Cultural differences make each country unique; learning about them often helps us to understand others better, especially when learning a new language. We cannot separate language learning and cultural learning if we want to master the target language, whichever language that may be. Being assimilators of a culture enables us to learn languages better than those who are not cultural assimilators. I will just brush over the obvious cultural differences in Germany.
1. Cultural differences: waiting to for the green light at a pedestrian crossing
In Germany, J-walking (walking freely without obeying the traffic light system) is illegal and considered irresponsible. The lights help keep pedestrians safe and anyone who walks when the man is red only acts as a bad role model for children. The reason the Ample Männchen were created was to help children in the DDR in East Germany stay safe by obeying the cute little traffic light man character with a hat. Germans will really comment on your behaviour out loud if you choose to disrespect this rule.
2. Sparkling water
In the UK, we are not really into drinking bottled water as much as on the continent. It tends to be considered a bit of a luxury, although considering how much plastic bottles are polluting our planet and their devastating effects, I would say this is not a bad thing to stick to Britafilter. Germans have got it right, though. They have Pfand on every plastic bottle (due to their need to be recycled) as high as 25cents to encourage people to bring them back. The reason people for sparkling or bottled water is that “tap water is boring”.
3. Clubs stay open longer
This is a gift yet a curse. The idea of waking up on a Sunday morning and going to a club would be insane to most people. In Germany, particularly Berlin, where the techno / electro scene is massive, this is completely normal. In fact, it’s seen as a more sensible way of hearing new music because you’ve slept well and a lot of good djs tend to do sets during the day or early morning. In Berlin some clubs such as Sisyphos and Kater Blau are open from Friday night at 12 until Monday afternoon, sometimes Tuesday. You can just come and go as you please as long as you have a stamp, and you didn’t sweat it off. Apparently around 40,000 people go clubbing every weekend across the capital.
4. The handshake greeting
Just don’t try to kiss a German on the cheek when you first meet them. This lack of body contact can be great for introverts, and also appears a bit formal. I like it, as long as you don’t get a weak hand handshake. After seeing each other a few times people loosen up a little and even one or two kisses on the cheek is fine.
5. Supermarkets are closed on Sundays
This is something I have almost gotten used to after two years of living here. Spaetis remain open, but all supermarkets, retail stores, banks, nail salons, shopping centres etc. are closed. On Sundays you can buy flowers or simply go out for food if your fridge is empty. In Munich it’s even worse – some of my friends said when there is a bank holiday which falls at the weekend you are just supposed to get organised and do your shopping to survive those 2-3 days.
6. Germans like to save money and rent houses rather than buying
Schulden are bad. VERY bad. Do not even think about buying anything on credit, it simple is irresponsible. Germans are brilliant with money (wonder if they taught them that in school?) and most rent houses so they can pack everything up and move when they please. Efficient in terms of logic, but recently more have been buying houses/apartments, especially as rent prices in Berlin are continually increasing(sigh).
7. Recycling is important
The majority of Germans separate plastic, paper, tin, glass and even organic waste. Although it’s not legally required or pflicht to do so, many feel naturally responsible to recycle, simply because everyone else does. The Pfand system also encourages people to be more conscious of the need to recycle. A plastic bottle has a deposit of 15-25 cents, a beer bottle 8cents and cans/glass jars 15-25 cents. By using the Pfandmachine in a supermarket, you get a receipt which you can use to exchange it for cash or get money off your shopping bill. A strange fact about Pfandflaschen: if you throw a Pfandflasche into a public bin, it officially belongs to the state. If a homeless person takes it out of the bin, it is technically stealing from the state. Fritz-Cola has chosen to include the sign ‘Pfand gehört daneben‘ (Place bottles with a deposit next to bin).
This is a cliché but also very accurate cultural difference. I consider this a very important cultural difference which an expat in Germany should know. Most Germans consider 5 minutes too late, especially if it is an appointment. Those who show up 10 minutes late are considered unreliable; most would think that a person who arrives late does not take things seriously. The best way to annoy a German is to show up late (5-10 minutes, or worse, even more) and pretend like it is not important. A definite no-go! Most Germans leave with enough time to make their journey, but also taking into calculation that they want to arrive 5 minutes beforehand.
9. Drinking ages are different
“Minors 16 years of age and older may drink undistilled alcoholic beverages, such as wine and beer, without accompaniment, and Adults (18 and older) may drink distilled spirits without restriction as well.” This is ideal, because people have the opportunity to drink beer and wine at a young age. It means that alcohol isn’t so exciting, it normalises drinkings and therefore people get over the fact they can drink by the time they reach 18. Obviously this does not mean everyone behaves themselves but it does make a difference in terms of the number of fights/hospitalisations.
10. Public transport is essential
Public transport in Berlin, especially, is good although people complain about the BVG incessantly. There is the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, Regionalbahn, Ringbahn, trams and buses. We couldn’t be more spoiled for choice! Tickets are reasonably cheap (2,70€ for a single route and 7€ for a daypass, 3,30€ to the airport) which makes Berlin very accessible and ideal for younger people. Germans also mainly use public transport rather than owning a car, and even prefer to bike to avoid paying a monthly ticket. Very eco.
Which cultural differences were you unaware of when you came to Germany as an expat? Is German culture very different to yours, and if yes, do you like it?
Let me know what you think in the comments!