Cultural experiences and funny musings by two twenty-somethings living abroad
Now, as one half of Hmsies has recently moved to Paris, we thought it would be a good idea to sum up what it is really like living in Germany. Having lived in there as a student and then later when we both got jobs, we have been shocked, stunned and surprised by many things that are very different to what we’re used to in Britain. So, we have compiled a list of the top 10 culture shocks you will face in Germany!
Note: Although some may seem like stereotypes, we are only talking about our own personal experiences with the Germans. We lived in Munich, a very Bavarian and traditional city for 2 years.
1) Lack of small talk
Although we often like to natter away about anything and everything over a cup of tea in Britain, it is a rather different story in Germany. To give you an idea of how little small talk they do, they’ve actually had to borrow the English expression for it. This is a very common stereotype but it seems that many Germans will not engage in ‘pointless’ small talk with you. If you find a topic of interest, the conversation will flow very smoothly and they will express many opinions/ideas on said topic. However, there have been many times when we were at a work dinner for example with German colleagues and found that the conversation remained rather limited, and silent moments were all too common and very noticeable for us!
At first, it was a little awkward, but now that we’re used to it, it is actually nice not to have to rack your brains all the time just to say something.
2) Civilised Partying
This probably isn’t the case in cities in the north of Germany, but in Munich they tend to be pretty civilised! When we hear the word “house” followed by “party”, we tend to think of kitchens full of bottles (usually half empty), people dancing to music and couples smooching off in wardrobes. In Munich though, it’s a bit more… planned. Sure, there’ll be drinks, but there’ll also be salad, sausages and – yes – quiche. They’re a bit more of a sit around playing very tame versions of “I have never”, with questions like “I have never… FARTED IN FRONT OF MY GRANDMA!” or “I have never made my own pizza”.
If you’re wanting more to party in clubs, you’ll tend to find that the music choice in most places is rather limited, or should we say, very limited. It is either electro, or electro-pop or some other kind of electro. It can get a bit tedious if you’re trying to find something else, but one of Jasper’s best club nights was when he went to an electro club in central Munich and there was a massive dance-off taking place on the dancefloor at 4am. In Berlin it’s a very different story and most clubs there are somewhat underground – you’ll be lucky to find clubs which play typical music, however we once went to a punk club there, and were amazed to see hundreds of leather-donned, tattooed rockers dancing to the Macarena in full synchronicity. Sometimes, Germany goes that extra step to surprise you!
The Germans are really not known for mincing their words. This is probably Olesya’s favourite thing about them, they will be very very honest with you. Although the French also have this quality, the way they say things just seems rude (sorry, France) but the directness of the Germans is something that we always welcome. For example, if you’re on a date, be prepared for the guy to tell you that he likes you and wants to see you again, that he likes you but has a girlfriend or that he doesn’t like you at all and points you in the direction of the tram stop. Whether at work or with friends, you will always know what the fellow Germans around you are thinking. It’s up to you whether you really want to ask for their opinion…
4) The culture of Hypochondriacs
Germans are often prone to some pretty serious sounding illnesses. We’ve known people to come down with Kreislaufzusammenbruch, which translates as “circulatory collapse”, and this dramatic sounding illness is the best excuse to use to get out of going to work. That said, what it actually means is that you’re feeling a bit woozy, but if it sounds serious, it’ll be treated seriously! After all, Jasper’s aunt’s sister-in-law who is also German once took the day off because she had a bit of a headache, but instead of just thinking it was something that was going to pass in a few hours, she thought it was so bad that she had to go for a brain scan! It’s a bit silly, you tell someone you’ve got a little cough and suddenly they think you’ve got the plague and that we’re all going to die! (God knows what will happen if Ebola ever makes it to Germany…)
5) Openness to nakedness
Old but gold: Germans are not at all squeamish when it comes to letting it all hang out on a hot summer’s day. Although not every German will drop their pants at the drop of hat, there are many designated nudist areas (FKK zones) and they are much more relaxed about the idea than us Brits. Or any nationality for that matter. Many sports changing rooms are mixed gender so, there isn’t really anywhere to hide. This does take some getting used to, especially as we found out when we went to a spa in Munich where undergarments were NOT allowed in many areas. The Germans are a braver bunch than we are, however with time, you actually see that being naked is not the problem, it is more our aversion to it and the Germans have nipped that in the bud and are much more comfortable with their bodies. Could this one catch on in the UK too?
6) Funny laws
During our time in Germany, we have never had a problem with the police or crime. However, that is not to say that there are some rather unusual laws in place, for example
– There are 9 days in the year where it is forbidden to dance.
– If you want to busk, you have to get a permit and you’re not allowed to play any music they consider “annoying”
– You cannot use the familiar form of “you” when speaking to a police officer. Unless you’re drunk of course.
– It is illegal to cross when the red man is on. If you’re caught (and some of our friends were), you will immediately be charged a fine by the nearby spying police, so be careful!
– You can refuse entry to your apartment to anyone, except for the police (obviously) and chimney sweepers (perhaps not so obviously)
– You can bribe your way out of a bribery trial. If you need any help with that, just ask Bernie Ecclestone
7) Obeying the little green and red men
In Munich at least, this seems to be the most powerful person in the city. The red man has the ability to stop crowds of people on empty roads during the worst weather anyone can face. There have been times when we would have been running through the streets trying to get out of the wind, rain and hail, yet there will be people waiting on the pavements of empty roads waiting for the green man to let them cross the road, getting battered and drenched in the process. And then they wonder why they seem to get ill so often…
German humour is quite a special thing. There’s a little bit of truth in the fact that Germans aren’t particularly funny, but they are funny in general day to day nattering and chattering, they’re just not at telling “jokes”. There have been quite a few times where we would have been told a very very long joke ending with a very feeble punchline, but it wouldn’t end there, as they then spend another 5 minutes explaining why the joke is funny! Patience is needed here, people.
With that said, the Germans do have their style of humour. Because everything in Germany has a purpose and everything has some degree of exactness, the Germans tend to laugh at the bizarre and the strange. One time when we hosted a Hawaiian style party in Munich, we were all wearing flower garlands and Jasper was commenting that he was so fat, he should use one of these flower garlands as a belt, causing an outburst of laughter among the people who were around him! Jasper certainly isn’t a comedian, but even that reaction was a little surprising.
9) Customer service
Coming from a country which has a very strong culture of good customer service, German customer service is generally pretty bad. You could go to a big supermarket but just 3 tills will be open, meaning there will be massive queues going on for miles and, when you eventually get to the front of the queue, the cashier may just realise he’s late for his break and leave the till, forcing everyone to join another queue all from scratch again. The postal service is great at breaking its own deadlines, government offices only read their emails on Fridays and there is rarely anyone at call centres there to take your call. Basically, if you need to get something done and you’re totally dependent on someone to help you do it, don’t expect any help.
And coming to our next point, instead of good customer service, Germany seems to like lot of good old…
Now, no country is perfect when it comes to matters of bureaucracy, however Germany seems to be so behind on this one, that it really doesn’t bode well with their “efficient” stereotype. In fact, what normally could take 1 person to do in one or two steps, the Germans seem to spread this out to 10 people and make it as complicated as possible meaning that nothing will actually get done on time and you will face a lot of stress along the way. Not only that, but because of German concerns about spying from its Western partners, government officials and sections of the German bureaucracy are seriously considering reverting back to the days of the typewriter. In the day of instant mass communication, this is going to put a massive brake on the speed of getting anything government-related done. Not only that, but the German federal government isn’t allowed to do certain things that the regional parliaments can, resulting in a load of conflicting and overlapping bureaucracy as well as an appointment at local doctor’s to deal with a case of the Kreislaufzusammenbruch.
So there, we have it guys – our top 10 culture shocks faced by British expats in our favourite country of sausages and beer! Although, living in Germany has really been the best experience for both of us, these are some of the things that we have noticed during our time in Germany, that seem a little bizarre or maybe just not quite right..
With that said, however, Germany offers some really great things as well, such as: fantastic (and cheap) transport, beautiful cities, great gastronomy (unless you are a tee-total vegetarian) and above all, some very interesting and open-minded German people that make Germany one of the best countries to live in for us!
We will leave you with this pretty cool video of a guy playing one of Germany’s most famous songs with balloons!
Have any of you guys been to Germany? Were you ever surprised by something?