Had a stressful week? Writer Steven Blum investigates a German hotline that lets you unleash your everyday trials in a truly unusual way – by hurling insults at complete strangers…
I set up a Google News alert for the word “Scheisse” and every once in a while, it brings me a truly amazing news story. Yesterday, for example, I was alerted to the presence of a German insult call center that advertises itself to potential customers with the tagline “Shit on us!”
“We train our customers to say things beyond words like asshole”
“Insult and abuse us – as long as you want!” reads the website for Schimpf-los (Insult Away), a German anger-management call center based in Berlin. “We don’t judge people who are angry,” Ralf Schulte, who set up the hotline with his partner Alexander Brandenburger, told a reporter for Der Spiegel.
“It happens. It’s natural. With us you can blow off steam no strings attached.” Schulte stressed that the hotline was taking the place of a spouse who “usually gets an earful” when their partner is stressed from work, even though “it’s not [their] fault.”
Initially, I was confused why such a line was even necessary. Berliners already yell at lots of things; why would they pay to do something they could already do to a dog, taxi or line of shopping carts? But the trained professionals at Schimpf-Los do more than just listen. They “make suggestions”. “We train our customers if they’re at the beginner level to say things beyond words like asshole.”
Do we need tips on how to be rude?
Do Berliners really need tips on how to be rude? “Service with a snarl,” could be the city’s tagline. Coming from Seattle, I was far better versed in the art of passive aggression. When I first arrived here, I avoided confrontation at any cost. One time, at an Asian restaurant in Neukölln that specialized in Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and Sushi, I ordered a curry chicken dish and was served duck with basil. That was fine, but it tasted like curdled milk, mildew and pebbles. “How is everything?” asked the waitress. “Oh, it’s great,” I said between bites. Don’t mind me while I turn purple and die of food poisoning in the corner.
The idea of swearing at a stranger intrigued me. Would I be able to direct all the anger I had at the world towards a single, anonymous person? I wasn’t sure, but I was up for the challenge. First, however, I would need to come up with some great one-liners.
The BBC has a language site which offers foreigners in Germany with a list of provocations for day-to-day situations, including “Redest du mit mir?”(You talking to me?) “Was guckst du?” (What are you looking at?) and “Willst du mich anmachen?” (You looking for trouble?) All of these would be helpful if I were auditioning to be on the German version of Big Brother, but I needed insults that worked on a stand-alone basis.
Practise your creative swearing in German
I called my friend Gesa, who told me to say, “Deine Oma masturbiert im stehen” (Your grandmother masturbates standing up). I found more on an insult website, including the old-timey, “Du hast doch nicht mehr alle Tassen im Schrank” (You don’t have all your cups in the cupboard), the oddly-specific, “Sag’ deiner Mama, dass sie wieder bei uns putzen darf, wir haben die fünf Euro wiedergefunden” (Tell your mom she can clean the house again, we found the five Euros) and the truly absurd “Du fischgesichtige Entschuldigung einer Verfehlung der Evolution” (You fish-faced mishap of evolution). If there was ever a down moment, I could always ask, “Wer hat gefurtzt?” (Who farted?)
In preparation for the call, I practised the lines on another German friend of mine, Sonia. “Ha! Oh my god, Steven! What did you just say?” she asked. “Did you like it?” I asked. “I think so,” she responded, suddenly in a quieter voice. “My Oma just hurt her hip and I don’t know if she’s going to be OK,” she said. “I just visited her.” I apologised profusely. What was I doing to my friends? I needed to shut up about this assignment and call the hotline already. I picked up the phone and dialled the number…
*This call costs one euro fifty per minute.*
Friendly operator (male, probably in his 40s): “Hello?”
“You talking to me?”
“Yeah I’m talking to you!”
“Guess what happened last night? I had sex with your mother.”
“Oh, was it good?”
“Yeah, REALLY good. And then I burned your house down and pissed on your dog.”
“This is getting even better.”
“You know… I don’t really like the sound of your voice.”
“I don’t like the smell of your hair.”
“That doesn’t even make sense!”
Suddenly, I felt as if I were on a dirty, sexy chat line for sociopaths. Was this person becoming aroused by our conversation?
“Go back to Germany!”
“I am IN Germany!”
“I know! Exactly where you should be!”
The call was going nowhere. I needed to find something I was actually mad about.
“I hate people on the Internet!”
“Yeah, I bet your mum has a YouTube channel where she eats currywurst and plays with herself.”
“What’s so funny? You think this is funny?”
“You suck at this! Would you like to take notes and try calling us back?”
“Yeah….I don’t know! Maybe!”
And then, just as quickly as it had begun, the call was suddenly over.
Therapy in absurdity?
Sure, it felt cathartic to yell at a stranger. The absurdity of the situation made me laugh at myself, and laughing at myself turned out to be the most valuable medicine of all.
But I’m not sure there’s any real therapeutic benefit in calling Schimpf-los. For one, the operators seem to be getting off on it, which – if you really had something to yell about – wouldn’t be the kind of compassionate reaction that might make you feel better. Instead, they lure you into making ever more extravagant declarations of contempt.
If it really is for a therapeutic purpose, I still can’t imagine anyone doing it with a straight face. Maybe I lack the disposition to yell at strangers. Maybe I really am a “Scandanavian Jew” as my boyfriend calls me. But for whatever reason, I just couldn’t muster the rage.
I guess I’ll stick to writing nasty Yelp reviews…
Swear card: flickr user mugley
Punk doll: flickr user 68663339@N00
Fingers: flickr user dmoola
Telephone: flickr user northwestnomad