Culture Diary English Food and drink Germany Language and Languages People

Abstand bitte!

I love Germany.  Let me make that abundantly clear.  However, there is one “tradition” here that has annoyed me more and more in the years that I have come to be living in this country.  It is: eavesdropping on private phone calls.

This happens almost every time I am sitting in a café, whether that be Starbucks, Maccy Dee’s or my local greasy spoon, sitting talking in English, either face to face with an Anglophone friend, or more usually on the phone.  What compounds my annoyance is that many of my friends tell me,

“Oh, they’re just practising their English.  They’re doing no harm.”

This is not accidental overhearing, but blatant, absolutely unashamed, eavesdropping.  Have these people not heard of Abstand, respect for boundaries?

People sitting in cafes near me, or even at another table, please note: my phone conversation in English is not an invitation to:

  • Put down you coffee, newspaper, smartphone, pide and do your best meerkat impression and turn eavesdropping into a national sport
  • Butt in after my call and tell me (in English) your mind-numbing anecdote about your neighbour who once went shopping in a British supermarket and bought a tin of baked beans, or once met a man from California, or watched a programme about litter-picking in Scotland, etc etc ad nauseum

Much as I’m often a sociable, affable Mensch, sometimes, like Greta Garbo, I just want to be left alone with my coffee, pide and Moleskine diary (other brands are available).

Luckily my good friend, Mhairi, told me her tried and tested technique for dealing with such “intruders.”  This hand signal, and with no eye contact.  Sometimes it causes offence, but it is guaranteed that they will leave you be.

My motto for this year is: Stay in your own lane.

Long live minding your own business!


By Samuel Peeps Dairyist

I am a Dairyist. I like typos. I live on Planet Earth.

2 replies on “Abstand bitte!”

Oh, dear. I have to admit, I can’t help my ears twitching when I hear other languages. I want to see how much I understand. Equally, when someone has a book in their hand, I’ll try to see what the title is, because I am a bookworm and I want to know if it’s a book I’d like.

I’ve just got some carpet fitters in and even though they are in the other room and I’m doing some reading, I can still hear their conversation. It’s hard not to.

Mind you, I don’t make it obvious that I’m listening to other people’s conversations. Maybe the Germans should practise doing that, too – making their eavesdropping less obvious.


Fair and valid point. I think I have been triggered by a colleague many years ago who used to actively eavesdrop on my work phone calls and then make some tedious comment, bridging on from my call, eg, “My cousin spent ten days on Bermuda and blah blah blah…”

Overhearing – fine. Blatant eavesdropping – bad. Sadly I do not have a good enough resting b1tch face.


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