NEW ULM - What is going on? Are you in a rush?
Questions Germans may ask themselves when joining Americans for lunch, dinner or any meal at a restaurant. What the Germans call Gemtlichkeit - coziness, or in some translations "happy times" - seems to be an unfamiliar concept to Americans in terms of food consumption.
Everyone knows the universally known routine that is carried out when entering a restaurant. The main steps consist of getting seated, choosing from the menu, eating and drinking. But from there, traditions part in German and American culture.
Let me give you an example: eating out with my host family. Whenever we are on a trip or won't be able to eat at our house, we always try to find a nice restaurant to have lunch or dinner.
Breakfast is usually served at home. So we come in being greeted by an usher, who immediately shows us a table. The server then takes our drink orders. Coke, lemon soda, water, beer for the adults and whatever else we choose is served shortly after.
Meanwhile, having read through the menu, we place our food orders and wait. We have a little chat and exchange news until we finally get to fill our hungry stomachs.
And here comes the turning point. In Germany, after you have finished your meal, you just stay seated, relax and maybe order another drink so you can spend some more quality time with the people accompanying you.
In America on the contrary, the waiter or waitress will instantly bring you the bill. No matter if your glass is still half-full or half-empty, you pay and leave.
Having observed this habit in various places for a while, I guess, it's all about efficiency. Americans do not have time, are always on the run. But whoever has finished their meal or does not place another order, just leaves because the day consists of only 24 hours. So you better hurry.
Eating is not a pleasure, it seems, it is a necessary evil. In many cases, the servers also do their bits by already dragging along the next people in line.
This concept of efficiency is probably also the reason why fast food restaurants are so popular in the United States. I do not want to say that Germans are never in a rush - we are - because time is money.
However, the American way of eating does not quite correspond with the German idea of slowing down the daily pace when eating. We enjoy, take our time and try to escape the fast-moving world around us.
Even if some people of German heritage here in New Ulm might intone the song "Ein Prosit der Gemtlichkeit" at some point during a meal, they still don't seem to really understand the concept behind it.
It might still take me a while to get used to this efficiency-based habit in the U.S., but it is an experience I will always remember.