Lipstick and Laptop: The A-Z guide to Germans
Familiarise yourself with the norms of living in German society using American expat Karen's A to Z guide to the Germans.
Here's a humourous guide on some things you should know about Germans... A to Z.
A. Germany has an apprenticeship program for everything. Don't think they got that super-efficient supermarket checkout system mastered by hiring high school students for part-time jobs. No, those are highly trained 'auszubildene' supermarket checkout professionals. Pretty much every service and retail job is a trained profession requiring a three-year apprenticeship.
B. They keep beautiful, perfectly manicured lawns (gardens), despite the fact that anytime one is off work and thus has free time to mow and weed the lawn, it is a crime to do so because...
C. Sundays are holy days of obligatory lounging and recreation and...
D. Saturday early mornings, mid-afternoons and late evenings are equally off-limits for any activity that might cause a sound or smell that could potentially disturb a sensitive neighbour.
E. Speaking of neighbours, Germans strongly endorse the phrase 'fences make good neighbours' and have very strict laws on the placement and maintenance of fences, which surround every perfectly manicured lawn/garden in Germany.
F. Windows should be open almost all the time. Upon entering a classroom or office, or as soon as one awakes at home, if windows are not already opened, Germans must thrust them open and declare the need for 'lüftung' (ventilation). Even if it's below freezing and, as usual, raining.
G. During required Sunday quiet-time recreation, everyone must go for a walk. No matter the rain, Sunday afternoon is time for a spaziergang (walk). Bike rides are an acceptable alternative, but....
H. Germans never bike on a designated walking path. Doing so will get you a fine, which can actually count against your driver's licence if you have one. Bikes may be ridden on bike paths or the street, and....
I. ...only if said bike is properly equipped with working lights and a bell. There will be an inspection, a test, and all other matter of formal paperwork processing to ensure that every bike in Germany meets all safety standards.
J. Given that it rains 80 percent of the year, they are amazingly adept at scheduling lawn maintenance and other chores around both inclement weather and obligatory quiet times. This goes back to their perfect planning and preparedness skills.
K. Like banks, pharmacies and doctors' offices are closed mid-days for lunch, Wednesday afternoons, and, of course, on weekends. So make sure you only get sick or allow your children to develop a fever during standard work-hours.
L. And if you or your child does get a cold or sprain an ankle, expect to be excused for at least a week from work or school. Illness or injury of any degree is taken quite seriously and requires one be on krankgeschrieben (sick leave) from work and/or school for an appropriate period of recovery. (Probably because it takes a week to find an available doctor or pharmacy.)
M. Germans love sun-soaked vacations (of course, the weather in Germany is dismal!). They flock to amazing beach resorts every year in mass exoduses during the Autumn and Spring breaks, at which times there's a greater population of German tourists in Mallorca, Ibiza, the Maldives, Grand Cayman, Antalya, Crete, Hurghada, etc., than any other nationality or the native inhabitants.
N. Like their lawns, their cars are also cleaned and polished until sparkling, despite the constant rain and required work-free timezones. It's a federal crime to drive a dirty car (I'm pretty sure).
O. OK, really, everything is always clean and polished. The garden, the car, the house, the boots. Germans have a penchant for cleanliness – I believe they place it not next to, but above godliness.
P. Germans are pretty trusting. I suspect they believe everyone plays by the same rules of fairness to which they subscribe. It's not uncommon to order products, books, etc. and have them delivered to you before payment, with a bill sent separately. They never seem to worry that one might fail to pay the invoice.
Q. Cash is king in Germany. They may not worry about you paying the bill, but they do worry you might overextend yourself on credit. Very few places accept credit cards. Cash and debit cards maybe, but even these are not accepted at a great many places. Be prepared to pay even for the delivery of your new washing machine and refrigerator in cash – even if that's up to a EUR 1,000.
R. Oh that refrigerator. It does not come with the house. Nor does the kitchen sink, cabinets, or counters. Kitchens being a matter of personal preference, expect to find nothing more than an empty room with a pipe sticking out of the wall for water in your new apartment or house. Kitchen sold separately.
S. Light fixtures, too. Germans take everything not made of brick and mortar out of the house when they move. So bring your own ceiling lamps, otherwise the switch on the wall will be useless.
T. German employers request a lot of personal information. As well as your actual birth date, you must include a photo and your marital status on your resume. Do not smile in your resume picture. Smiling makes you very suspect.
U. German elementary schools are only a half day. Before fifth grade, it's rare for kids to be in school past 1pm and more common for them to be home before noon. The recent introduction of ganztagsschule, or all-day school, basically provides after-school homework help but not full day instruction. But that's OK, because the super efficient German teachers can easily convey everything the super smart German children need to know in half the time other countries need to educate their young-uns.
V. Germans are dedicated to their sports teams. In fact, public viewing of national soccer tournaments is one of the only occasions when all noise, smell, and light-restricting ordinances are lifted, and revellers may party in public as long and loudly as they wish to support the home team.
Germany fans cheer the U19 Women's LAX World Championship
W. Germans are meticulous about recycling (dedicated to the preservation of the environment). There's an appropriate bin for every type of waste. Plastics and tin in one. Biodegradable food or yard waste in another. Glass, paper, etc. The 'trash' bin is the smallest by far and to be used only for items that can't possibly be sorted into one of the other five waste baskets you have in the kitchen pantry. Expect to be fined if the trash collectors find the wrong refuse in the wrong bin.
X. Until you are a friend you are a bekannte, maybe even a gute bekannte, but that translates to (close) acquaintance and should not be confused with a friend.
Y. They chose their friends very carefully. Do not presume to be friends with someone you've only met a few times, no matter how friendly the interactions were (this only makes you a bekannte). It takes time to build a true friendship, but then you've got it for life.....
Z. Because of their dedication, trustworthiness, reliability, preparedness, value for recreation, regard for fairness, etc... (see points A through Y): Germans make awesome friends!
Dedicated to my amazing German friends!
New Yorker Karen Maduschke first travelled to Germany on a high school exchange in the 1980s. Falling in love with more than just the landscape, she returned 25 years later to live with her German-born husband and their four school-aged children. Passionate supporters of youth exchange, Karen's family has hosted many students from around the world. Have Lipstick and Laptop Will Travel is a blog that chronicles the joys and frustrations of expat life from a parent's perspective and also shares recipes, books and inspiration for living. You can follow Karen's bilingual musings on Twitter as well.
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