The Do's and Don'ts in Germany
A few things come to mind when we think of American culture: BBQ, high school and college sports, movies, apple pie! The USA is a very large country - you can drive for several hours in one direction, and still be in the same state. This comes with a certain experience of wide-open spaces, big cities, big cars, and big billboards.
Many Americans who have visited or moved to Germany have shared that one of the first experiences was everything felt smaller. The streets are smaller, the cars are smaller, the portions are smaller. And, depending on where you live, you can drive just a few hours and cross three countries.
Many parts of a country's culture are best experienced with an unbiased, open mind. But there are certain "do's and don'ts" that are helpful to know beforehand.
Each country has traditions and customs that are immediately identifiable. And the same way that there are things people do in certain countries, there are also things people don't do.
If you are planning on visiting or moving to Germany, here are a few things to do, or not do:
1. Plan your shopping
One major difference between American and German culture is customer service isn't regarded as highly as it is in the US. As a matter of fact, grocery shopping in Germany would be a topic for a whole article by itself. But one very important thing to keep in mind: Opening hours! Hardly any store in Germany is open 24 hours, apart from a handful of gas stations. Grocery stores close early: usually between 6 or 8 pm during the week. And, almost everything is closed completely on Sundays. A few places, usually around big train stations in the cities, might be open on Sundays, but banks, grocery stores, drugstores, and department stores will all be closed, so it's best to plan accordingly.
2. Use Public Transportation
Public transportation is tremendously important (and useful) in Germany. Major cities will have subways (U-Bahn), commuter trains (S-Bahn), trolleys (Tram or Strassenbahn), and busses (Bus) to take you anywhere you need to go. The "DB" (Deutsche Bahn [German Rail]) connects all major cities and cities, and if you plan on going to another country, try "Flix Bus". Flix Bus offers extremely affordable fares between German cities and cities in other countries. Most of their buses are equipped with WiFi and are very comfortable. If you are planning on using public transportation to commute to and from work, make sure you familiarize yourself with the "zones" and schedules, and inquire about the city's daily, weekly, monthly and annual passes, which will save you a lot of money.
3. You don't need to tip as much
Tipping at a restaurant, café or bar is a little different in Germany. While it is custom to give a fifteen or even twenty percent tip in the US, and a lower tip might be considered rude or indicative of poor service, the customary tipping amount in Germany is a bit lower. Many times, a bill is simply rounded up to the next Euro amount, and that completely suffices (depending on the total of course). Giving a large tip might even be considered a condescending gesture. Ten percent is completely acceptable.
4. Stay out of the bike lane
Most cities have elaborate bike paths and bike lanes that allow people to safely get anywhere with their bikes. But for many Germans, riding the bike is not a just hobby, it is their main mode of transportation. Germans use their bikes to get to work, to go shopping, or to go to appointments. Many a tourist has felt the wrath of an angry German complaining about them blocking the bike lane, and it's serious business. So be mindful of where you are walking, always check your surroundings, and make sure you don't walk in the bike lane.
5. Don't take it personally
Germans can absolutely be friendly and polite, but many Americans are in for a shock when they go grocery shopping, to a café or out to eat in a restaurant. Don't expect over-the-top friendliness and customer service. It is very possible that a cashier won't ask you how you are doing (or even speak to you at all), that a waiter seems annoyed, or that people accidentally cross into your personal space without saying "excuse me". This could come off as rude, but another way to look at it is that Germans are just very factual and very direct. If you're in a restaurant, the waiter's job is to take down your order, not to make you feel like you are the most important customer in the world. A cashier's job is to scan the items and take your money, not to befriend you. Germans like to state facts, because after all, they are... well, facts! And you can't argue with facts. That being said, a friendly gesture often results in a friendly gesture in return.
Check back for part II or our do's and don'ts in Germany.
Have had an experience in Germany worth sharing? We'd love to hear it!