• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

How to understand the north Germans

The Local · 20 Jun 2014, 12:05

Published: 20 Jun 2014 12:05 GMT+02:00

Way back when, when SG was but a brand new flickering flame of romance, my flatmate said to me upon meeting him, "he is a typical north German."

I didn’t quite know what that meant because I didn’t know any other north Germans, just a lot of Westphalins. I simply thought, "if by typically north German you mean wonderfully handsome, then how marvellous."

When talk of visiting Kiel sprung up among my Westphalin friends, they spoke of the famous aloofness the northerners possess, the arm’s length they hold you at. Once or twice, I seem to recall, the word "cold" popped up.

At the time, I was struggling with the Münsteranian arm’s length, the lack of hellos to passersby – I had visions of arriving in Kiel and being frozen to an ice chip by averted gazes, being cowed by a whole new level of German directness, gasping for air in conversational vacuums.

Falsch my friends. Falsch.

Over the years, due to moving around the country a bit, and cohabiting with a typisch Norddeutsche, I have come to appreciate what being a ‘typical north German’ means - direct, self deprecating, funny, and cheery.

Yes, cheery. Schleswig-Holsteiners are happy people, they ranked as the most content Germans last year – I suspect it is the sea air.

They are energized by innovation and by projects that focus on communities. And they love the north, protecting their borders with the same vigour all Germans protect their regions and all they contain. They also love holidaying in Denmark, but that’s a different story for a different day.

One thing about northern Germans that became very clear very early on is that they don’t waste words. Perhaps this tendency to say things as succinctly as possible, or indeed in as few words as possible, could account for their reputation of über-directness.

Most Germans are, when push comes to shove, direct, but some regions are chattier than others, padding out conversations and interactions with the type of conversational fat I am more used to. The Oberpfälzers, for example, could talk under wet cement.

The northerners, however, have no interest in conversational padding. They have their own brand of directness that seems to spring from a desire to make themselves understood as quickly and effectively as possible.

Indeed, you can have an entire conversation by simply employing three key words - Moin, jo!, mmmm. The latter isn’t even a word – this is the level of conversational efficiency we are dealing with.

"Moin"

"Moin" is the only greeting you need in the northern parts of Germany – Northern Friesland, Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen, Hamburg, and MeckPomm - and you will have it bounced at you by all and sundry regardless of time of day and the formality (or informality) of the situation.

Often, when one is greeting friends or family, "moin" is followed up with "naaaa?" which roughly translates to "how’s it going" and can be responded to with a counter "naaaa?".

North Germans enjoy a good handshake, so the classic greeting will encompass a firm handshake while the "moin" is being passed back and forth. One has the choice of responding to a "moin" with a "moin moin" although only if you really feel the situation calls for it.

A little research reveals that "moin" also pops up in the east and north of the Netherlands, in Denmark’s Southern Jutland and despite its apparent connection to "morgen", it actually more than likely springs from the East Frisian word mōi, which means good or lovely.

SEE ALSO: Ten English words only Germans use

"Jo!"

Often, I will write SG a text containing some detailed information, not lacking in verbosity, and he will respond with a merry, "jo!" (pronounced, naturally, "yo!"). Just one word.

Or, a transaction in a shop will begin with a crisp "moin" and end with a rally of "jo!" being volleyed back and forth between the guy slipping the purchase into a bag and the customer tucking his wallet back into his pocket.

This peppery little syllable is most often used as confirmation, but can also make an appearance as a greeting, particularly when answering the phone to a pal, and also to wrap up a conversation.

Where we might get trapped in the endless cycles of, "okay then, alrighty, good, yep, okay then, sounds great, stay in touch, I will too, take care, yes I will too, okay I’ll pass it on, yep, good, chat soon, yep, yep, byeeeeeee", the northern Germans snap out a fizzy "jo! Tschüss" and end the conversation there and then.

"Mmmm."

This is a key one to master, because if left misunderstood, the "mmmm" can wound an English speaker, crippling their confidence in the hitherto-believed affectionate friendship. I first encountered the "mmmm" with SG’s mum and left the house certain she despised me.

Story continues below…

What else could account for a conversation ending with an "mmmm"? And an "mmmm" uttered, no less, with a slight chin-led nod with nothing following.

Say "mmmm" to an English speaker and we think you’re deep in thought and will soon deliver your opinion on the given conversational topic. We’ll wait for you to say something, to weigh in.

But here, the "mmmm" isn’t an indication the person you’re having coffee with is thinking about what you’ve just said, it’s more likely they’re bringing that chapter of the conversation to a close. "Mmmm" very often means "right. Okay then. What’s next on the agenda?" It isn’t a filler while you ponder, it is a punctuation mark.

"Mmmm" can also be used to signal a world of disapproval, in which case there is a slight tonal difference to the "mmmm" that signals a subject change. The disapproving "mmmm" hangs in the air, it withers nearby plants.

Sometimes an additional syllable is added to the "mmmm" and it becomes "mmhmm" and that generally signals simple comprehension and may precede some questions on the matter. This is the least terrifying of the "mmmms."

Liv Hambrett is an Australian blogger and writer living in Kiel. You can read more from her blog here or check out Liv’s book, ‘What I know about Germans’. If you would like your blog to feature on Expat Dispatches email news@thelocal.de.

SEE ALSO: Ten untranslatable German words

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
3 asylum seekers arrested for sexual assaults at music fest
The Schlossgrabenfest in Darmstadt. Photo: DPA

Update: Twenty-six women have so far made complaints of sexual assaults at a musical festival that took place over the weekend in Darmstadt.

Dalai Lama says there are 'too many' refugees in Europe
The Dalai Lama. Photo: DPA

The Dalai Lama said in an interview published Thursday that Europe has accepted "too many" refugees, and that they should eventually return to help rebuild their home countries.

Footballer Özil’s Mecca visit was unpatriotic, say AfD
Mesut Özil. Photo: DPA

When national football star Mesut Özil posted a picture of himself in Mecca on Facebook it received 21,000 ‘likes’. But Germany’s far right party see it is an act of provocation.

Star winger axed from Germany Euros squad
Marco Reus. Photo: DPA

Marco Reus endured more injury heartache with Germany on Tuesday - his 27th birthday - as he was cut from their final Euro 2016 squad, two years after missing the World Cup.

Every third child in Berlin now dependent on welfare
Photo: DPA

Child poverty is on the rise across Germany. But in the national capital and Bremen the situation is particularly severe.

Kraftwerk defeat makes Germany safe for DJs
A Kraftwerk stage show. File photo: DPA

Techno pioneers Kraftwerk have lost a near 20-year court battle over sampling - making the practice A-OK in Germany for the first time ever.

Hanover teen stabbed police officer 'on orders from Isis'
A police officer standing on a platform at Hanover main station. Photo: DPA

A 15-year-old girl who knifed a policewoman at Hanover's main train station in February may have been acting under orders from Isis terrorists, media reported on Tuesday.

Support for Merkel govt dips below 50 percent
Chancellor Angela Merkel (l) and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (r). Photo: DPA

Germany came in for a political first on Tuesday as a new poll showed combined support for Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government dropped below 50 percent for the first time.

Med rescuers share human cost of refugee crisis
A refugee boat capsizes in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast on May 25th, in an accident in which five people lost their lives. Photo: Marina Militare/Italian Navy/DPA

GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: A photo of a dead migrant baby pulled from the Mediterranean was published by a charity hoping to force European leaders to grant migrants safe passage, after hundreds were presumed to have died at sea last week.

100 years since Germany tried to break UK's grip on the seas
An oil painting of the Battle of Jutland by Claus Bergen, on display in Germany's Naval Memorial in Laboe, Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: DPA

100 years ago, the British and German navies met in the biggest sea battle in history off the Danish coast – one which has become as controversial and hard to make sense of as the First World War itself.

Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
National
The future belongs to these 10 German regions
Society
Pegida enraged by black children on chocolate bars
Health
New father's tragic herpes warning touches 1000s online
National
Bayer's Monsanto takeover would be 'diabolical': environmentalists
Lifestyle
10 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
Politics
MP recites explicit Erdogan bestiality poem on live TV
National
China beats Germany in readiness to help refugees
Hamburg
The headless sex doll that put Lübeck police on high alert
National
Pensioner claims to have found hidden Nazi nukes
Business & Money
Here's why Munich is worth 20 times more than Berlin
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that will stay with you forever
Technology
Church plans to connect with faithful at Wi-Fi 'Godspots'
Technology
Online hate speech can cost users thousands of Euros
Society
Bavarians in rush for non-lethal weapons licenses
Sport
Here's Germany's Mannschaft for Euro 2016
Culture
The Syrian pianist playing his way into Germans' hearts
The parrot who flew fast enough to trigger a speed camera
Technology
New law could let free Wi-Fi bloom across Germany
Politics
Berlin's plans to beef up the German army
5,833
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd