Having moved to Berlin just a few months ago, I am forever navigating the minefield that is cultural differences.
I often find myself wondering about things such as “is the person replying to my email angry with me or just being direct?”; “is it really so bad if I cross the road on a red light?”; and “if I'm too slow packing up my groceries at the supermarket, will the cashier have me executed?”
But above all these, there is one question which has been in the back of my mind since before I even moved here – “Is this German person flirting with me over text, or do wink emojis mean something different here?”
I first began noticing this back in the summer when searching for a room to rent in a WG in Berlin.
The process was pretty standard for the capital, as far as I'm aware.
I sent out what felt like several hundred thousand emails, Facebook and Whatsapp messages and got about three replies (in reality it was probably more like 40 messages and 12 replies).
Although all this was pretty much as I had expected, what surprised me a little was the tone of the replies, or more specifically, the common appearance of wink faces after seemingly innocuous sentences.
The landlords I was in contact with seemed more than a little friendly, considering the formal nature of the exchanges.
Their messages included sentences such as 'there is a nice double bed ;)', 'the other tenants are very friendly ;)' and 'the kitchen is fully equipped ;)'.
Not only did this get me wondering what this kitchen is fully equipped with (and whether it is hygienic to store such things in a place where food is prepared) but also whether I had accidentally been searching on some sort of swingers flat search site.
To my untrained eye their texts seemed like outright flirting and I could be forgiven for coming to this conclusion, considering that in the United Kingdom and a number of other countries, a wink face emoji is something to put at the end of a text to show you are being cheeky.
It was only after I got a message from a very nice old lady that said, “yes there is a parking garage ;)” that I began to cotton on.
I started to realise that emojis, which I had previously thought were universal and difficult to misinterpret – sort of like digital body language – could actually be beginning to take on different meanings for different cultures.
In an attempt to save myself from future embarrassment, I asked a few actual Germans, and was told by one that they feel the wink face 😉 is often interchangeable with the smiley face :), particularly when used by those over 30.
This means those Berlin landlords may not actually have found me irresistibly attractive after all (shock horror), but were instead just being the regular level of friendly one would expect.
But to complicate matters further, a different friend described wink faces as “a little provocative but still nice”.
What's more, since the 'landlord-wink-gate', I have received texts from other people that I am 98% sure were meant to be flirtatious and which also included wink face emojis.
So I guess we're back to square one. The only advice I can give is to take context into account and, if your prospective landlord messages you saying, “you can visit whenever you like ;)”, don't turn up with champagne and roses.