German habits

21 German Habits I’m Re-Learning Right Now

24. Oktober 2016

Two months back in my home country Germany and I’m still surprised that there are so many German habits and approaches to daily life that I need to re-learn and get used to again. They range from very simple and mundane things like traffic rules, recycling and tissue usage to more abstract and less-straightforward aspects of daily life such as personal space, small talk and how to raise your kids. Plus the colder temperatures, of course.

German habits

  1. A red traffic light means STOP. For real. Not only for car drivers, but also for bikers and pedestrians. 24/7. It’s the law. And also we all want to be a good example for our kids. Even when it’s the middle of the night and they are already fast asleep.
  2. I now live in the same time zone as many of my friends and family. I still don’t talk to them more often than when I lived in Tennessee. It hardly ever crosses my mind that they are awake at the same time as I am. So if you are my friend, please pick up your phone and call me!
  3. Our garbage can is tiny and is only picked up twice a month. I’ll either need to become a pro in waste separation and waste avoidance (asap!) or turn into a waste tourist. Neighbors, if I were you, I’d better shut my garbage cans away!
  4. Is small talk a non-existent expression in the German language? I have such a hard time starting a conversation with someone I’ve just met. Usually, I start off with the weather or a compliment on shoes, scarf, haircut (I know! It’s so American!). I ask questions. I throw random pieces of personal information out there: We just moved here. We are not from here. We lived in the United States for 5 years. Still nothing more than maybe a brief answer to one of my questions. Hardly ever a follow-up question. What’s wrong Germans? How will I ever get to know you? But. I’m learning to be patient. To never give up. To ask again and again. To be the weirdo. And lo and behold it seems to get easier with each time I meet the now not-so-new people! They recognize me. They start asking questions. It seems like I have to become a part of their life first by showing my face again and again until they open their arms a teeny-tiny bit and let me in into their world. It’s exhausting, but I hope that it is worth it.
  5. German tissues /Kleenex are meant to be used more than once. Same holds true for cloth tissues… Ew!
  6. No grocery shopping on Sundays. Everything is closed and life comes to a complete stop. Which is kind of nice. If your fridge is fully stocked. In Tennessee, Sundays don’t differ much from normal weekdays. Exceptions: church parking lots are packed and alcohol can only be bought after noon.
  7. I’m so glad for summer to be over and for the public pool to be closed. Why? Just one word: Speedos. Too revealing. End of story.
  8. When it comes to traffic, Germans are pretty inconsiderate, even when kids are involved. While Americans switch to walking speed as soon as they spot a kid in the far far faraway distance, Germans don’t hold back. Going consistently over the speed limit, no matter if kids are in sight or not. Rushing around the corner just before the kid (or the mom) on the bike crosses the street. Always making sure that they, and not the kids or any other road users come first. This is not only really annoying, but straight out dangerous! So during our first couple of weeks my kids got a crash course in road safety training. And swearing…
    Burghausen Germany
  9. Surprise! Dryer and car are not my default choices anymore. Now it’s ok for me to dry laundry outside (which is hardly every possible because of the weather, but that’s a different story). No neighborhood regulations that I need to comply with (yes, Americans love rules and regulations, too!). Also I can ride my bike or walk almost anywhere here in Burghausen! There are days, sometime a whole week, that our car doesn’t move a single inch.
  10. Germans shake hands. All the time. To introduce themselves, to say hi, to say good-bye. To adults as well as to children. It took a while until my kids knew what was expected of them when an arm is outstretched into their direction: a firm handshake with the right hand. As for my part, I have to consciously remind myself to greet people with a handshake. And to suppress the urge to rush to the closest bathroom sink or to use my hand sanitizer to get rid of all these nasty germs.
  11. You don’t get very far without actual money in your pocket. Cash. Finally my credit card could get a rest, if it wasn’t for online shopping. Which is as much of a thing in Germany as it is in the US. Yeah!
  12. Smoking is still a widespread habit in Germany. People smoke everywhere; cigarette stubs can be found everywhere. Such a contrast to the United States where smokers were almost absent of our daily life, banned to restricted areas or smoking cages lounges in public.
  13. Moving to a new city involves a lot of mundane organizational activities such as finding a new fitness studio or soccer team, a hair stylist, or a doctor. Well, doctors. Pediatrician, dentist, general practitioner, OB/GYN – you name it. Turns out it’s not that easy! „Sorry, we don’t take any new patients right now“ is an answer I’ve heard far too often recently. Once my application has been successful, I’m confronted with now very unfamiliar practices: a referral from a general practitioner might be necessary to get an appointment with a specialist. No-one calls or sends me a text message or an e-mail to remind me of my appointment. And when it comes to examinations, „uncovering“ really means „to undress fully“ – no matter if there are people in the room, the doors to hallway and neighboring rooms are opened and closed repeatedly, and a cover-up-paper nowhere to be seen. Wow! How much I’ve changed within the past years! I clearly remember my amusement during our Intercultural Training that we attended before we moved to the United States. The trainer told us about doctor visits and that the paper cloth on the examination table is not meant for cleaning, but for covering up your exposed body parts during examination.
  14. Parking is a hassle. Not only has driving become more of a weekly than a multiple-times-a-day habit. But also availability and SIZE of parking lots and spaces are limited and so so narrow. Maybe we just need a smaller car?
  15. Kids have more freedom and are more independent here which means that my husband now calls me a helicopter mom that I never thought I would be. Walking home from school all by yourself? No way! Playing in hidden corners on the playground where I can’t see you? Are you crazy? Letting you play in the backyard without checking on you every 30 seconds? Of course not! Seems I still have a long long way to go until I’m a proper German mom.
  16. In Chattanooga, the worst swear word that my kids knew was „Oh my God!“. And maybe „What in the world!“ though that might not even count as one. Here swear words have been infiltrating our life more and more. While „Kackwurscht“ makes me laugh because of my kids‘ emphasis on the Bavarian pronunciation (Mama, it’s pronounced „Wurscht“ not „Wurst“!), the „Sch…“-word is making us cringe. But people say it all the time and everywhere! Who can argue against that?
  17. Must-haves in German wardrobes: undershirts, wool socks and tights, scarves, hats, gloves in various styles, jackets in various degrees of protection against coldness and wetness. And slippers. Slippers are needed at home, at day-care, at school. And it’s always a good idea to have a spare pair of slippers in your handbag. Just in case that the house is not equipped with floor heating. Such as ours.
  18. I’m still a far too generous tipper. By German standards. Though I never fully mastered the art of tipping in the United States. And now I’ve given up completely. But I greatly appreciate the warm smile that appears on a waiter’s face when I pay the bill.
  19. My personal bubble gets constantly invaded, i.e. people make me feel uncomfortable because they come too close. In Tennessee, people keep their distance and give you much more personal space than they do here. This can be observed while waiting in line at a coffee shop, for example, when talking to your neighbors on the street, and also in the grocery stores. The distance Southerners keep in these situations and the frequency of „sorrys“ and „excuse mes“ might almost culminate in ridiculousness for the outsider. But guess what? You get used to it more quickly than you think you do.
  20. „You are writing – what? A blog?“ Before we moved to Germany, I didn’t expect that blogging would already be considered to be a profession. But that some people still have no idea what a blog actually is, has truly surprised me.
  21. When we first moved here, my kids and I had a long discussion about marshmallows. My kids love them. Which is obvious. They are kids. They like to melt them in hot cocoa or eat them as the most important part of a S’more (roasted marshmallow melts a piece of chocolate that is part of a graham cracker sandwich). I told my kids that Germans don’t eat marshmallows because they are full of sugar and that they are only available in the United States. Oh how wrong I was! It must have been during our first family trip to a German grocery store: marshmallows in different sizes, colors, flavors. So on Saturday I finally gave in. It was time for a campfire. Time for a sugar rush. Time to keep an American tradition alive.

American tradition Living in the United States for 5 years has changed me and my perspective and attitude towards Germans, the German culture, the way things are done in Germany. I know that a lot of these German habits that I am re-learning right now, are going to be normal again too very soon. Which can be a good thing. In some cases. But there are quite a few American habits, traditions, approaches to life that I would like to keep active and alive. I know that they make me and my family different from the world around us. But they have become a part of our life and make me who I am now. These are approaches to life that I’m continuing to teach my children, that I would like to introduce to the people around me and also to you, my blog readers!

Stay curious.
Be open-minded.
The glass is half full.
Everything is possible.

Are you in?

Ich bin Tina. Promovierte Linguistin, Englisch-Expertin, Professional Coach und Ex-Expat-Partner. Meinen riesengroßen Wissensdurst stille ich mit Podcasts, Büchern, Seminaren und Networking-Events. Hier teile ich mein Wissen, um Dir Inspiration und Impulse für Deine persönliche Weiterentwicklung zu geben.

Improve your English.
Be Curious.
Rock the world!

10 Kommentare
  1. Dear Tina,
    this really made me laugh at least once or twice and I can relate. I have lived in the US as well and know how it feels to be back in Germany and certainly the little differences when you move from a bigger city to a small town.
    Ironically we both seem to have come to Burghausen more or less recently – so hello to you & welcome!!
    And yes, I know the feeling when you try to do smalltalk and get to know new people here, it takes time.
    (I think we actually spoke briefly at the Kindergarten hallway on my sons first day in September…).
    I have lived with my husband in Munich before we came to Burghausen and that’s already a different world when it comes to certain aspects you’ve mentioned. But some of them really aren’t a generel german thing ;)
    Feel free to contact me if you’d like to talk and/ or have coffee sometime :)
    All the best!

    • Hi Anja,
      thank you so much for your comment, for reading my blog and for reaching out to me! What a coincidence that you are in Burghausen, too, and that you can relate to my experiences here as a newcomer. I would love to grab a coffee and talk to you about all things USA, Munich and South-East Bavaria in person :-) I’ll send you an e-mail and please stop me in the Kindergarten hallway if you happen to see me again!

  2. IN! ;-)

    • I knew it! Let’s do this :-)

  3. Moin Moin Tina,
    entschuldige bitte. Doch ich musst so herzhaft über Deinen Artikel lachen.
    Tja, Deutschland ist schon etwas besonders. Doch es gibt auch einige Dinge, die von Region zu Region unterschiedlich sind.
    Smalltalk ist eine Angewohnheit, die es in einigen Ecken nicht oder kaum gibt. So war ich es aus Berlin gewohnt einfach drauf los zu reden. An der Ampel, im Supermarkt in Lokalen…. Dann kam ich nach Hamburg und dachte mir, dass es sicher mit Kinderwagen ganz einfach ist Leute kennen zu lernen. Aber weit gefehlt. Ich wurde nur irritiert angesehen. Inzwischen weiß ich, dass es auch von Stadtteil zu Stadtteil unterschiedlich ist. Aber etwas positives hat es doch. Die norddeutschen Sturköppe haben Dich für immer ins Herz geschlossen, wenn sie denn einmal aufgetaut sind. was die Parkplätze anbelangt, tja Deutschland ist halt ein wenig kleiner… grins. Dafür kann man tatsächlich viel mit dem Fahrrad erledigen. :-)
    Das Kinder sich frei bewegen können finde ich eigentlich sehr positiv. Ist aber sicher ungewohnt.
    Einkaufen am Sonntag ist leider fast noch ein Traum in Deutschland. Doch in Großstädten z.T. möglich, zumindest an einer bestimmten Anzahl an Sonntagen. Dafür gibt es aber bei uns die großen Tankstellen, wo man noch mal Brötchen, Milch oder Grillkohle im Sommer bekommt.
    Ich wünsche Euch eine angenehme Eingewöhnung in der neuen, alten Heimat.
    Sei lieb gegrüßt aus dem Hohen Norden

    • Liebe Sylke,
      vielen Dank für Deinen Kommentar! Von diesen regionalen Unterschieden habe ich jetzt auch schon immer wieder gehört. Meine Schwiegermutter – aus Niedersachsen – ist zum Beispiel immer ganz begeistert, wie freundlich sie hier in Burghausen behandelt wird. Und ich weiß dann gar nicht wovon sie redet ;-) Sie unterschiedlich und spannend können Wahrnehmungen sein!
      Liebe Grüße in den Norden!
      PS: Ich bin in 2 Wochen auf der Blogst in Hamburg – Du auch???

  4. Hi Tina,
    Loved your commentary and while I related to nearly every single item, the necessity of undershirts hit home the most! My youngest is now wearing my oldest’s clothes that she had at this age when we were in Germany, and included are undershirts to last a lifetime. When my mom dresses my youngest, she always makes comments about how she forgot an undershirt because it’s not normal here, or she’ll put on a regular t-shirt and call it her undershirt for the day. The slight German in me wants to shout out no! A t-shirt is by no means an undershirt!

    I can so picture your kids awkwardly giving their (wrong) hand to a stranger wanting to shake it! Lol

    • Hi Jill,

      thanks for your comment. I truly didn’t know how important undershirts were going to be. Or tights. Even for boys. Or „Thermohosen“! We all needed a new winter wardrobe. Now I’m curious to find out what German spring and summer has in store for us…

      Say hi to Chattanooga for me :-)

  5. Hi! Finde deinen Blog so super! Ich bin in Berlin geboren und aufgewachsen und lebe seit 15 Jahren in Austin, Texas. Meine Eltern leben aber in Berlin. Mein amerikanischer Mann und ich wollen aber demnächst nach Berlin (zurück) ziehen. Daher lese ich gerade viele Artikel und Blogs zum Thema Repatriation und bin so auf deinen Blog gekommen. Ich werde weiterhin ganz spannend deine Blog Posts verfolgen. Vielen Dank.

    • Hallo Cordula, vielen Dank für Dein Feedback! Wie läuft Eure Rückkehrplanung? Ist sie schon etwas konkrete geworden? Berlin ist natürlich eine ganz besondere Stadt – das macht Repatriation vielleicht ein wenig einfacher… Lieben Gruß, Tina

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