Guest Post – Top 5 Things You Get Asked in Berlin

Today’s post is a guest post from another Canadian writer in Berlin, Sunita Le Gallou. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It definitely rings true to me!

Top 5 Things You Get Asked in Berlin

By Sunita Le Gallou

You know the feeling – you’re at the bar, asking for a, “Pilsner bitte,” and someone recognizes you as another English speaking expat. Brace yourself, because if you’re new to Berlin, you’re about to have a series of very repetitive conversations. It goes something like this:

1. “Where are you from?”

A common opener when residing in a city with a very loose definition of “local”. Ostensibly to stimulate that rather non-Germanic concept of small talk, chatter about country of origin is really so we can all make stereotypical assumptions about each other, kind of like when you found out someone’s major in University.

If you meet someone actually from Berlin, the correct response is, “Wow, one of the few!” and then grab onto this leprechaun, because they’re tricky to spot in the wild.

2. “How long have you been here?”

Like traveling, PhD programs, or veganism, there is an implied hierarchy here. He who hath stuck it out longest wins, or is currently awaiting extradition to his home country.

Whether you’re answering in weeks, months, or years, you can get ready for the next question, which is almost surely:

3. “So what brought you to Berlin?”

Motivation is a tricky topic, as everyone who’s had to explain something to mom and dad knows. Making it easier, most youthful expats in Berlin fall into one of two classes: the artists and the computer programmers. If you came for a job, you’re the latter. If you came to avoid a job, probably the former.

But if you are among the creative class, well-intentioned strangers might not realize they’ve just asked you to spill your most cherished, fearful hopes and dreams while standing in line for a beer. “Oh, writing my novel,” is a hard line to toss out airily, but with practice you can pull off a poker face.

(Hint: It’s much easier to pretend to be an exchange student, if you’re reasonably certain you’ll never see this person again. Bonus points for obscure majors, like Greek and Roman studies.)

4. “Do you speak German?”

Almost always asked by people who themselves do not. They feel guilty and are trying to assuage said guilt by reassuring themselves that no-one else bothers to learn it either. I know this because I should probably be arrested for how bad my German is.

5. “Hey, are you on Facebook?”

Asking for a phone number is so 2004, and European mobile numbers are longer than credit cards, but that’s what the interwebs are for – stalking. And building up your friend list into the thousands with people you have only met once.
Now I may have walked you through 99% of all the introductory conversations you will have in Berlin, but the rest is a total wild-card! In Berlin, you might find yourself discussing anything from old Simpsons episodes to wind-farm energy policies, preferably in the midst of a techno-party/art installation/ poetry slam. How about you – what’s the best late-night conversation you’ve had with a stranger?

Photo Credit: MrHaytch at

One thought on “Guest Post – Top 5 Things You Get Asked in Berlin

  1. Nice one. With a few variations (“Do you speak -insert local language-?) this is the ultimate top 5 of all casual encounter conversations. I’m frankly quite bored and I really wish I could start a new trend. Hey there. What do you normally eat for breakfast? And what are your views on the catholic church? Should wrestling still be an Olympic sport?

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