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10 Things Americans Learn When They Move to Germany

by Juliana Bilowich Dec 11, 2016
1. Breaking the law (accidentally) is inevitable.

Did you run the washer after 8pm? Did you blend, grind, or frappé between 1 and 3 pm? Recycled on Sundays? German society works as well as the machines it produces, but beware of disrupting the hive. Life may be regulated down to your morning walk (mind the pedestrian traffic lights!). Thankfully, prisons have been out of vogue since the 1980s, so the most you can get is an (arguably worse) reprimand from the school master-meets-bureaucrat riding up the bike lane you inadvertently — and illegally — strolled into.

2. Personal lives are personal.

What’s wrong with befriending the grocery store cashier, an unassuming American might ask? According to Germans, everything. Far from friendly, your everyday German will nose-wrinkle at getting to know fellow shoppers waiting in line. And while the average American finds it a downright shame to let a prime small-talk opportunity pass, German train compartment passengers seem to enjoy a solid, stuffy silence. The best part: the German language suspiciously lacks a word for “awkward.”

3. Luxury is the exception to the rule.

Yes, German work days are routine, unexceptional, and closed on Sundays. Yes, the career you build is specifically determined by the degree you earned. And, yes, your average German shows emotion about as often as the German sun shines.

But for all the regulations, this middle-European culture boasts a few peculiarly scandalous exceptions: 1) the Autobahn is as good — and fast — as it’s rumored to be, 2) a beer (or five) on the train is neither illegal nor frowned upon, and 3) don’t even think about bringing a bathing suit to the beaches you didn’t know Germany had. Luxury, while rare, is done right.

4. Silence is German.

Haven’t made any German friends yet? That’s ok, because the Fifth Amendment is your best friend already. For Americans adjusting to German culture, there is nothing more important than exercising your right to remain silent…when you talk, when you walk, when you chew. Things you didn’t even know could make a sound are too loud for German sensibility. But be honest, that airplane-free night sky gives you the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had.

5. Meals are more than beer and bread.

Despite Germany’s mostly accurate reputation as serving the most bland food on the continent, beer isn’t the only food (yes, food) that Germans get right. Sure, the idea of tall, blonde matled hops may have you paying airport prices the second you land at Berlin Tegel, but don’t forget to try the country’s more closeted cuisine: The Black Forest’s impossibly rich schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, with its creamy-chocolatey-cherry layers, is as delicious to eat as it is hard to pronounce. In the spring, even Germany’s Ruhr region, characterized by especially wimpy palettes, and monotone spice, will dazzle with fresh asparagus and roasted-potato-everything. Prost!

6. Energy, not the Euro, is the German currency.

Just give up now — there is simply no American shower short enough and no GDR-era radiator cold enough for the German energy-saving instinct. Don’t even think about leaving the appliances on (what’s a dryer?) or your car running at red lights. Energy excess is the 8th American sin, right after GMOs and the Iraq War.

7. Everything is grey…

A chilly, overcast day in mid-July may be perfect bbqing weather, but the weather isn’t the only thing that is ‘grey.’ While Americans boast the spirit of strong opinions, Germans are much less polarized, finding instead a grey zone somewhere between Israel and Palestine. The city squares will only occasionally host gay-marriage protests (either for or against), and the street corners rarely see a pro-life or-choice sign. Unless it’s World Cup season, Germany reserves its opinions — and its emotions — to somewhere in the middle.

8. Education pays — sort of.

Thought you knew something about European geography? History? No matter if you’re quick enough to name the capital of Luxembourg (trick question!), or if you still call Germany’s neighbor “Czechoslovakia,” Americans will never know enough about the European continent for German standards. Meanwhile, remember to tuck away any of your own standards for US geography. (No, New York City is not in Philadelphia.)

9. Life has three genders.

Goodbye, happily gender-neutral “the.” In Germany, tables are masculine, cats are feminine, and water, somehow, is neutral. But it doesn’t stop with der-die-das — the German language has more article declensions than types of whole-wheat bread, bringing any American to tears. Your German-English dictionary quickly replaces that American smartphone that doesn’t work in Europe, anyway.

10. You never know what you have till it’s gone.

Never eat Taco Bell when you lived in the states? Steered away from even caffeine-free sodas like root beer? Suddenly, you will write odes to mac-n-cheese and rice-crispy treats, and yearn for those open, free (gas-guzzling and boring) American horizon-highways. Whoever said you want most what you can’t have must have moved from America to Germany.

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