Intermission Etiquette in Germany
October 23, 2004 8:11 PM   Subscribe

Foreign customs: In Fred Plotkin's excellect "Opera 101", he describes (but doesn't explain) how many Germans behave during an intermission. This American is mystified and wants to understand more: "At intermission, many of them stand quietly, while others may join a large group walking around the lobby. This is an odd sight for a newcomer. The audience members form a circle or an oval and all walk the same direction around the perimeter of the lobby." Sounds a bit like a prison yard to me.
posted by grumblebee to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds more like a delicious Tom Robbinsy lie to me. "It is a well known fact that Nijinski had webbed toes", and all.

(Sorry, I can't help you at all, but that "0 Comments" thing always makes me kind of sad, and I know from experience that one person posting a comment might help move things along a little bit.)
posted by interrobang at 2:08 AM on October 24, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for making my post less lonely, interrobang.

Maybe Plotkin is outright lying, but he claims to go to operas all over the world and to have seen this behavior firsthand.
posted by grumblebee at 6:44 AM on October 24, 2004

Maybe it was the ring cycle?

posted by asok at 6:53 AM on October 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

I attended a performance at the Viener Staatsoper, and there was no such parade. Austria, however, is not quite Germany.

/me walks in circle applauding Asok
posted by mimi at 7:57 AM on October 24, 2004

I saw "Don Quixote" in Berlin some years ago, and there was no ring parade in the lobby at intermission that I recall. I think I'd remember that.

In German, Don Quixote is pronounced DonkeyShot. This cracked me up.
posted by Alylex at 10:37 AM on October 24, 2004

In German, Don Quixote is pronounced DonkeyShot. This cracked me up.

That's because they're using the French name Don Quichotte.

As for the alleged custom, if the book is otherwise serious and informative he's obviously not making it up, but it may be limited to certain opera houses or circumstances. (What it reminds me of is the Mediterranean custom variously called volta, corso, paseo, &c, where people take a leisurely evening stroll along a traditional course, by the sea or around a park or whatever.) You might write to Plotkin and ask for details; if you get 'em, post 'em!
posted by languagehat at 11:51 AM on October 24, 2004

Asok wins.

I actually have seen this in the US as well; if it's cold outside and people want to walk around, they walk around in the lobby, and human nature and crowd dynamics being what they are, a "current" is formed and it looks like people are parading around in a circle.

The lobby of the Wang Center in Boston is a place to observe this on snowy winter nights.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:25 PM on October 24, 2004

Thanks, languagehat. Is there a German name for Don Quixote?

Apologies to grumblebee for the derailment.
posted by Alylex at 12:46 PM on October 24, 2004

Response by poster: Okay, I'll derail further (am I allowed to derail my own thread?): a friend once told me he thought the British used stupid pronunciations for foreign words. As an example, he said they pronounced "Don Quixote" as Don Kwicks-oat (instead of the more "correct" Kay-ho-tay). Does anyone know if this is true. Maybe my friend just heard one ignorant Brit. How is Quixote generally pronounced in the UK?

Also, is Kwicks-oat really that absurd? It's similar to the way we pronounce quixotic, which (as I understand it) come from Quixcote.
posted by grumblebee at 2:57 PM on October 24, 2004

It's actually KWIKS-@t (with a schwa in the final syllable, more or less rhyming with "fix it"), and as far as I know it's still the usual UK pronunciation. It's no more "stupid" than any other anglicized pronunciation; if your friend is American, he comes from a country in which towns called Milan, Cairo, and Versailles are pronounced MY-l@n, KAY-row, and ver-SALES (for more examples from both sides of the pond, see the comments in this LH thread), so he really shouldn't be throwing stones. Unless you're going to go whole hog and say "ki-KHO-te," with Spanish vowels and /kh/ (as in Bach), you're "not saying it right." Of course, saying it "right" (the Spanish way) sounds ridiculous in an English context, so you can't win.

The eagerness of people to make fun of anyone who says or does things differently from themselves never ceases to amaze and depress me.
posted by languagehat at 4:07 PM on October 24, 2004

From my experience with British English, they're usually more likely to pronounce terms with a "Continental" accent (keeping more of the original French or German pronunciation, for example) than US English, so I'd be surprised if that were true, but you never know. Like any other culture, they do tend to get stubborn and weird over little idiosyncratic quirks, so it could be true.
posted by LairBob at 4:10 PM on October 24, 2004

LairBob, your experience must be with extraordinarily well-traveled and cosmopolitan British people, because my experience has been just the opposite. The people on the BBC World Service make some attempt to pronounce non-English place and proper names correctly, but in my experience they're about the only ones.

I know English people who are widely respected scholars who can, for example, speak fluent German but who nonetheless say "Back" when referring to the philoprogenitive composer J.S. or his sons in English. Or "Gluck" to rhyme with "fuck".

OTOH, I hate it when people have some kind of fake "correct" pronunciation they hew to, like "Von Goff" for "Van Gogh". It's not pronounced "Von Goff" in Dutch--it's pronounced "fvfun xxxawxxxx" (where "xxx" equals "throat-clearing noise"). And it's not pronounced "Von Goff" in English--it's pronounced "Van Go".

My mother-in-law, whom I adore, says "chilantro" instead of "cilantro". I think that she thinks it's an Italian word instead of a Spanish word. I would never in a million years correct her, but it always makes me cringe inside whenever I hear it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:36 PM on October 24, 2004

Well, maybe, Sidhedevil...I actually worked closely with British Airways for a couple of years, so while I met a lot of Brits, they were all, by definition, pretty well-traveled.

(And if that's the worst issue you've got with your mother-in-law, you can probably count yourself lucky--I love mine, too, but still...)
posted by LairBob at 5:57 PM on October 24, 2004

er... me-lan, kai-ro, ver-sayls, bawk, (no idea on gluck), van go, and si-lan-trow?

I never trust my pronunciation of anything. :-(
posted by five fresh fish at 6:57 PM on October 24, 2004

Back to intermission behavior. Opera, theater, and concerts are social, as well as artistic events, and as most European Opera Houses, Concert Halls, and older theaters have large and grandly decorated lobbies and hallways, it is customary to have 2-3 intermissions, when people not only discuss the performances but see and want to be seen by others. The circular traffic, though may harken back to courtly times, is simply the most efficient way to get around to see most everybody without physically bumping into them.
posted by semmi at 11:47 PM on October 24, 2004

In '85, I went to an Opera in Moscow. I was with a lady friend and we sat next to two gentleman and a lady who informed us that they were nuclear physicist from Crimea. They acted as our guides to the experience and showed us The Promenade (where it is as your described; walking through rooms, always on the borders of the room. A gentle meandering, more as a way to be seen and see others) and champagne and meringues.

Just a gentle social convention. Mini-constitutional, if you would.
posted by Dagobert at 12:06 AM on October 25, 2004

I also read Plotkin's book, and that visual description stuck in my mind as well. It just seems so cattle. From my experience, I've only been to Opera at NYC's MET and NYC's State Opera, and no such overt behavior. However, at the State theater, people do walk in such circles, but that's because of an oddly designed theater, where there are basically catwalks around the perimeter of the upper levels, like a rectangular balcony, spanning three seating levels, and looking down onto the Orchestra lobby. So yes, indeedy. Sorta.
posted by naxosaxur at 10:44 AM on October 25, 2004

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