Lehrer Werkstatt: 8 weird and wonderful German customs
The longer you live in Germany, the more idiosyncrasies you learn about German culture.
Often those moving to Germany from Anglo-Saxon countries will at first feel quite at home. You are dressed relatively the same as the locals. You can order beer without learning any new vocabulary. And if you don’t open your mouth as you walk down the street, you might even blend in. But the longer you live in Germany, the more you realise that this place is drastically different. As an expatriate gets to know the dark underworld of German culture, they will become increasingly astounded by the strange and wonderful customs of their new home.
German custom #8: Everything is closed on Sundays and other holidays
Germans love the thrill of buying new gadgets. They love to invest money in the right gear for each outdoor activity in which they partake. They are consumers – but they are not consumers on Sundays and holidays. Although they don’t necessarily go to church, Sunday is a day that should be spent outdoors or with family. Plan ahead and relax. It feels good that all people are at home, enjoying their time off.
German custom #7: Hang lost objects in trees so the loser of the object can find it
If your mitten drops out of your pocket on your way to the train stop, chances are if you return 30 minutes, or even a week later, your mitten will be hanging up in a tree, or sitting on sign post waiting for you. Most walkways and trails are decorated in this way and no one would dare take your Grandma-made knit hat for their own. So when you find something, hang it up so it can be reunited with its owner.
German custom #6: In a waiting room, welcome strangers and acknowledge them when they leave
Doctors waiting rooms in Germany are much like waiting rooms anywhere. People sit reading magazines, playing games on their phones and reading books but they never talk to each other. However, when a new person enters and hangs up their coat, the room will greet them with a guten tag or hallo. When the person exits the doctor's room and picks up their jacket from the coat rack, the room will erupt in a fountain of auf wiedersehen.
German custom #5: Don’t queue – know your place in the masses
When walking into a bakery or a butcher shop, there are no machines that request you to take a number nor are there lines in which you patiently wait. You just stand in a mass and know who is in front of you and who is behind you. If you don’t know your place, the rest of the crowd will surely let you know. And if someone tries to take their turn in front of you, just shout hallo and wave your hand in front of your face. This indicates that you saw the person cut, the rest of the mass will stare and look down on the offender, and it shames the person back into waiting for their turn.
German custom #4: Ask the right question to get the right answer
You must learn to ask the right questions. Germans love precision. If you ask a yes or no question, you will only get a yes or no answer. “Is this the way to the train station?” Response: No. Well that was totally unhelpful. But if you ask 'how do I get to the train station?' a precise reply with great directions will be given.
German custom #3: Do some light maintenance after you go to the bathroom
Have you ever wondered why there are toilet brushes next to all toilets? They are there because they want you to use them. No one wants to go to the toilet if there is a brown streak left if the bowl. No one wants to see remnants of last night’s supper. And in public restrooms there are signs written in English (not German) that state, 'Clean up after yourself… this includes the toilet'. Don’t ignore these signs and don’t give us expats all a bad name.
German custom #2: Hike to eat
People don’t hike to see a view, to get to a mountain top or to get exercise. And they don’t hike to get away to where no man or woman has gone before. They hike for gastronomy. Imagine being out there in the middle of nowhere on a gray and stormy day. The muddle of conflicting trail signs makes you feel as if you will never reach your destination. As the fog begins to envelop you, a distant sound of angry wild boars can be heard. Just when you think that all is lost, the fog breaks, the sun begins to shine, and there it is: that beacon on the mountain top that you have been searching for, a quaint and cosy hut ready to serve you beer and schnitzel.
German custom #1: Beer is cheaper than water...
…and really, isn’t that how it should be?
After teaching America's youth for more than 12 years in public schools, Kathleen Ralf decided it was time to move to new pastures. With five suitcases, a small child and a very tall husband, she set up house in Germany. Her and her family spend their free time exploring their region for the best 'bier und wurst'. Lehrer Werkstatt is a 'gemischt' collection of her experiences in an international classroom, reflections on culture and place, and her triumphs and failures with living abroad.
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