1. You’ll get weird looks for smiling in public.
Americans in particular are used to smiling, especially when they’re feeling nervous or trying to fit in. When you move to Germany, you’ll be surrounded by an unfamiliar landscape, language, and people. The urge to grin maniacally at strangers to smooth over your frequent social faux pas may become overwhelming. Don’t be alarmed if you get the German stare back, however. In Germany, smiling for no reason is considered a sign of mental weakness.
2. You’ll start pronouncing your “Ws” like “Vs.”
Now whenever I order a Hefeweizen back home, I sound like a pretentious turd.
3. You’ll buy a bike.
Getting a driver’s license in Germany is an expensive hassle. In addition, you’ll quickly learn that biking is the best way to get around. Most cities have bike lanes and fairly respectful drivers, and you can bring a radler along for the ride without earning the wrath of the Polizei. Radler means cyclist in German — it’s a half-beer, half-soda drink meant to refresh cyclists without causing them to drive off the road.
4. You’ll discover that underground parties are the best parties.
Particularly if you’re moving to a smaller city, you may be initially disappointed with the nightlife. As you make German friends, however, you’ll start hearing about unofficially advertised parties happening after-hours at bars, warehouses, and abandoned train stations.
5. You’ll travel more.
Germany is located smack in the middle of Europe. Even the smaller cities in Germany have busy train stations, and there are several RyanAir and EasyJet hubs that can get you all over the continent for cheap. You’ll wind up spending a weekend in Morocco like it’s nothing.
6. You’ll get used to having a beer with lunch.
When your new co-worker orders a beer at lunch, don’t panic. Having a beer while the sun is still up is a totally acceptable and awesome custom in Germany. You often won’t even need to leave the office — work cafeterias usually have a beer fridge. If there’s a big football game on during the day, everyone takes off for a few hours to watch at a local pub, or if you’re lucky, someone will rig up a projector in a spare office.
7. You’ll get comfortable with smoking.
Cigarettes are anathema in the US, particularly in the Northeast. Not so in Germany — people light up at work, restaurants, everywhere. Your clothes will reek of smoke every time you come home from a bar or restaurant, and you’ll become totally immune to it…until your mom comes to visit you and is horrified by how terribly you stink after what you claimed was a “low-key night out.”
8. You’ll become a neurotic recycler.
Germans don’t waste. They go a step beyond recycling and trash — glass is sorted into clear, green, and brown bottles, plastic is separated out, compost is collected, and everything that doesn’t fit into these categories goes into a final bin to be hand-sorted.
9. You’ll lose your reliance on fancy appliances.
German apartments are streamlined, efficient, and meticulously clean. They also typically lack some American staples, like dryers, dishwashers, garbage disposals, and window screens. Many apartments also have a large bathtub and handheld showerhead in place of a typical shower. The first time you use it, you’ll inevitably flood your bathroom, but you’ll gradually get the knack of it.
10. You’ll quickly learn how to convey your need of food and beer in German.
“Ich möchte etwas essen / trinken” will be one of the first phrases you learn.
11. You’ll learn to both take and dish out the German stare.
Your first encounter with the German stare will be unsettling. You’ll be walking along, minding your own business, goofily grinning at strangers in an attempt to showcase your cultural humility, when an unassuming old lady will laser-beam you with a deadpan, overtly hostile glare. Germans are all about maintaining order, and the stare is one way that aberrant behavior is kept to a minimum. Anything vaguely abnormal or suspicious will earn this norm-enforcing gesture from whoever’s around. Pretty soon, you’ll be shooting the side-eye at young whippersnappers skateboarding on the sidewalk or putting their feet on subway seats.
Photo: Éole Wind