Ya know, Americans get a really awful rap about table manners when traveling abroad. I ain’t saying that it ain’t rightfully deserved (in some cases), but navigating your way around a restaurant in a foreign land could, well, be foreign.
As progressive as we Germans are, I’m sure we seem a bit foreign to the average traveler. So, I’ll help you figure out the simple nuances of eating like a German — even if you’re not eating traditional German cuisine.
Your first test is when you arrive at the eatery. You’re going to have to find your own seat (exceptions apply). Second, it’s not unheard of some stranger to come sit with you if the restaurant’s crowded — it’s an efficient use of space.
Don’t worry about making small talk — that’s definitely not the German way. Just eat your food and be on your merry way.
Next, see that basket of bread on the table? First rule of Economics applies here — no such thing as a free Mittagessen (that’s lunch in German), so chances are you’ll have to pay for what you ate. Just ask if you’re not sure.
You’ll even pay for condiments (ketchup, mustard, etc.) in fast-food joints. Although traditional fast-food in Germany is the Döner Kebap (served in a pita) — and never once have I seen ketchup on it. So eat that — and you’ll be fine.
All right, your food’s arrived, now what? Um, good manners say that you don’t eat until everyone has their food. Also, eating with your fingers — use forks & knives to eat pizza, will you?
It’s not bad form to eat “American-style” (that’s with the fork in your right hand, cutting with the right while switching the fork to the left) — it’s just not the most efficient way to eat.
And we know how much that makes a Kraut crazy, right? ;-)
Want to see a German get really indignant? Ask for a glass of tap water with or before your meal. You’d think you had just sprouted a third eye and a turned purple. Actually, I think that would garner less of a reaction. Do yourself a favor, if you want water drink Mineralwasser (sparkling water like Pellegrino or Perrier).
You’re fed. You’ve got your drink. Now it’s time to pay the bill. I sure hope you’ve asked if the restaurant took plastic beforehand. That’s right, even the best restaurants don’t always take your Master, Visa, or AMEX card.
And, never, never, never, leave your tip on the table for your server. It’s customary to round up your bill (usually 5-10%), telling your waitress or waiter what you’ll pay, then give it to them.
Just don’t ask ’em to wrap up your leftovers in a Doggy-bag. That’s almost as bad as asking for that tap water. ;-)