An American in Deutschland: 20 Observations on Germans & Germany

by Rebecca A. Watson on October 24, 2013

in Germany, humor, life

In the last few weeks, we’ve installed both a dishwasher and a dryer. (I tried going Euro on this one, but the humidity makes the towels smell musty and that’s not how I want to exit my shower.)

Sante says that those two items really means he lives somewhere. “I mean, I could go to Taiwan for three months and get a haircut, but I’m certainly not buying a dishwasher.”

That feeling has been slowly trickling into my body as well — a few days ago I mowed the lawn. I didn’t cut the grass the whole time I lived in California. I think I live here.

lawnmower

Over the past few months I’ve noticed some things about Germany and Germans that I thought I would share. Since I have only been to a tiny slice of the country and interacted with a fraction of a percent of its population, this isn’t meant to be taken too literally. All in good fun.

1. Germans move with their kitchens. I’m not talking about pots and pans here, or even appliances, I’m talking about the whole frickin’ thingSinks, cabinets, everything but the hookups. I’ve written about this before, and I have still not heard a good explanation for this. I read an excellent blog recently about how this is pretty much the opposite of stereotypical German efficiency.

2. Renting a home in Germany is like owning one in the U.S. Get in touch with a Realtor. It will cost you the equivalent of a few months rent, but you’ll be looking until next year if you don’t use one.

Next, sign a contract with a maintenance schedule written into it. You must pay to service the heater every year. The bathroom is to be painted every three years. Anything broken in the apartment that costs under 100€ to fix is your responsibility.

Oh! And here’s the bill for home insurance and taxes. It’s a landlord’s dream.

3. Germans take their light fixtures. Again with Why?!? Think about the last time you moved. You’re sweaty, sore and finally all those pesky boxes are moved in. Time to take a shower, grab some takeaway and have a well-deserved TV break.

Nope. First you’ve got to install the lights so you can see to make your bed and unpack your clothes. Because everyone owns a ladder and a voltage meter and is automatically a handyman. Riiiiiiight.

4. The German language is actually quite lovely. When I first got here I thought everyone was in a fight. Parents offering their children ice cream cones seemed like monsters. I blame a lot of this on America’s obsession with WWII movies and, of course, videos like this:

After living here and learning the language, I’ve come to really enjoy it. Yes, it can sound a bit harsh if you say it a certain way, but so can English, which is actually pretty similar to German.

5. There is a lot of staring. I always thought I had a problem, but since I’ve been here, I’ve wondered if I’m walking around with toilet paper on my shoe.

Can they tell I’m an outsider just by looking at me? Turns out it really has nothing to do with me. And that makes sense. A lot of times I’ll catch myself staring at someone and not realize it at all. I read that Swedes have a similar problem. Maybe it’s a northern European thing.

6. Get your groceries outta my way! Say you’ve loaded up your grocery cart and are headed to the cash register to pay. There are a few things you should know.

groceries

 

First, you must buy your own bag if you haven’t brought reusable ones. Second, no one is going to bag your groceries for you. And finally, don’t bag your groceries before you pay.

I can’t stress this enough. No one wants to watch you carefully sort out your heaviest articles or separate the soap from the food. And if you do this, everyone from the cashier to the people behind you will sigh in disdain and cross their arms; you can almost smell the hurriedness.

Throw everything you’ve purchased back into your cart as fast as the cashier can scan them, pay and get out of the way. There are usually benches and shelves you can seek out and there is where you bag your groceries.

7. Personal space concepts are very different. Speaking of those grocery lines, if you want any space, keep your cart between you and the next person. If not, you’ll have someone standing there. Right. Beside. You.

A friend of mine was teaching English to a group of adults in Germany and one of the women had been to the United States. She marveled at how often we all said “Excuse me.” … “Even when they didn’t touch each other!”

Germans rarely say excuse me and often come millimeters away from touching you without a second glance. And if you’re on the train and you don’t see that it’s someone’s stop, they’ll probably just push you out of the way. Not in a rude way. They’re just going where they need to go.

8. People often wear the same clothes for a few days. My German teacher has this beautiful mustard yellow sweater. She also wears the most gorgeous gray skirt with a purple top. For several days in a row. I thought it was just her until I noticed our neighbor doing the same thing.

When I mentioned this Sante, he said a coworker also wears the same shirt a few days in a row. Now I know why everyone seems so stylish here. You find a few outfits that work, and rock them until they beg to be washed. This might gross some people out, but I think it’s fantastic. Recycling outfits is brilliant.

These girls make fashion look easy. For me, it's a bit more work.

These girls make fashion look easy. For me, it’s a bit more work.

9. Germans love gardens. Many people buy plots of land far from their home where they spend their summers planting, drinking beer and playing. It’s like a summer cabin only smaller with less plumbing. Germans love flowers too. I’ve seen more than one pick-your-own flower place, kind of like they have pick-your-own berry places in the States.

10. Fresh air is a necessity. Every morning and sometimes every night, Germans luften their homes, which is basically opening every window in the house for ten minutes. It doesn’t matter if it’s the dead of winter, it must be done, at minimum, a few times a week.

I read it has to do with keeping the humidity down as most are heated with hot water radiators. As our Realtor said of our house, “When it’s closed, it’s closed.” Not like the drafty old homes I was used to in Minnesota.

This is, so far, a very pleasant ritual. We own a hygrometer, and if I haven’t luften-ed (that’s Engman? Germlish?) the house in a day or so, I notice. It’s lovely to have such fresh air circulating through our home.

11. Kids smoke at school. One would think that with the obsession with fresh air, students would be encouraged not to smoke, or at the very least be forbidden from smoking on school grounds.

But no. When it’s raining, a group of students are huddled around the entrance, trying to stay under the awning while they light up. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that sight.

12. Rain or shine, day or night, Germans are outside. The number of sunny days in Freiburg is on par to that in Seattle. And Freiburg it’s known around the country as the sunniest place in Germany. So that should give you an idea of what the weather is like here.

On one of the days before my 10k, I went for a run in the pouring rain. It had to be done, plus I kinda like running in the rain. And I wasn’t the only one out there. On Monday nights there is a big party at a club near our house. Even when the rain is coming down, I see folks happily strolling with friends toward the bar.

I guess if the nice days are few and far between, you better figure out how to enjoy life regardless of the weather. It was something I couldn’t embrace in the frozen tundra of Minnesota and something I adore about Germans.

snow play

13. Rules are meant to be followed. As Sante and I stood at a cross-walk, a young man dashed across the street when there was a break in traffic. You could hear the collective sighs of disapproval. Once I walked through a grocery lane that was closed because I wasn’t buying anything. A woman with her child reprimanded me.

There is a reason the Germans have a reputation for being so efficient: They follow the rules to the letter. While this is all well and good for things like keeping trains running on time, it seems like they could stand to loosen their collars about gum being tossed on the ground.

14. Döner is the Mexican of Germany. Apparently Germany has the highest Turkish population outside of Turkey. And with that comes all of the goodness that is the döner kebap and the döner teller. Quick, fast and satisfying, you can’t go a few blocks without finding a shop. And while some of them aren’t so great, the ones that are, are fantastic.

I took my sister to Eufrat, our favorite shop in town. She and her friend, who are both residents of Turkey, were blown away by how delicious it was. We had to avoid the place the rest of the time for fear they’d come back from Germany having eaten nothing but Turkish food.

15. Pork is the meat of choice. In the grocery store there are so many different types of pork cuts, as well as different types of ham. I guess this would make sense, being in the home of Black Forest Ham after all. I wonder what Germans would think of all the beef in California.

There is beef and chicken and turkey as well. I have turkey thighs on the menu for this weekend, actually. But the beef is insanely expensive. And most of it is Jungen-Bullen, which translates to Young Bull, which I can only assume is veal. I’m not quite ready to eat that.

16. Be very, very quiet. Now I’m not saying that the biergartens aren’t bustling and certainly my upstairs neighbor has no problem raising his voice, but oftentimes things are quiet, especially when they seem like they shouldn’t be. Like when my sister and her friend arrived and we got on a full tram from the main train station. It was silent. My sister whispered to me and when she called to her friend who was sitting a few rows away from us, people all around us stared. (See No. 5)

A friend of mine told me she came across a huge race in Berlin where hundreds of runners passed by spectators with crossed arms, mouths closed. She described the eerie scene to me the day before I would do my 10k. And she was right. Aside from the very vocal announcer and a few rowdy spectators, there was silence.

17. Germans don’t mess around when it comes to beer and bread. (Duh.) Every town has its own official brewery that crafts beer for the local pubs. The post-race recovery drink at my 10k? Non-alcoholic beer. And I’m told it’s delicious. Next time I’ll bring my gluten enzymes.

Speaking of gluten, for the first time in my life I found non-alcoholic, gluten-free beer. And it was decent. And the gluten-free bread here is frickin’ fantastic, probably because Germans wouldn’t tolerate anything less. People will eat a loaf of bread for lunch or with dinner. Bakeries are everywhere.

18. There are very few stop signs. Stoplights? Check. Yield signs? Absolutely. But you only really see these on major routes. Uncontrolled intersections are, for the most part, the name of the game. And whoever is to the right gets the right-of-way, naturally. Some Germans are so certain of this, they don’t even look left. Even if they’re on a bike.

19.  German children are extremely well-behaved. Kids run around and play without a lot of supervision, but they’re pleasant, polite and pretty easy-going. They’re happy to use their imaginations and don’t need constant attention.

I attribute this to the fact that Germans let their babies cry. On several occasions I have seen a mother or father walk by with their child screaming in their stroller. The reality is that babies cry. Some more than others. It’s their form of communication.

And later on, the children are more able to act independently and respectfully. Of course, I am no child psychologist, but it’s just a theory. Regardless, these kids are fantastic.

dog at zoo

Dogs welcome. Leashes optional.

20. Ditto for the German dogs. (And no, they’re not all German Shepards.) I’m not sure if there are any leash laws here but I’m guessing no. Dogs walk next to their owners without so much as an upward glance at passersby. They, like the children, are on their program, enjoying the walk.

Dogs are also allowed everywhere, from restaurants to zoos. Seriously, zoos. The dogs I know can barely handle skateboarders let alone an ostrich.

There are definitely more that I’ll add to this list in the months and years to come, but that’s a pretty good start, wouldn’t you say? And if you liked that, you should probably watch this video.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurel December 9, 2013 at 2:24 am

Interesting to hear your observations. I could relate to a lot of these. My husband who is German, also recycles his workshirts two days in a row. He says it’s still clean because he wears an undershirt underneath, which he changes everyday.

Agree about the children and the dogs. It’s really interesting to see the difference.

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Laurel December 9, 2013 at 2:24 am

Thanks for the mention!

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Ms. Becca December 9, 2013 at 4:22 am

Np 🙂 Good to hear you could relate to some. And your husband’s logic makes sense. Canadian dogs and children are not well behaved? I would think (based on my complete stereotypical knowledge of Canadians and the few friends I have from there) that they’d be just as chill.

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