The headline pretty much is the gist of any conversation I’ve had abroad when people asked me something about Germany.

As per Chutzpah’s request, I’ll do a list of things that are stereotypically German, but unlike “You know you are German…”-lists, I’ll try to add a few aspects that are typical but not necessarily stereotypical of Germany and Germans.

As I started typing this, I realized this would turn into an extremely long post, so I’ll convert it into a mini-series instead, covering one topic at a time until the majority of commenters begs me to stop. I think you’ll quickly notice that about 90% of typical and stereotypical German habits are the same as typical and stereotypical Ashkenazic habits.

For a start: The Good China
I’m not talking about the most positive aspect of China here (namely refugee immigrants that have opened Chinese restaurants with all-you-can-eat buffets for around 7Euros; a lunch recommendation for travellers that don’t keep kosher), but about an aspect of everyday German life that particularly gets installed in girls so much that it’s not exactly surprising to see a guest flipping over a plate or cup to see what brand the china is. Now, I understand that in a society where most usually drink their coffee from paper cups, where coffee mugs are purchased at entertainment parks or greeting card stores as souvenirs or little trinkets, and where many eat most of their food off disposable plates or out of disposable containers, an obsession with china brands must seem somewhat absurd. But I promise, it’s all in good health. Really. We’re all good. No OCD. All good. All happy. All healthy.

Indeed, Germans don’t so much differentiate between milchige and fleishige chinaware, but between “everyday” china and “the good china”. Reasons to use “the good china” mostly are family-get-togethers or hosting guests; increasingly fewer families make it a point to use “the good china” on weekends or holidays though. Why? That’s because, no matter how dishwasher-proof “the good china” might be, the lady of the house will insist on the plates’ decor facing inevitable destruction inside a dishwasher. Once “the good china” gets replaced by “a better china”, thus gets downgraded to “everyday china”, no dishwasher in this world could do the decor any harm.

Beware though, “the good china” is not simply just a spare set of china used on special occasions. Sorry, but what were you thinking? You won’t find your set of “the good china” at supermarkets or, ack, a Swedish furniture chain (though I’ve heard that chain’s opened classy concept stores over here)! “The good china” is a status symbol. Hence only the crème de la crème of chinaware is eligible to consider itself good china, namely Rosenthal, Villeroy&Boch, Hutschenreuther, Goebel, Winterling, Arzberg, Lomonosov (tea sets only), Wedgewood, Meißen, Seltmann-Weiden…

Similar rules apply to kitchenware, flatware and towels.

A girl will be equipped with her set of good china by the time she gets into kindergarten lest she ends up in shame and without something proper to set her dining-room table with (using the good china on the kitchen table would be a profanity of sorts)! The flipside of that is that in many cases, the decor will have gone out of fashion by the time the little girl has grown into an adult, but one can be lucky like in my case: my china as well as me stem from 1979. Just as flares are making a definite comeback (and that’s flares, not bootcut – already got a pair of tomato red ones), so do decors, and my china now could be considered rather fashionable. Just that I don’t ever really use it.

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froylein

17 Comments

  • Good morning! A miniseries might be a little too much information but we are off to a good start…
    I am more interested in how young jews and non-jews relate to each other at University or cultural events, given, you know, what happened.
    Is it like “Hi, I’m sorry what my great-grandfather did to your great grandfather but would you like to see my uncircumsized penis or my vintage lampshade?” or is more like ” DON’T MENTION THE WAR!”
    I can’t imagine being able to visit that country without saying some really politically incorrect and I have enough trouble with that in my own country!

  • “It’s not exactly surprising to see a guest flipping over a plate or cup to see what brand the china is. ”

    It was good of you to have restrained yourself from doing that when you were at my place for Shabbot dinner.

  • I can relate to having two China sets. Here in the US, I think twice about using paper plates when I’m expecting guests.

  • Chutzpah, from my experience the religious background doesn’t really matter so much, but Jewlicious readers Daniel and Rafi come from bigger communities with a more active religious life, so they might have different experiences. But overall, while it’s important not to forget the past, most people understand that blaming the generations born after WW2 for the crimes committed during the Third Reich is not only pointless but pretty much idiotic. I’d say that of all European states, Germany’s the one which most openly deals with the issue of neo-fascism. Generally, Europeans are more secular than Americans.

    DK, I know not to do this abroad. Are there secret messages on the bottom of your plates?

    Tom, you’re a man after my own heart.

  • Interesting. I’m not sure if froylein is referring to the Jewish community in Germany or Germany in general, but the fact that plates are the first thing to come to mind are of interest, since its a bit of history that one of the Jewish taxes was that they had to purchase a certain amount of porcelain from the royal factory. Apparently there are many families that still have pieces from those days as a sort of “negative heirloom”. Here’s a mention of this in the NYT from 1987 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0DE4D81E3AF931A25754C0A961948260 :

    Perhaps the oddest image of all, and certainly one of the most pungent, occurs in the section devoted to Moses Mendelssohn, the 18th-century scholar and philosopher who served as intellectual ambassador from Judaism to the Enlightenment (and vice versa). It consists of 20 life-sized porcelain monkeys; they were acquired by Mendelssohn over the years, in response to Frederick the Great’s decree compelling his Jewish subjects to mark their family celebrations by buying ware from the royal porcelain works.

  • Maven, that’s pretty interesting.

    BTW, I’ve just fished your comment out of the spam queue. If your comment doesn’t go through and the page doesn’t say it’s in moderation, please leave a line saying that something might be in the filter, so we can fish it out. We can get thousands of spam comments per day, so it helps if we know what to look for.

  • My good china is the everyday stuff that doesn’t have noticeable cracks or chips. We fish it out of the cabinet when grown-ups come to visit.

  • In Israel this behavior is labeled as “Polish”, though the best china people have is usually German.
    We have an everyday set, a Shabbat/Holiday set, a better Shabbat/Holiday set for when we have guests, and a Passover set.

  • Major china flipper here. Wait till the host’s back is turned. Flip, peer, flip. Not really a pretensious thing, more of a bad, curious habit.

    Mine is a set of harmonious, individual settings (i.e. 6 settings, each a different pattern) collected in Bavaria during the 50’s. Funky.

  • You know, you could have started with the ‘sandals and socks’ combination. Then again, it is more a male thing, and you probably might want to suppress the mere thought anyhow. 🙂

  • Ralf, I’ll get to that topic as well, but it’ll feature a few surprising aspects.

    I take it your background is German as your last name’s pretty common around here.

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