While living here in Germany for the past 6 months I have been asked several times by my guest family, new German friends, and also some acquaintances what the cultural differences are between America and Germany. Basically these people want to know how it is different for me to be living in Germany than it would be if I were back at home in America.
Sometimes I actually have a hard time coming up with good, concrete answers because in some ways living in Germany is pretty typical to living in America. Of course there are many cultural differences and I thought it would be kind of fun to describe them here.
One of the first things that I noticed that was different here in Germany was the way that families eat, the types of food they eat and also how all other Germans eat out in public. A typical Germany family will all sit down to eat breakfast together and then once again come together at the American lunch time to eat a warm cooked meal. The lunch is the biggest meal of the day for German families and a lot of the time the mother and father are both present with the children. For dinnertime it is very simple and involves only bread and things to put on top of your bread, such as cheese or meat. My family calls our evening meal “abendbrot,” which literal means “evening bread.”
Germans do not eat as much fast food as Americans do and that’s a fact. If a German is in a hurry to eat their lunch, then they will probably go to a bakery and pick up a “broetchen” (roll) or grab something that resembles a hot dog from a stand on the street.
Speaking of broetchen, Germans LOVE bread. You can find a bread bakery on every single street corner here (kind of like a McDonalds on every street corner in America!). Bread falls into one of the 4 major food groups in Germany: Bread, Cheese, Potatoes, Meat.
Within a German restaurant it is completely opposite of how you would find in America. First of all, you generally can seat yourself at whichever table is open instead of waiting on a host to seat you. Then, your waiter will come by once to take your order, a second time to bring your food, and a third time to pick up your empty plate. They are not coming by every two minutes to check on how the food tastes or to see if you need a refill (refills are unheard of in Germany). At the end of your meal you can choose to leave a very small tip (maybe one Euro at the most), but it is not necessary like the normal 15-20% tip in America.
The second cultural difference I have noticed is the obvious concern for global warming and being environmentally friendly in Germany. It is noticeable through many things, but mostly through the widespread use of windmills, solar panels, recycling, public transportation, walking, and bike riding. My German family in particular is very concerned for the well being of the planet. We use 100% renewable energy to heat our house during the winter, we sort all recyclables, we walk throughout our city instead of driving the car, we purchase organic foods, and we do not waste a thing!
I just read an article that Hamburg, Germany (the second biggest city in Germany, behind Berlin) was named the greenest European city in 2011. This comes as no surprise to me because Germans have been trying extremely hard the past years to live up to the Scandinavians when it comes to becoming reliant on only renewable energy sources from within their own country. I am very proud to live only an hour away from the greenest European city of 2011!
A cultural difference that I find very humorous is the extreme concern of a German person in becoming sick. I had read about this in a German culture book before moving here, but I have seen it in real life while living here. I think it is much more exaggerated for me because I am completely unafraid of germs and if I become a little sick, I just disregard it and go on with my day as usual.
Well, here in Germany if a child has a fever that is 0.1 degrees above the average, then the child will stay home from school. If other children at school are sick, then there’s a chance that a healthy child will stay home to ensure that he or she does not become sick.
Many Germans are also firm believers in homeopathic medicines and other home remedies. If one of my host parents hears me make a sniffing noise, then they will put on a pot of tea and grab the honey before I can even manage to tell them that I’m fine. If I tell them that I’m having a slight headache or feel sick to my stomach then they’ll go to the homeopathic medicine cabinet and drop some strange little medicine balls in my hand to place under my tongue.
The way that Germans speak to each other is also very different to me than how Americans speak to each other. I think that the German language in itself is very strict and has many rules that must be followed, but when it comes to speaking one on one it is very simple. All Germans that I know say the exact same phrases over and over and over ad nauseam.
A few examples:
-The word “genau” is generally used at least two times by each person within one conversation. The best way to translate this word is by saying “exactly” in English, but I feel that Germans use it way too often for it to only mean that one thing.
-The saying “Na” is used at the beginning of a conversation between two people that are just meeting up with each other or at the start of a phone conversation. It means absolutely nothing. It’s just a noise. And it’s very funny to hear German people simultaneously saying, “Naaaaa” while first making contact with each other.
-The phrase “Alles Klar” is almost always used at the end of a phone conversation or any other important conversation to make sure that everything was understood in the conversation. It is also used frequently to make sure that everything is okay.
-Another phrase “Pass Auf” literally means “Pay Attention” and it is used before something important is said or if an adult wants a child to shut up and listen to them.
-One more phrase “Hoer Auf” can be translated to mean something like “Stop it!” My two little boys use this constantly when they are getting annoyed with each other. It can be used for any situation in which someone is annoyed.
-One last word that I must comment on because I find it extremely funny is “doch.” This word literally means “but” in English, but when I hear it used in a German conversation I think the best way to translate it into English is by saying the childish and immature phrase, “yeah huh.” It’s like saying, I’m right and you’re wrong. Children will banter back and forth by saying “Nein, doch, nein, doch, nein, doch!” What I find so comical is that all German adults also use this phrase. Can you imagine an American middle aged man saying “yeah huh!?”
Well this blog has already turned into a long one so I’ll stop with the cultural lessons for today and probably continue it on another blog another time!