12 culture shocks foreigners experience in Germany

12 culture shocks foreigners experience in Germany

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You might get a finger-wagging in Germany but you can also revel in 80s fashion and music where Hasselhoff is the hero.

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 supermarkets and malls. 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' 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 your feet up 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. 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 can be covered in genuine crumbled bacon. Germans scoff at the likes of soy 'facon'.

4. Customer service? That’s impossible

Let's think about 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 if the restaurant has tomatoes. Get used to hearing 'it doesn’t come that way'. On the bright side, tipping is optional.

5. The 1980s are still cool

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.

6. Everything is über clean

The streets, the subways and 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,” – nor your place in line. In Germany, locals brush past lines like you don’t exist. You have three ways to handle the situation: stick your elbows out to save your spot, make a fuss or accept your fate. Although, the perpetrator might turn around with a look of 'there was a line? I had no idea' and continue on.

8. You always need euros

You can say goodbye to charging USD 1.50 on your credit card and say 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 closets nor two-car garages, and the previous owners left with the kitchen cabinets, counters and appliances. Why else would IKEA still be in business?

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 neighbours. 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.


Genevieve Northup / Reprinted with permission of Matador Network.

Gen moved from Texas to Germany in 2009 with her husband, pets, and 10 suitcases. She's traveled in most of Europe and is slowly tackling Asia, stuffing her face, and shopping for bling along the way. When she’s not at her day job, Gen is designing jewelry, volunteering for nonprofits, and cooking delish dishes in her tiny German kitchen. Thumbnail credit: Sebaso.

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