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Culture Shock: The 10 weirdest German customs and traditions
German culture is often associated with order and punctuality, but beneath the surface, there is much more than that. Being a world of color and craziness, the German way of life involves more excitement than you can ever imagine. Let’s explore it together!
Leaving your home country and travelling to study abroad is never an easy thing to do. Packing up your life, finding a place to live and starting university can be very stressful. Germany is a country that is extremely hospitable and welcoming of foreign students, offering excellent academic possibilities to everyone around the world. However, as any country, it has its own peculiarities – customs, habits and traditions that foreigners may find incredibly weird and fascinating. In this article, you will discover the craziest German traditions that you might encounter when you move to Germany. So, are you ready to read about amusingly shocking cultural facts? Worry not, you will be prepared for even the strangest German customs.
10 crazy cultural customs that are totally normal in Germany
Some argue that a culture can be defined by the sum of its customs. All of the etiquette rules, traditions, attitudes, and even quirks that are unique to a group of people who share an origin can appear strange to those on the outside looking in. Naturally, this statement applies to Germany. A charming country with breathtaking nature and the highest number of castles, Germany welcomes around 20,000 new international students every year. Although the people are very welcoming, it is normal for foreigners to culture shock when moving to a new environment with a different culture.
So, here are some of the reasons why that might happen:
1. Are we speaking the same language?
Language dialects are usually mutually intelligible, but it can take some effort for speakers of different dialects to understand each other. When your mother tongue is not German, it can be even harder to grasp the variety of dialects. Some examples include the Bavarian dialect, Upper Saxon, Berlinerisch, Low German, and more.
That being said, the language is dynamic and ever-changing! These dialects make learning and speaking German more interesting. As you learn German, you must first master Hochdeutsch, but picking up another dialect will only enrich your language learning experience.
2. No offence, but…
It can be said that Germans generally speak more directly about an issue, without hedging or trying to hide their feelings for fear of offending someone. If anything bothers them, they will not sit quietly on the sidelines, but say it without hesitation. However, the directness, is all about communicating in as few words as possible. It is not meant to be rude.
Another funny German quality is the desire to publicly correct someone’s behavior. Yes, even if they are a complete stranger. If someone does not behave according to German cultural norms, they will not tolerate the behavior and will immediately admonish the perpetrator for the behavior he or she is displaying. This culture of correcting others' behavior is especially prevalent in Bavaria, which retains some traditional customs.
3. Yes or no?
That being said, Germans are not that rude at all. The words ‘danke’ (‘thank you’) and ‘bitte’ (‘please’ or ‘you’re welcome’) are some of the most frequently used across the country. So much so, that they can sometimes cause confusion.
The word ‘bitte’, depending on the context, can mean a number of things. ‘Please’, ‘You're welcome’, ‘Here you go’ (when handing something over), ‘May I help you?’ and ‘Pardon?’ are just some of its many meanings.
‘Danke’ typically means “thank you”, but for example, when you are refusing something to eat or drink, it can be used synonymously with ‘no’. So, pay close attention and don’t forget to ask if you are confused.
4. Get ready for a workout
Over 75% of Germans own a bike, and almost everyone knows how to ride one properly, having learned to do so as a child. Cycling is a well-established and expected part of German traffic, unlike in some other countries where it is more of a sport. In cities, there are far more bicycles than automobiles. In fact, cycling is ingrained in the culture of a German city. If you neglect a cyclist in any way, including not getting out of the way when one is approaching, you will be frowned upon.
There are some amazing advantages to cycling, though. Apart from it being amazing for your health and serving as a great daily workout, it is also an environmentally-friendly activity.
5. Pay in cash
There is a widespread belief that Germans are the most technologically savvy people on the planet. That is, they like to stay current by owning all of the latest gadgets. The country is known for its high-end automobiles such as Porsches, BMWs, and Audis. However, local businesses like grocery stores and restaurants frequently prefer cash payments over buyers using a debit or credit card. They may even direct you to the nearest ATM rather than allowing you to use your card.
6. Hungry for something new?
Speaking of food, there are some interesting meals that Germany has to offer.
Hackepeter, a raw meat spread from Germany made of fresh, finely ground pork that can be flavored with salt, pepper, and spices like garlic or caraway, is one example. The most common way to eat Hackepeter is on bread with raw onions on top.
Or how about Blutwurst, a dark, nearly black sausage made with fresh pig's blood, diced pork and pork fat, salt, pepper, and various seasonings. It is the oldest known type of sausage. The German Blutwurst is unique in that it is used in dishes with creative names, such as "Himmel und Erde," which combines it with apple sauce and mashed potatoes.
Saumagen, which translates as "sow's stomach," is a popular German dish in the Palatinate. The dish is similar to a sausage in that it has a stuffed casing; however, the stomach is an essential component of the dish.
So, to sum it up, if you are vegetarian, you’re safe.
7. People smoke indoors
Technically, smoking inside public places is forbidden in all federal states, but there are designated rooms and areas, where smoking is permitted. Smoking is generally prohibited inside private offices and public areas, buildings, and institutions (such as schools, hospitals, and airports), though there are exceptions, with rules varying by state. In Berlin, for example, people may smoke in designated smoking areas in nightclubs, restaurants, and bars that are completely separate from public areas, as well as in bars smaller than 75 square meters.
8. Passion for punctuality and order
Never be late for an appointment or when meeting new people! Germans are notoriously punctual, and even a few minutes' delay can irritate them. Call ahead and explain your situation if you are going to be even slightly late. And don’t forget that “halb acht” means “half past seven”, not “eight”.
Another point is Germans’ love of order. As the famous expression goes, “Ordnung muss sein” (“there must be order”). This proverbial saying has become so ingrained in the German psyche that it has become a cultural cliché for Germans all over the world, as well as a way of life for them at home.
9. Cheers everybody!
The laws in Germany regarding alcohol consumption in general are notoriously lenient. Minors under the age of 18 are permitted to consume and possess undistilled (fermented) alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine in public places, bars, or restaurants as long as they are accompanied by an adult and have the permission of a Custodial Person.
Furthermore, alcohol is sold in grocery stores, gas stations, and even newspaper stands. It is legal to consume in restaurants, cafes, and snack bars, and it is common to see people drinking in parks, on the streets, and even on public transportation.
10. Rest is extremely important
Germans value their leisure time highly. For one thing, most stores are closed on Sundays, so make sure to do your grocery shopping on the other six days of the week. Students and working professionals usually stock up a day ahead of time. However, shifting your focus to other daily responsibilities is not difficult. Laundry, cleaning the house, and preparing clothes for the next week are some of the more manageable tasks to save for Sunday. In Germany, the official observance of this custom has even resulted in the prohibition of using power drills on Sundays.
Furthermore, German doctors have an astounding proclivity for issuing sick leave from work, even if they are tired or have what the Germans refer to as “Kreislauf”, a generalized term that translates to 'bad circulation.'
Although Germany seems like a strict rule-following country, plenty of weirdness bubbles just below the surface. It is definitely a country full of color and life. Its cultural peculiarities definitely may make it more difficult to adjust to, but also add to the excitement and fun of exploring the country. Culture shock is quite shocking at first, but after the initial period it has a number of benefits.
Culture shock will expand your worldview
Getting involved in a study abroad program or relocating to a foreign country are both exciting ways to immerse oneself in a new culture. Many people wish for the opportunity to participate in the traditions, foods, and cultural practices of other countries for an extended period of time.
Spending time in foreign countries and learning about different cultures is an essential part of becoming a well-rounded and open-minded person. As you observe people who live differently than you and begin to comprehend the reasoning and methods underlying their cultural practices, you begin to see everything you encounter through a new lens. Immersion in a different country and culture will help you become a more empathetic, understanding, and accepting of all people with whom you come into contact.
What more is there to say? If you are ready for all the amazing experiences and rich culture that Germany has to offer, it is time to pack your bags and embark on the journey of a lifetime.