First of all, if you want to stand out as a tourist, call it Oktoberfest. To Bavarians it’s Wiesn (Veesin). Not that you will find anything that says Wiesn on it. You just have to know.
Another way to show you’re tourist is to not wear the traditional Bavarian clothing. Dirndl’s for women, leaderhosen for men. Every store in the city sells these approaching and during the festival. You have no excuse. For ladies, how you tie your apron determines your marital status. Bow on the left means you’re single, bow on the right means you’re taken.
Opening weekend is always the most traditional. There are parades and speeches and they don’t tap the kegs on the first day until noon, though the tents open at 9. If you want to get a seat in a tent (which you do, trust me), get there early. We’re talking 7am. Get in line and wait until the tents open, then rush in and grab a table. It’s a mad house free-for-all. You won’t be served unless you’re at a table and once they’re taken, nobody leaves. You can sit at an outside beer garden, but you’ll miss out on the fun inside.
Once you’ve got your table, plan to stay the whole day. As more and more beer is consumed, the atmosphere becomes louder and more jovial. Everyone is standing on the benches (but never the tables), singing loudly and having a wonderful time.
Make sure to hold your stein not by the handle, but with the palm on the stein itself, handle over your hand.
Eat. You’ll consume so much alcohol over the day, you don’t want to get sick (the Germans never do). This ain’t no sissy Bud Light you’re drinking, and you’re expected to keep up. There are plenty other people who will take your spot if you don’t.
By the end of the night, you’ll be singing right along with your new best friends to all the Bavarian drinking songs, never mind that you don’t know the words, or even speak German.
(I call this the Bulgarian Death Stare)
The tents close around 11, but the festival outside goes all night. You’ll definitely want to walk around this for a little while, even if it’s just to watch the drunk Germans attempt the rides. They are a hilarious lot. I also recommend taking the Ferris wheel. You get a birds eye view of the entire festival all lit up that you really can’t get anywhere else, and it’s beautiful.
This is the largest festival in the world. Have fun with it! Who knows when you’ll have a chance to come back?