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I reply good-naturedly that I had decided to be adventurous that evening and had left it at home, adding that in any case, no one in Berlin would even know the meaning of crime.
He turns to me, a bemused expression on his face, and says, “I think a German would at least know the meaning of a crime…”
I stare at him for a moment, torn between puzzled incomprehension, and wry, inappropriate laughter, as I recalled the first rule of conversing with a German: avoid hyperbole.
For some reason, Germans have this peculiar penchant for interpreting every remark in a strictly literal sense. This is invariably followed by an infuriating inclination to rub it in with snooty condescension for what should be obvious, blissfully unaware that this may in fact be the basis of the joke.
This particular quirk likewise threatened the tranquility of my German friend and host, let’s call her Babsy, who endured several days of frequent exclamations of the genre, “Oh that falafel place was amazing, we so have to go back there before I leave!” and “Oh, we really should check out that corner restaurant sometime, they look like they have an awesome frühstück!” before turning to me one day with sorrowful eyes, admitting, “I… I… I don’t think we’ll have time to do all those things…” Silently chastising myself, I realized that she was taking these as serious requests, each time fighting an internal struggle over whether to reply yes or no, in case she was not able to keep her word in making it happen.
“For the benefit of the entire assembly today,” I said to my friends, “declaring that a falafel place is ‘awesome’ and ‘we really have to go back’ is just a way of acknowledging how good the place was, and saying that ‘we really have to check out blah’ is just a way of submitting an idea for entertainment. All plans are fluid,” — a chorus of relieved sighs escape — “except Sunday frühstück.” Smiles, and a round of applause ensue.