. It describes the dominion the Apotheke has over all of us: one day, we’ll need something from it. And it will want a lot more from us in return. This is one of the many perfectly-apt illustrations in How to be German – Part 2 by artist Robert M Schöne, which really help to mould the book’s peculiar and likeable character.
Being a fellow countryman of mine (English), it goes without saying that Adam Fletcher is very funny (and How to be German – Part 2 certainly is a lark), but he’s also a great writer. In the book, his writing is measured and mixes this humour with knowledge, trivia and insight to allow him to create congruent witticisms as well as well-reasoned observations throughout.
Take Step 1: Poker Face, for example. Here Fletcher suggests that the reason why Germans limit their facial expressions (instead adopting “the Nationalgesicht”) is a fear that over-expressing emotions might trigger some ’20s-style “Hyper Emotional Inflation” in these poor people that would knock all their future social interactions out of whack. Suddenly a smile would be worthless.
And all of his images hit their marks well. They’re littered with in-jokes which keep the reader in the loop and fixed in the ‘outsider looking in’ perspective, and are punctuated by Fletcher’s use of German and oft-inspired, oft-hilarious self-made compound words and idioms, e.g. “Nationalmannschaftspatriotismusmkrankheit”.
Adam could have “just written a mean book, something like the Xenophobe’s guides”, and with How to be German – Part 2 he has managed to skillfully avoid this, injecting a load of warmth and love for the society he’s chosen to integrate himself into and call home.
You get the sense in the book that Adam wants you to see this as a bit of a throwaway book, just a bit of fun (there’s even a bit where his girlfriend describes his writing career as: “Well, it’s sort of not really, isn’t it? What you have is a hobby that’s gotten out of control”). But for every gag in How to be German – Part 2 there’s also a nugget of wisdom to be learned. And there are many gags. Laugh-out-loud gags.
How to be German – Part 2: in 50 New Steps
Buy your copy of How to be German – Part 2: in 50 new steps / Wie man Deutscher wird – Folge 2: in 50 neuen Schritten by Adam Fletcher from C.H. Beck.
Written in co-operation with C.H. Beck.