Heckled at the German market

Even more embarrassing than not being able to order in German at the market is getting laughed at by a vendor and several surrounding customers.

Spargel menu

It is “Spargel” season here in southeast Germany, which is when the white asparagus is harvested. Everyone gets very excited about the Spargel, and it seems to be on every menu board I pass. Chris had it at work and really enjoyed it, so we thought we’d get a few stalks to accompany our fish and rice dish.

The vendor must’ve heard us speaking English to each other, because he asked Chris what he wanted in English. Chris said we wanted 6 stalks of Spargel. The vendor, a jolly-looking man around 60 years old, started laughing extremely loud. He yelled out, “Only 6 stalks- no! For two people? Hahahaha!”

The two customers around us, one older woman to our right and a man to our left, also joined the vendor and started snickering. They tried to hide their laughter by turning away.

Spargel sold by the kilo

Apparently, asking for under a kilo (2.2 lbs) of Spargel is a ridiculous request that you should not make in public.

The vendor, still laughing, told Chris we had to get a kilo because anything less wouldn’t be enough. Chris said okay (even though we didn’t really want a kilo), but I agreed because we were obviously violating some sort of German cultural code of conduct and we wanted to get out of there quickly as possible. The surrounding customers were still chuckling at our faux pas.

We paid for our kilo and ate it for a few meals. It was very good, but I could’ve done with a few less stalks. I could also do without the heckling, so next year I will have to decide if I will forego Spargel season or eat a kilo of it like a real German.

A big plate of cooked Spargel


5 responses to “Heckled at the German market

  1. No amount of classroom and Pimsleur can prepare you for the real world, but, oh what an experience you are having! There is so much more to learn than just a language and it’s great that you’re sharing your adventure.

    When I moved to New England (from the mid-west), it still was a culture shock, in a different way. I lived in Agawam, MA and in the fall I saw signs everywhere “No Big-E parking”, “Big-E parking prohibited”. At the grocery store I asked, “What’s a Big-E?”. well, the laughter was a little embarrassing because I didn’t know it was THE event of New England.

    Don’t worry about the heckling. When I read the title this morning I thought you had a mean-spirited encounter and was a little concerned to read the post. Next time you go, find the vendor and tell him they were delicious and you want 600 stalks! And just start laughing.

    • Man, I feel your pain on New England. When I moved there I worked as a temp while looking for a job, and had to make phone calls to area businesses. I couldn’t pronounce half the towns, which was always a source of delight to the callees! 😉

  2. Welcome to German humor. 😉 I think he was just trying to make a joke about how everyone loves Spargel, a “no one can eat just 6” sort of thing. Of course they always have an opinion on how much of something one should buy, since they are selling it. 🙂 I’ve seen 500g bundles of Spargel at the supermarket so it’s definitely ok to buy less than a kilo.

    • Yes, according to the vendor 500 g is a personal portion, so perhaps that is for single individuals who still want to enjoy Spargel at home. He also told us it is 40% waste, so perhaps I didn’t peel enough off; there were indeed still some fibrous parts. However, I think the real reason is that the Spargel is supposed to be the “main event” of the dinner rather than a side, as evidenced by looking at the dishes on the Spargel menus. The traditional meal of Spargel with hollandaise sauce and side dishes of boiled potatoes and a few thin slices of ham was a bit of a surprise to me, especially considering that German cuisine is typically very meat-centric.

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