Our Man In Cologne


Thomas Greuel


June 1999


Talk like a Colognian


Inhabitants of Cologne are quite wordy. In fact if ever you get to talk to someone from Cologne, it takes some effort to actually get them to say something. Basically, people in Cologne like to listen to themselves talking, which makes any sensible conversation impossible. A person from Cologne will just start talking about whatever comes into their minds, and they can hold up this monologue for quite some time unless you stop them, which they appreciate only because it gives them time to catch some breath.

Stopping them is quite easy when you know what to do. In ordinary conversations you wait for your partner to finish, or to stop to catch some breath in between sentences. It doesn't work that way in Cologne. The people there can talk for ages without giving you any opportunity to step in, and they don't even seem to need to inhale. Physicality states that human speech demands the outlet of air. The capacity of the locals' lungs however, seems to be boundless. If you start questioning physical laws in the wake of encounters with the natives, you are wrong. It is not all that bad. After all, you can play the didgeridoo continuously for hours if you have mastered circular breathing. The people from Cologne are probably not all that professional in practising their conversational skills, they are just good at what they are doing. The secret to getting your foot in the door is simple: Just start talking. I know it is rude, impolite and probably against everything your parents taught you, but it's the only way. Start talking regardless. At first you might need to gather some courage because your partner will not slow down or make any attempts to stop, however if you continue you will finally get them to stop. One important thing you should always bear in mind: Don't expect them to listen, even if they are quiet. They will wait for a keyword that they can continue another monologue on and jump in, but it has nothing to do with what you are talking about. If you are now reminded of a meaningless discourse in the fashion of absurd literature, you are not that far off. And yet there is a meaning in these talks: The pleasure of hearing yourself speak.

To master this boundless discourse, the people need a large pool of phrases and wisdoms that very well illustrate the state of mind of the people from Cologne. The three basic ones are as follows:

Et ess wie et ess
Standard German: Es ist wie es ist.
English: Things are the way they are.

Et kütt wie et kütt
Standard German: Es kommt wie es kommt.
English: Things will turn out the way they do.

Et ess at imme joot jejange
Standard German: Es ist noch immer gut gegangen.
English: In the end it always turned out just well.

Now if these statements do not make the greatest sense, they are still quite universal and display the general attitude. There is no use in worrying about the past, present or future no matter how dim they might look as you have no means of interfering with life, and in the end it always turns out all right. Hence, the people in Cologne have acquired a carelessness and positive fatalism in which life is too important to worry or contemplate about it, and the only crucial aspect (of almost philosophical significance) in Cologne life is: How can we find another opportunity to celebrate? Needless to say that there are a lot of reasons to celebrate the people have found.

A good example for the carelessness can be seen in the way the people reacted to the approaching army of Napoleon in the 19th century. It is said that when the army of Napoleon was about to invade the city, the people of Cologne shouted at them: "How can you shoot in our direction? Can't you see that there are people standing here?" Meaning: "If it makes you French happy to invade our city, then please do so, but don't hurt anyone."

To understand the readiness to surrender the city to the French, confer the three wisdoms. Apparently the people believed that it didn't matter who reigns the city and that no matter what or who comes, the French wouldn't be able to change the life of Cologne for the worse. They were wrong. The few years under French occupation were by no means happy, quite the contrary was the case. However, in the end it turned out just well. Cologne is still there and Napoleon's army is gone.

The carelessness is also seen in the following phrase:

Küste hück nit, küste morje.
Standard German: Kommst Du heute nicht, kommst Du morgen.
English: If you don't visit me today, then maybe tomorrow.

A more elaborate translation would be: "Visit me today if you like. If you can't make it today, if today is not a good time for you, or if anything comes in your way, then maybe you can come tomorrow, or at some other time, if only in the end you turn up. However, even if you don't visit me at all, it's no problem as I know that you tried or at least tried to try."

This probably doesn't need any further explanation. The idea is that it would be nice to see someone, but if, out of whatever reason, it won't happen, then it's no problem either.

And finally the most crucial very basic phrase that explains the general disposition is:

Jeder Jeck is anders
Standard German: Jeder Narr ist anders.
English: Every fool is different.

The idea behind that statement is slightly more complex. It implies that everyone is a bit strange and weird in their own way. Since this applies to everyone it also does to oneself - and by acknowledging that you might be weird as well as others, there is no room for intolerance, prejudice or bigotry. You may laugh about yourself as you may make fun about others. Thus Cologne is a quite liberal city, where minorities are more integrated than in other parts of the country and, for example, homosexuals very openly contribute to the cultural life.

The train of thought might be something like this: "These homosexual people are into their own sex. I don't understand that, I wouldn't do anything like that, I don't like that. But then again I like eating my fries with lots of hot mustard, which is odd as well and somewhat comparable to homosexuality. Since I don't want anyone to take my hot mustard away, I guess I have to let them do whatever they are doing."

There is no deep concept behind this attitude. There is a huge amount of ignorance enshrined. The people might not know anything about the people they tolerate. There is no idealism in there, no philosophy. There is nothing noteworthy in there other then that the people want their hot mustard with their fries, and they figure that hence they have to grant others their oddities.


Thomas Greuel can be reached at greuel@geocities.com