My Life in Lederhosen: Flirten, auf Deutsch
Staring incessantly is an ice-breaker not a scare tactic when dating in Germany. German flirting signals might be an intimidating kind of bold, but not if you master the rules.
Since I have had several twittersations on the topic, I thought I'd just try and formulate some sort of go-to guide on how to flirt in German(y).
I'll caveat this by saying I am not qualified at all to speak on the subject. I am The World's Worst Flirter (TM), as anyone who's had to endure a night out with me knows firsthand and has expressed shock and disbelief at. "But you're so pretty and self-confident, you can just walk up to anyone and make him melt," my friends say. I am neither pretty nor self-confident enough to ever just walk up to a guy. Also, I am the pickiest person in the universe and it is a seriously rare occasion when a man catches my fancy; plus, I refuse to flirt if I don't mean it, so I literally have no practice at flirting.
The closest I came to flirting recently was when a friend-of-a-friend had me in tears of laughter over the summer, but that was a pretty one-sided flirtation on his part. I didn't have to do anything but laugh. And while the ability to make me laugh is hot hot hot, it's not the only pre-requisite for doing the no-pants dance.
If I were another, less-picky, person, this guy could've had me just for trying, because while I may have some serious biceps after all this time I've been spending at the gym, I still believe men have to do the heavy lifting (how not very feminist of me). And after learning that in Germany women do the work upfront, I have been seriously questioning my decision to spend my single days in this particular land.
I thought perhaps my friend was leading me on when she said this, but every single female I know who's dated in Germany has confirmed that women here do have the upper-hand when it comes to instigation. (They also confirmed that alcohol is not required in these situations, so I guess the Guardian wasn't all wrong, and I actually don't have to perfect the 'duck-and-cover' skills my English friends have honed after years of being lunged at by drunk Brits; let's be honest, though, alcohol could really help in this scenario.)
Anyway, this summer I half-assedly attempted this whole German technique of asking a guy out. I failed. And I don't think I failed because he wasn't/isn't interested, but because I could.not.do.it. Literally I could not get a single flipping word to escape my lips. I still can't and it's been months now. Ridiculous, I know. But rule one in Germany is that the women start (and continue) the conversation and when words fail, so do I.
Although I'm told that here it may not actually have to be a conversation; it can just be a look ... because eye contact is imperative while flirting. Significant amounts and just the right kind, too. In the US, this would be something akin to sneaking a glance, making brief contact then looking away, smiling shyly. That stuff doesn't work in Germany, where the icy stare of death is a common form of greeting and anything less signals that you are either a shifty-eyed foreigner not to be trusted or totally disinterested. I have been here for seven years and I still cannot get a grip on the eye contact rules and am therefore known by many as that totally disinterested American. And that's just at the playground – nowhere where flirting is the task at hand.
This shifty-eyed tendency actually comes in handy at bars, where I promise you, I am not out looking for dates but am instead swilling whiskey and singing Vanilla Ice with my friends – and only because doing this by myself at home is frowned upon. Because of my complete inability to make eye contact with strangers who approach me, my friends have resorted to calling me the heartbreaker.
While young men are asking my friends, "Zu mir oder zu dir?" (I'm told it's a highly successful pick-up line though I haven't personally seen its rate of success) or, "I promise to let you dominate me," (who are these strapping young gents?), I have earned my nickname because of the sheer number of times guys have walked up to me and almost immediately walked away when I don't look at them.
This is okay at pubs because I know I will never find Dream Dude in a bar, but seriously, I wish I could get over this for that rare occasion when someone catches my fancy and I can't stop looking over his shoulder or at his hands. Maybe you can try it and let me know how it goes? You know, like, is it meant to be a staring contest, trying to not be the one that looks away first? How long does this no-blinking thing have to go on before one just jumps the other one? If you've gotten this far, congratulations! For me, chatting up a guy plus making eye contact with him means only one thing.
But basically, if you make it this far, and there is sexual tension, this is the part of 'flirting' where you get to be yourself and tell funny stories and giggle a little bit. Not all that different in Teutonia. Actually, being Anglo-Saxon here is a definite plus because all that politeness training you get as a kid goes a really long way toward getting someone to like you. Nodding and um-hming while someone else speaks might normally be bad form in Germany, but in flirt mode, it's a sign of complete and total interest. Also, you have the added advantage of everyone knowing instantaneously that you aren't from around there and so the flirtee has fodder to keep the conversation going ("Your accent? It's sooo cute....")
Unfortunately, being Anglo-Saxon is also a huge disadvantage if you aren't interested at all and can lead to some pretty dicey situations, which I experienced a few months back when I, while working, asked a guy a seemingly innocent question (I'm a journalist. I ask questions for a living. I am not hitting on you if I'm asking you a question. In fact, if I were hitting on you, you would know this only because I am too dumbstruck to speak). This question turned into an interview, turned into a nice, friendly chat, which turned into him telling me how hard it was being a divorced middle-aged man and dreaming out loud of our future together, which turned into him trying to talk his way into my private space. Sorry, dude, that was just my being American. My bad. I'll be meaner next time. Which brings me to my final flirting advice, which is:
While flirting, choose your words wisely. This is especially important if German is not your first language. It could mean the difference between telling someone you're dressing up like a Smurf for Halloween or dressing like a slut (I will never ever get those two straight).
Also, if you aren't interested in a person, do not ever say, "I'm not really looking for a relationship. Just really loving being single right now." It just eggs on the belief that you'd be a perfect one-night stand.
I'm afraid, folks, that's all I've got for you for now, but I do hope it helps, especially now that fall is here and biologists say we should all be holing up indoors together. But really, this blog is all about the dialogue, so tell me, oh wise ones: how does one flirt in German?
Milly is the pseudonymous alter ego of an American expat writing from Cologne, home of Germany's most visited tourist site and Europe's busiest train station. After eight years in this crossroads, she's finally accepted she won't be leaving the country any time soon, even if life with zee Germans leaves her baffled most days. Confused musings about daily life in Deutschland, along with frequent vocabulary updates of the not-so-safe-for-work variety of German can be found at My Life in Lederhosen.
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