Kulturschock - Germany

Things you should be aware of when first visiting Germany

Boy wearing traditional German clothing in front of the map of Germany
Hello - be prepared for the culture shock. Fotosearch@gettyimages.de

Sometimes, it can be a rather shocking experience to come to a foreign country to travel it or even live there. Even if you think you know your destination and the habits of its inhabitants, there are some little things that might surprise you first, especially if you do not come from Europe at all. But you can be prepared for the Kulturschock! I want to give you a small insight to the abysses of the everyday life in Germany that might leave you with your mouth wide open as a non-German.

Public toilets

One of the most profane things everybody uses, but hardly somebody is talking about. Public toilets are rather rare in Germany and can mainly be found in major cities. There are different kinds like “normal” bathrooms in train-stations or even tiny capsules on the streets which can be lowered into the ground. But almost all of them have one thing in common: You have to pay to use them. In some cases, there will be a man or woman sitting on a small stool at the entrance awaiting a small amount of money to be thrown onto a plate in front of him or her. Sometimes, it is even more professional and you first have to throw some coins into a machine to get through a turnstile. The price is mostly between 50 cents and 1 Euro. So be aware to have some coins in your pockets if you are planning a sightseeing-tour in one of Germany’s cities. The good thing about this system is, on the other hand, that most of the public toilets are more or less clean for use.

There is also some kind of franchise-chain called Sanifair which operates public toilets all over Germany and offers a modern and clean atmosphere to satisfy your natural needs. On the other hand, public toilets on the Autobahn are free, unless they are located inside a restaurant or fuel station.

Making friends

Germans are said to be a bit reserved towards strangers and that is more or less true. It is not common to talk to other people while sitting next to them on the bus or waiting inside an elevator unless you know them. Also, small talk is not a German thing – Germans tend to see it as a waste of time. They say things straight forward or nothing at all. It might be more a matter of efficiency, not unfriendliness. But that doesn’t mean that all Germans are rude and introverted people who don’t want to make friends. In fact, Germans just don’t like to act superficial which differs them a lot from the stereotype of an American. You can and will make good friends in Germany, but it will take its time. But if you once have made it, you will have a real friend and not only somebody who is just pretending. Superficial friends are not common in Germany. Germans tend make their affairs well or not at all – wenn schon, den schon.

Shopping

Especially if you are from the United States and are planning to come and live in Germany, you should be aware of the differences in matters of shopping. First of all: Whereas in the USA credit cards are very popular, they are not in Germany. Most of the stores, especially the smaller ones, do not accept credit cards at all and if they do, they will only accept certain kinds like Visa or MasterCard.

Germans do pay with cards, but they use their EC-cards. Those are cards you will get from your bank to draw money from the ATM and pay, but they are different than credit cards. So be aware that cash is still king in Germany. Always carry a right amount of bills and coins with you – not only for using public toilets.

Service

Another thing that might be confusing to foreigners is also shopping-related: It’s the German understanding of service, is it in a restaurant or on the counter of a supermarket. The German word “Servicewüste” (Service desert) does exist for a reason. Talking about buying groceries, you will notice that it’s totally uncommon that somebody will pack your bags. Prices for groceries in Germany are rather low and so is the service. It’s all a matter of efficiency: People won’t talk to each other while standing in line, the cashier will neither (apart from saying “Hallo”, “Tschüss” and the amount you have to pay) and he or she will push your goods over the counter as fast as he/she can.

The cashier will not care if you are fast enough to pack your stuff inside your cart or bag (bags are not for free but cost about 10 cents because of issues of environment protection). The right way to buy groceries at a market like Aldi or Lidl is to your purchase as effective as possible. It takes a bit of practice, but once you have looked through the system, you will be able to be in and out with a cart full of food in less than 15 minutes. You can witness this special kind of German “service” in many places like restaurants, where the waiter will come one time to take your order of beverages, a second time for the food and a last time for paying. No unnecessary twaddle.

Germany is not Bavaria

Most of the clichés about Germany, especially seen through an Americans eye, are of Bavarian origin. Lederhosen? Bavarian. Pretzels? Bavarian. Beer in one-liter-mugs? Bavarian. The reason for this is on the one hand that Bavarians do in fact have some strange but lovable traditions. But on the other hand, it is also because Germany has been divided into occupation zones after WW II. The American zone happened to be the south where Bavaria is located. That’s why many Americans see Germany as Bavaria. Besides the south, there are many things to explore outside of Bavaria, but you won’t find a lot of Maßkrüge in Berlin (unless you are going to a fake Oktoberfest or a place just for tourists). Also in matters of architecture, Germany has a wide diversity which does not only contain half-timbered houses like in Bavaria or Franconia. In the north, you can witness Scandinavian influences, whereas in the west, you can feel the dusty history of a region of mining. Also as a German speaker, you might get confused: There are over 35 different dialects spoken in Germany, some of them even for real Germans barely understandable.

So be aware of the shocking truth about the little things that make up life in Germany.