Culture Shock- Germany vs. USA

expat, travel

Thinking of moving to Germany? Whether you’re moving abroad or simply looking to get informed before your next visit to Germany, there are a few cultural differences to you should know in order to be prepared. Here are some of the most interesting/surprising differences I’ve noticed while living abroad as an American expat in Germany:

Closing times – Depending on where you live, stores in Germany (esp. grocery stores) tend to close much earlier than American ones. Particularly in Bavaria, be prepared to deal with closing times as early as 8pm. Oh, and shopping for groceries on a Sunday? You can forget about that.

Grocery stores – Want to know another hilarious fun fact about German grocery stores? Self-bagging. Americans can consider themselves lucky to have someone bagging their groceries at the cashier. In Germany, it’s a race against the cashier to see if you can manage to bag your stuff as quickly as they scan it! Beware- I’ve had my fair share of angry stares when I didn’t bag my groceries fast enough. And god forbid you need to try and go back for an item you forgot! Most stores have a single pathway from entrance to exit- so don’t try going the wrong way or you’ll face the wrath of the Almans!

Strict rules – Speaking of doing things the wrong way- good luck trying NOT break any rules when you’re in Germany. From walking on the wrong side of the street to speaking too loudly on public transportation and/or asking too many questions about the menu at a restaurant, you can expect to see some raised eyebrows if you stick to your American habits while in Germany. Most Germans are not accustomed to the overly-friendly, inquisitive, chatty nature of Americans. Furthermore, if you walk into a restaurant expecting anything remotely similar to American service where “the customer is always right,” you might want to get a reality check. Germans may have a reputation for being “rude” in Americans eyes, but have you ever thought that maybe Americans are just a bit spoiled by our waiters’ forced smiles/getting custom orders every time we go out eat? (I’ll have one Venti-Skinny-Decaf-Soy-Cinammon-Dolce-Latte with 2 pumps of Vanilla and just a little bit of whipped cream, please)

Pharmacies – For Americans, pharmacies are gigantic- offering an assortment of medication but also groceries, alcohol, makeup, and more. The local German “Apotheke” offers only the essentials for medication, and would certainly surprise any American walking in and trying to grab their painkillers off the shelves. Here, you must request pretty much everything from your pharmacist and face some pretty skeptical stares if you order anything stronger than 400 mg of painkiller meds.

Paying in cash – I never thought this would be an issue when I moved here, but it’s very important to carry cash when you live in Germany! This is especially true when living in Bavaria, where many restaurants only accept cash. That can make for an awkward date when the bill arrives!

Beer – Need I say more? If you’re moving to Germany, be prepared to encounter a very heavy beer culture. Know the differences between Hell, Pils, Weizen, and more. If you’re not a fan of strong beer, try a Radler (that’s what it’s called in Bavaria)- it’s a refreshing mix of Sprite (or some kind of lemon soda) and beer. Not into alcohol? Stick to a delicious Apfelschorle- apple juice mixed with sparkling water. Prost!

Here’s a selfie of Florian and I enjoying some Augustiner beer at our local fair!

Weather – It shouldn’t be a huge shocker to anyone coming from states with seasons, but the weather in Germany gets cold. For someone like me coming from sunny California, the weather in Germany was surprising, to say the least. If you don’t have the stomach for the long, harsh winter months starting January and ending around mid-April (sometimes end of April! As the Germans say, “April, der macht was er will,” meaning “April does what it wants”), than you might want to think carefully before moving here. Most days tend to be cloudy, rainy, and snowy in the winter months. The best time to travel to Germany? Late April, early May, or even in September/October (Oktoberfest, anyone?).

Here’s a photo I took in Bamberg on a rainy day, just outside of a Birkenstock store!

Education – Are you also carrying around a good chunk of student debt? *Laughs in European.* Tuition is basically free in Germany, aside from the basic cost of like 100-200 euros just to cover university administrative fees as well as your semester ticket to use the buses/transportation. FYI- this is worth the price and actually an incredible deal, considering you’d typically pay 2-3 euros for a 10-15 minute bus/train ride.

Insurance/Public Benefits – Did someone say universal healthcare? Americans are quaking. Looks like someone is doing it right- Germany ensure everyone has basic human rights by covering their citizens’ healthcare and avoiding the chaos/anxiety/stress that many Americans face every day. Deutschland 1, USA 0 (because Americans are still dying due to lack of health coverage / starvation / homelessness / more).

Religion – We already touched on a bit of politics, now let’s cover religion! Overall, Germany is a pretty openly religious country, with predominately Catholic and Protestant influence, and (like most places in Europe) churches everywhere you look. Regardless of your opinion on religion, there’s one thing anyone who has been to Germany in December would agree makes it the most wonderful time of the year, and that’s the Christmas markets! Filled with various wooden booths selling candy, snacks, trinkets, and that oh-so-glorious Glühwein, the German Weinachtsmarkt / Chriskindlesmarkt is a must-see for anyone thinking of traveling to Germany.

What are some of the cultural differences you’ve noticed while in Germany?

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