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By Sandeep Joshi

Sandeep Joshi is a German Chancellor fellow from India, currently on a research stay in Germany, sponsored by the Alexander von Humbolt Stiftung.

2 weeks after my rather surreal first day in Germany, I had grown to feel a lot more comfortable with the ways of life here. Figuring out what train to catch, making sense of German road signs, hoarding groceries on Saturdays a la a squirrel preparing for winters.. everything had become part of routine, so fast that I myself was surprised how quick a learner I was, wondering why Mark Twain was so fussy about the German way of life. I was thinking even the language was no big deal. I could understand almost everything on sale in the local supermarkets. And I knew no German. Well, one can argue that you can tell most things in the supermarket just by looking at them, language skills notwithstanding… but you get the drift. I was settling in comfortably with my life in Germany.

Then came another weekend. Already fed up with the sandwiches and salads, punctuated in between by my far from perfect home cooking, I decided to go out eating this weekend. I had no company for the dinner though. Not that I hadn’t made any friends, I just wanted no witnesses to any potential embarrassments that might emerge out of my first ‘fine dining’ adventures in Deutschland.

“Mark Twain couldn’t have been so critical for nothing”, I argued in my own favour, as I made my way to the nearest tram station.   With zero German language skills and strictly vegetarian diet preferences, I wasn’t expecting my outing to go smooth. Street Donners and Mcdonald’s are a different game as there isn’t much conversation involved in the whole process. This time I was heading to a proper restaurant.

I spotted a nice little option claiming to offer “größte Auswahl an vegetarischen und veganen Optionen”.

“Perfect!”, I chimed as I made my way into this eatery.

I was greeted by a student-looking waitress and shown to a nice little table.

“What would you like to have sir?”, she said handing over a single page menu to me.

 

“So much for the größte Auswahl“, I murmured looking at a grand total of 3 pasta options listed under vegetarian.

 

“Get me some water first. I will take a minute to decide.”, I smiled at her impatience.

 

“Sparkling or still?”, she asked.

 

Oh the Germans! They have made even the water so complicated.

 

“Still.”, I was quick to respond. I could never imagine calling the sparkling soda Water anyways.

 

What a scam! Not much to decide from, as I read the 3 pasta options 10th time.

 

“But hey, the waitress spoke English and she even smiled. That has to be worth something.”, I consoled myself as I made up my mind in favour of a pesto dish.

First came my water, in a green glass bottle, with the opening sealed with a metal contraption designed ostensibly to show off the German engineering advancements of this century.

 

“Holy hell, why would you make a water bottle so complex. What’s wrong with the turn-to-open caps?”, I cursed as I could finally nudge the right metal knob that made the cork come off and hang on to the side of the bottle. I pour a glass to myself to celebrate my little victory over German engineering. I was proud I had solved another German puzzle, naively unaware of the events to come.

“What…?”, I almost said this out loud as I looked at my bill for the food. 6 Euros for the pasta I had and 4 Euros for the water.

“4 freaking Euros for water?”, my brain was having trouble making peace with it. “Excuse me. This must be a mistake. Water comes with the food, right?”, I enquired politely to the waitress. “No. Water is extra.”, she made it as short as possible, feeling no need for an elaborate explanation.

Maybe I didn’t look flabbergasted enough.   “What a rip off!!”, I was still sulking as I walked out of the restaurant, thinking I was scammed because I looked like a naive foreigner looking for vegetarian food in the land of Currywurst

But later that night, trying to find the best forum to vent my frustration out online, in form of a 0.5 star review for the restaurant, I learnt another lesson in the weird ways Germany functions. There is actually no free water in German restaurants. Not just bottled one, there is no free water of any kind. Not even tap water. The weirder part: Germans do drink tap water at home. Actually, almost no-one has water filters at home and everyone drinks tap water all the time. Even hotels give you no bottled water and instead just put a couple of glasses near your bathroom sink. BUT, asking for tap water in restaurants is considered cheap and you are advised not to ask for it. This is how it is. Plain and simple. No logic, but this is how it is. “There you go Germany. You had me again!”, I concede my defeat as I prepare to sleep.

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