In which I understand just how horribly I've failed to grasp German sexuality
Shortly after I arrived in Berlin, I noticed one cultural difference very quickly. I went out to bars and clubs somewhat regularly in New York and I always found the men to be rather friendly, and at times even aggressive. They would try to buy me drinks, or try to get as close as possible to me on the dance floor. It was flattering at first, until I learned how frustrating it was that I could rarely be out without someone bothering me.
It’s different in Berlin. Guys don’t offer to buy pretty girls drinks, maybe because so many are perpetual students (there’s no real incentive to finish, and studying is free, meaning I’ve met more than a few 27 year old Bachelor’s students) and therefore not in a position to buy pretty girls drinks, or because it’s simply Not The German Thing To Do. I’ve learned to like it. It feels much more equal, almost feminist in nature. I get to go out and do whatever I want to do, without trying to fight off the attention of guys whom I have no interest in speaking with. At first though, it struck me as remarkably asexual. I thought there was something wrong with me, because I was hoping to meet attractive guys in clubs who were as obsessive about house and techno as I am, and even though I was in these clubs more or less every weekend, I wasn’t meeting them. There were many instances when I would lock eyes and smile repeatedly with someone on a dance floor, but nine times out of 10, we would never speak. Germans, I decided, were either painfully shy, lacked the confidence to flirt openly, or were completely and utterly asexual.
There was one occasion late this past summer that changed my understanding of German men. It was a Sunday in July, one of the hottest weekends of the year. It was definitely daytime, because even though the lights in Panorama Bar were turned off, that intentional darkness couldn’t compete with the light seeping in through the windows. I had temporarily become separated from my friends and was standing towards the back of the dance floor, probably dancing at least a little bit, when a tall guy to my left flashed a smile in my direction. There was something dopey about him. I figured he could have been high. He started talking to me, and while I wasn’t finding our conversation terribly thrilling, I had no idea where my friends had run off to so didn’t mind. After a few minutes though, he leaned in and kissed me. I pulled away immediately and drew my hands up, palms toward him. “Whoah there,” I shouted over the music. “I don’t know what kind of girl you think I am, but I am not about to go to the Pannebar toilets with you. Alright?” This was my attempt at acknowledging that we were in one of the more drug- and sex-fueled clubs in Berlin, or anywhere else in the world, famous as much for its cutting-edge DJ bookings as for its reputation as an outpost of hedonism.
He was visibly startled. “Oh. I’m sorry. I was enjoying our conversation, and I just… thought you were pretty, and I wanted to kiss you,” he offered meekly.
I immediately apologised, and attempted to explain, as politely as possible, my apparently misguided theory on German men as asexual beings in the context of clubs, which is why it freaked me out so thoroughly that he would be so forward as to kiss me.
“Don’t worry,” he said, flashing that dopey smile again. “Your theory could be right. I’m only half German. Would you like a drink then?”