The popular conception of Germany is a land of rather dour, rigid, unsmiling Protestants with very little sense of humour. Nothing could be further from the truth as anyone who has sat in a real German bar eating and drinking with the locals will attest.
The Germans have two very distinct paths to happiness. The first is one not generally known to those who have not spent time in Germany. It is encapsulated in the word Waldeinsamheit, which loosely translates as ‘solitude in the wood, or forest.’
The word first made its appearance in the age of the Romantics, in the works of writers such as Hoffmann, Schlegel and Novalis who stressed a concept of oneness with nature, of long walks in the forests in solitude and silence. Still today this concept abounds in Germany and it is to Germany’s many woods and forests that the Germans go to rid themselves of stress and anxiety.
In complete contrast is the other German tradition of gemütlichkeit. This means a shared sense of happiness and is found in good food, good beer but above all, good company.
It may be a visit to a Christmas market, a gathering in a restaurant, the German national pastime of Kaffee und Kuchen – enjoying coffee and cakes which takes place every day at precisely four o’clock.
However, gemütlichkeit is most often to be found in a bar or a beer garden. Here the drinks and the laughter flow – it is almost unheard of to see a solitary drinker. The custom is that drinkers must clink their glasses together while maintaining eye contact – failure to do so results in seven years of bad sex!
So good food, good beer and good company, all together in the same place: the German shared ideal of happiness. Perhaps good sex also helps!
Singaporeans are fiercely proud of their tiny country which rose from a steamy, undeveloped backwater, a small insignificant part of Malaya to become a sovereign state and an economic powerhouse in the space of just thirty-five years. They are also proud of their racial harmony: Chinese, Malay Tamil and Indian communities all living happily together, all equally proud to be Singaporean. Mandarin Chinese, Malay, Tamil and English are all equally the national languages of Singapore and every government notice is published in four languages.
So what is the national religion of Singapore? Here everyone is agreed: it is food. A spicy blend of Chinese Malay and Indian cooking known as Nonya, cheap, delicious food is to be found everywhere in Singapore’s iconic hawker centres. Here you take your seat at a table, often outdoors, then walk around to select your dishes from the dozens of different hawker stalls offering curries, satay, fresh seafood, noodles, oyster omelette, barbecued chicken, fresh fruit juices – each stall offering its own freshly-cooked specialties.
If a table for – say – eight people is occupied by a group of four then it is completely normal and acceptable to join them. So perfect strangers will get to know each other, all while revelling in the pride of being Singaporean and of indulging in some of the world’s best cuisine.