12 Culture Shocks Americans Have in Germany
When I moved from the Lone Star State to Germany in 2009, the lack of sunshine wasn’t the only change that took some getting used to. Six years later, these quirks still get to me, and they blow the minds of friends who hop the pond for a visit.
1. EVERYTHING is closed on Sunday
That includes Aldi and the mall. Stock up now because come Sunday, villages are post-apocalyptic ghost towns. But it’s not all bad; Sundays give you the chance to focus on neglected chores, like the three loads of laundry that will take two days in your “energy saving” LG washer and dryer.
2. You’ll receive a righteous scolding.
Germans are sticklers for rules and eager to point out when you break one — even if you are clueless. Don’t even think about kicking up your feet on the next seat while riding the train from Stuttgart to Munich. Mowing during quiet hours will earn finger pointing and chastisement in a tone of disappointment you’ve only heard from grandma. Oh, and the Polizei have no tolerance for ignorance either. I was pulled over and ticketed after four weeks in country because my dog was riding in the car without a seatbelt (no, that law was not on the driving test and, yes, this is a true story). Of course, the rules are the reason 80 million people live harmoniously in a country half the size of Texas.
3. Bacon really is a vegetable.
Pig is not merely a side with breakfast, a garnish on salad or the meat on top of meat. The potato salad or dumplings listed on the vegetarian menu may be covered in genuine crumbled bacon; Germans scoff at the likes of soy “facon.”
4. Customer service? That’s impossible.
A year for Internet installation, a three-hour wait for soup, and you have to bag your own groceries. Want to add tomato to your chicken sandwich? It’s not going to happen, even though the restaurant has tomatoes. Get used to hearing “no” and “it doesn’t come that way.” On the bright side, tipping is optional.
5. The 1980s are still cool…for the first time.
Get ready to jam to Paula Abdul with locals sporting acid-washed pleated jeans and mullets. Your village’s carnival is the epitome of this phenomenon, showcasing carnies and defunct 1980s fair rides from the States.
6. Everything is über clean.
The streets, the subways, the parks are spotless and beautiful because everyone makes cleaning a priority. While you hit snooze on Saturday morning, the little old lady down the street is stooped over with a hand brush meticulously cleaning the sidewalk. If you have OCD, you’ll fit right in.
7. There are no rules for standing in line.
In a skit about cutsies, comedian Dane Cook stated “Your shoe does not represent you” or your place in line. In Germany, you do not represent you as locals brush past like you don’t exist. You have three ways to handle the situation: a. stick your elbows out to save your spot, b. make a fuss, or c. accept your fate. Beware that the response to b is less than satisfactory. The perpetrator will turn around with a look of “There was a line? I had no idea” and continue on.
8. You always need euros.
Say goodbye to charging $1.50 on your credit card and hello to searching for ATMs. You’re going to need bigger pockets to carry coins; they’re actually worth something in Germany.
9. Homes come minus a few important details.
There are no two-car garages or closets, and the previous owners left with the kitchen cabinets, counters and appliances. Why else would IKEA still be in business?
This story was produced through the travel journalism programs at MatadorU.
10. David Hasselhoff is a hero.
Musical talent and outstanding acting skills in The Young and the Restless, Baywatch, and Knight Rider have elevated Hasselhoff to superstar status. Confused? Reread #5 above.
11. The autobahn.
It’s not one road with no speed limit but the name for every freeway in Germany. There are wide-open stretches with no restrictions, and if you hang out in the left lane, you will get your ass blown off by a sweet Audi or Porsche.
12. Germans are kind, generous human beings.
This one sounds contradictory to numbers two and four, but you shouldn’t be afraid to meet your neighbors. In no time, they will become the kind of friends who help you move, watch your dog and invite you to dinner without expecting anything in return. They put friends and family first, and are a nice reminder that you should too.