I’ve already expressed a fraction of how warm and friendly the local German people have been to us so far, but now that we’ve been living here almost two months, I can tell you there’s so much more. We have yet to have a notable negative interaction with the European people. One of our goals is to get out of our comfort zones and try something new each week and so far it has been working. No matter what place we’ve traveled to, we are met with helpful and kind people (even when we are butchering the language…). I think they appreciate when we try to speak the language and are quick to help us when we need it. My “first” impression of this country and its people is nothing but positive. Without further ado, I put together some of the differences I’ve found so far between America and Germany.
One of the first big differences I’ve found between the US and Germany is in grocery shopping.
- In the states, I was lucky enough to be able to shop at the German stores Aldi and Lidl so I was already accustomed to the idea of putting a coin in your shopping cart in order to get it back when you return it (gone are the days of shopping cart rangling or worrying if someone’s wayward cart will hit your car). You’ll find you need a Euro coin to get a cart pretty much anywhere you go here.
- I was also used to bringing my own reusable cloth shopping bags but if you’re new here, you’ll have to start bringing your own if you shop off base (which I highly recommend). Otherwise you pay for your bags.
One thing I haven’t mastered yet is trying to bag my own groceries quickly while not holding up the whole line when I need to pay at the same time! I also haven’t learned to completely ignore the wafting aromas from the bakery as soon as I enter the store. Every time is a hard lesson in self-control.
- Selection is also very different here. You’ll find a Bäckerei (bakery) or Metzgerei (butcher) in nearly all of the bigger villages and the quality is impossible to match. Currently, we only stop by these places for a treat but plan to be regular patrons soon. The produce we find in most grocery stores seems so fresh and the food in general has waaaaaay less chemicals and preservatives than in the States.
- Another huge difference is that most if not all stores are closed on Sundays. We knew about this before arriving and haven’t found it to be a huge inconvenience yet, mostly for the reasons behind it (more on that later).
We learned very quickly the etiquette and rules for dining out – after a few awkward encounters and standing around uncomfortably. How else do you learn, right?
- First of all, don’t wait to be seated. Unless a waiter greets you and points to a place, you seat yo’ self and wait – they’ll come.
- Factor in and expect to pay for water. You can order sparkling or still and most likely won’t get ice. Getting tap water is not a normal thing and can be considered rude.
- At the end of the meal, most times the waiter will wait until you ask for the check (“Die Rechnung, bitte“, and believe me, if you don’t ask, you could be sitting there forever. They don’t rush you). You will pay at the table, either with a card reader or more likely with cash and they’ll give you the change right there.
- Tipping is also very different here. I’ve talked to multiple Germans about this issue and they’ve all said the same thing. It’s not expected, but a small tip is appreciated. Around 10% is considered good, but more likely you can just round up to a whole number and add a little bit if you want. For example, the bill is €27,00 and you hand them a €50 bill, just say thirty (or dreiβig, bitte) and call it good. It doesn’t take long to make it second nature, yet I still feel bad sometimes for not tipping 20% or more.
- My advise is to always bring cash. Cash is used almost exclusively at restaurants and stall vendors. Even in grocery stores I feel more like an outsider if we use a card.
- Last of all for dining out – relax and slow down. There’s a much slower pace for dining here. You take your time, enjoy the company and the food, sit and people watch. At any town you walk to with outdoor seating, you’ll notice how many people are people-watching you. But you get used to it.
Bonus tip – In the afternoons, take advantage of my favorite time of day – Kaffee und Kuchen. Why isn’t this universal yet? Take a break from your shopping or exploring and sit for some coffee and cake. It will always be amazing. It will always be delicious. It will always be necessary.
Family & Traditions
- One thing I noticed right off the bat was how the German people value family and time together. As I mentioned earlier, most stores are closed on Sundays because that day should be reserved for family and taking a break from work. Restaurants usually remain open but your shopping should be done a different day.
- When you first meet someone, it’s a solid handshake and eye contact. I try to do that already but it’s so refreshing when it’s culturally understood!
- When you arrive somewhere, you acknowledge each person and say hello. When you pass someone on the street, you acknowledge and say hallo, and when you leave somewhere you acknowledge people and say goodbye. Even in the grocery store and restaurants. It makes me realize how passive Americans can be. We sometimes pride ourselves on being able to leave somewhere completely unnoticed and rarely take time to say hello and goodbye, and I’ve caught so many Americans here averting eye contact when I try to acknowledge them in passing.
It’s a little bit of work, but the trash and recycling system here in Germany looks a lot different than America.
- You separate glass by color, put paper in a separate bin, put plastic/metal in special yellow bags, and the rest of the trash gets a bin.
- You pay a deposit on beer and glass beverage bottles and then get that back when you return them, and drive other glass to a special bin somewhere in your specific village.
It doesn’t take long to learn the system and they seem to value being ecological and environmental.
Living Here vs. Traveling Here
At the end of the day, I’m still amazed we get to live in this fairy tale and it already feels like home. There are day trips to places like Köln, Brussels, and Frankfurt if we want. We’re not just passing through so we get to spend more time exploring and finding things off the beaten path. We get to adopt lasting traditions that will follow us as we’re establishing our family and future. And we get to make lasting memories in places I never dreamed we’d be able to. It’s a completely different experience than spending a limited amount of time passing through as an irresponsible backpacker, like the last time I was in Germany.
I much prefer this way 🙂
Did I miss another huge difference between our two countries? What was the biggest surprise when you came to Europe, or if you’re from here, when you went to the US? Do you have any advice for fellow travelers or visitors?