You’d think that something as basic as drinking water would be roughly the same across all cultures, but it’s completely different. For some reason that nobody can explain, Americans bought into the idea that we all need to drink eight glasses of water a day to be healthy. They even used to sell little personal water coolers that held exactly eight cups of water, just so that you could make sure you had had enough. Numerous books and articles have been written on the subject, and nobody can adequately explain where this myth seems to have come from. Doctor after doctor after bio-chemist after nutritionist says that it’s crap – that healthy adults don’t need to drink that much water. Nevertheless, we Americans really took the super hydration theory to heart. Bottled water is sold in every vending machine, water fountains are omnipresent in buildings and public parks, and a refillable bottle of water can be found in virtually every cubicle, on every desk, and in every backpack and diaper bag. As soon as you sit down at an American restaurant, you get a gigantic cup of tap water, and they keep refilling it as long as you sit there and keep drinking.
We Americans are used to drinking water all day long, whether we subscribe to the discredited “8 cups a day” rule or not. The Germans, simply, are not. A glass of wine is all they need with dinner. They (and I am speaking in generalities) don’t really drink tap water, they only use it for cooking and making tea and coffee. For those who don’t know, the Germans are all about order, cleanliness, and good quality. Accordingly, the German tap water is 100% safe at all times (it is tested many times a day) and tastes good – at least it tastes good to me. But, most Germans still prefer to drink mineral water exclusively. Unless they live in a fifth floor walk up and don’t want to lug bottles up that far.
Now, dear readers, German mineral water isn’t like a bottle of Dasani, or Aquafina, or Poland Spring, or FIJI, or any of the other bottled waters we are accustomed to in the United States. In Germany, the mineral water is full of sodium and almost always carbonated. I wasn’t really aware of the sodium content of German mineral water until I went to a very soy sauce laden Chinese buffet and ordered a bottle of still mineral water to drink. I was so oversalted and dehydrated that I nearly passed out. My husband and I (and most of our American friends living here) typically run kicking and screaming from fizzy water. Yet, many Germans are confused as to why you would drink still water. Pregnant women often crave the fizzy water, particularly FOR the salt content. Many German children refuse to drink anything but the carbonated water, and they are somewhat dismayed when somebody asks for still water. In many a German mother’s purse is a bottle of Apfelschorle, which is a blend of apple juice and carbonated water, and a sure cure all for any grumpy little ones. If you want a glass of tap water in a restaurant, you have to ask for it. About half the time, they won’t bring you any at all, unless you have to take some medicine – in which case they will bring you a shot glass filled with tap water. The other times, they will sympathize with the fact that you are an American and bring you a glass of tap water in whatever random glass is lying around.
I literally had this conversation the other day:
Setting the scene: I am filling up my water bottle at a fancy sink that dispenses filtered water of different temperatures. Since I am not making tea, I am filling my bottle up with cold water.
African woman who has lived in Germany for 15 years: Ivy! I thought you had coffee in that metal bottle you carry around. Do you really drink that water? Is that healthy? Are you sure you want to do that?
Ivy: Sure, I drink the water from this sink all the time. It’s good. In America, as soon as you go to a restaurant and sit down, the server brings every person a big glass of tap water.
African woman who has lived in Germany for 15 years: That is disgusting! I am never going to America.
Ivy: Well, they don’t make you drink it. You can always order another drink too, you just get the tap water automatically and for free without having to ask for it.
German Graduate Student: So, even children drink still water? Don’t children in America demand carbonated water?
Ivy: All children in America drink tap water every day. Very few children in America have ever had carbonated water – carbonated water would be hard to find in an American grocery store.
African woman who has lived in Germany for 15 years: Wow – my children refuse to drink water that doesn’t have bubbles in it.
German Graduate Student: Oh come on, you must have Perrier in America.
Ivy: Yes, but Perrier is only consumed by old people and pretentious douche bags and even then not as a substitute for tap water. Of course, there was one time that my parents were a little late in preparing for the possible arrival of a hurricane, so by the time they got to the grocery store, all the bottled water was sold, so they just had to get a gigantic amount of Perrier – but that was an embarrassment to us all.
The moral of the story is: When your German friends come over for dinner, pour a goodly amount of tap water into a nice glass pitcher and put it in the fridge for a few hours to chill. That way they can trick themselves into believing that it’s mineral water and won’t be so grossed out by you and your weird American water drinking ways.