Things you should know about German life
Prepare yourself for German culture shock – both good and bad but always with lots of pork.
You might think that Germany wouldn’t be so different from living in, say, Britain. But actually there are loads of little things that are quite unique to Germany that take some time getting used to.
A lot of these may be Frankfurt based, but some can be applied to all of Germany, so if you’re planning to come to Germany in the near future, these may be of use to you.
1. Shops shut on Sundays
You might think this won't affect you much, but as someone who works full time I’d love to be able to spread my shopping errands over Saturday and Sunday. Some handy information, though – shops that are in train stations and airports are allowed to be open on Sundays.
2. Germans are ok
“Oh, you live in Germany? I bet those Germans get on your nerves!”
Sigh. No, German people aren’t all humourless control freaks who throw towels everywhere to mark their territory.
German people have such dry, dark humour they’re hilarious. Anyone who thinks they take themselves too seriously should take a look at the German satire magazine Titanic. As for the towels, if anyone thought Brits they met abroad (especially in places like Mallorca or Ibiza) represented the average British person, I’d cry myself to sleep every night. But I think most people see Brits on holiday as one set of people, and British people in general as another. And so you should do the same with Germans. And perhaps Russians (for they are a pain when they’re on holiday too).
Take this from someone who lives with four very different German people – Germans are great.
3. Lots of pork
Do you like pork? Awesome. You’ll get it with everything, even things which do not usually contain pork will have pork in.
4. Safe, on the whole
One of the things that surprises me about Germany is how trusting they are of passers-by. When I lived in my old flat, there was construction nearby and the building materials were just left out in the open overnight. If that was England, they’d be stolen right away.
At the Christmas markets, goods for sale dangle dangerously close to the end of the stall, so that it would be very easy to just stand out of sight and take something. But no one does. I doubt the thought even goes through a German mind that this is a thing that might happen.
Germans always say that Frankfurt is really dangerous, but mostly it’s drug or corporate crime that bumps up the stats. There was a guy who got shot near my flat but that was just a rare thing. Saying that, I have known a few people who fell victim to pick pocketers, so if you do come to Frankfurt, don’t let your guard down. As long as you use common sense, you should be as safe as in any major city.
5. Buying things from outside Europe is a headache
You need to buy a certain thing. You look on Amazon, and find a seller selling that thing. Awesome. Only, they are not in Europe.
When that thing is sent to you, the chances are it’ll be sent through the zollamt – customs office – and that will be nothing but a huge headache.
Anecdote 1: When I moved from Japan to Germany, I sent two suitcases with heavy books and winter clothes to my new home by boat. I had to go to the zollamt to open the cases myself so they could check what’s inside them, then pay about EUR 10 per case in taxes/fees before I could have my belongings.
Anecdote 2: I couldn't find anyone in Europe selling the game Apples to Apples so I bought one from America through ebay. It was sent to the zollamt and when asked if this was something I’d bought or whether it was a gift, I gave the wrong answer. As I said it was something I’d bought, I had to pay EUR 20 in taxes. Always say it is a gift.
It’s even worse because the zollamt in Frankfurt is really out of the way and not easy to get to. If the thing you’re picking up is heavy or difficult to carry, it's a struggle.
6. Rules in the contract
Whether it’s a job contract or a contract for your home, be sure to read it – or have someone help you read – all the way through. Germans take their contracts very seriously, and I almost got into trouble for not knowing my rental contract all the way through when I wanted to move.
Germans love insurance – and you’ll need it! Home insurance as well as rental insurance are a must for expats in Germany.
You’re sitting in a German restaurant, full from a mountain of pork and making your way through your 7th bucket of beer. When all of a sudden some young men dressed in a weird way enter and start Germaning really fast – maybe as a poem or a song? Then they come round to each table with their hand out, asking for money. What’s going on?
They are most likely to be carpenters on their 'waltz' – men wanting to go into these professions have to spend two or three years on the road travelling from town to town relying on the kindness of others. Some may be looking for a place to stay in exchange for them fixing broken things in the home, but most seem to be looking for extra euros.
In my time in Frankfurt I’ve seen journeymen about three times now – and that’s from a person who rarely goes out eating in German places.
Are you Christian? If you say so when you register as living in Germany, then you will have to give a certain percentage of your salary to the church each month. It’s not a lot, but is something to think about just in case you put Christianity down as your default reply.
10. Germany is awesome for expats
German people are awesome, it’s illegal for you to work more than 10 hours, and workers’ rights are great – there are so many reasons why you can easily make a comfortable life in Germany. Plus, it's the strongest economy in Europe – so that’s also reassuring.
Is there anything I’ve forgotten on my list? What do you think people should know about Germany? Let me know in the comments!
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