Skip to Content

10 Culture Shocks In Germany You Might Not Expect

We take pride in providing authentic travel recommendations based on our own experiences through unique imagery and visiting each destination. We may earn a commission when you purchase a product or book a reservation. Learn more ›

Herzlich Willkommen to the land of potato salad, beer, and David Hasselhoff fans. Yes, his musical talent is still relevant today. German culture heavily influenced my childhood into adulthood. Sometimes, I’m more familiar with European traditions than the North American lifestyle.

I take pride in my family’s German culture, and seeing the contrast between North American and European lifestyles is interesting.

Summers in East Germany were an important part of my childhood, and my grandparents still reside there. Despite being far away, we still have a close relationship and chat regularly.

North America and Europe share similarities, but there are still many cultural differences. For anyone who isn’t familiar with them, this can be quite a culture shock.

For example, as a child, I attended a horse camp in Germany. My friends there thought I was strange because I was okay with buttered toast or just plain cereal for breakfast. (This is Something acceptable in Canadian culture.) Most Germans tend to have a full breakfast with everything you can imagine.

But that’s just scratching the surface… Let’s look at things Germans find normal but are a culture shock to Americans. There might be some you aren’t aware of.

Culture Shocks in Germany

1. Small Refrigerators

Cooluli 20L Mini Fridge
Cooluli / Amazon

Many European households have small fridges, similar to a mini fridges in North America. My grandma’s fridge is hidden among her kitchen cabinets.

North Americans are shocked that eggs in Germany are not refrigerated. European Union laws require eggs in grocery stores not to be washed. This means they keep their natural protective coating and can handle room temperatures just fine. You’re more likely to contract salmonella from a “cleaner” refrigerated American egg.

You also won’t find any colossal-sized milk here. Most dairy comes in small cartons and is also sold at room temperature. After it’s opened, though, it needs refrigeration.

Because of a healthier work-life balance, most Germans add grocery shopping to their daily routine, picking up smaller loads. Most North Americans usually go once a week or less often for a huge haul.

My grandparents make daily trips to the butcher and baker. A large fridge isn’t necessary since they rely heavily on fresh ingredients. This is a common practice amongst German people.

If you’re ready to fully embrace the German way, check out this mini fridge from Cooluli on Amazon. See if you’re up for having a minimal amount of your groceries.

2. Sparkling Water Over Bottled Water

Gerolsteiner Sparkling Mineral Water
Gerolsteine / Amazon

Growing up, my grandma always bought regular water whenever my brother and I flew down there. The concept of drinking plain water didn’t make sense to her. She thought it was tasteless.

Many Germans tend to quench their thirst with sparkling water instead of bottled water. Even in Canada, my German mom always had a Perrier case. In German culture, it’s completely acceptable to crack open the bubbly at any time, and no special occasion is needed.

For an authentic German “sprudelwasser” experience at home, grab some Sparkling Mineral Water by Gerolsteiner. Many reviewers on Amazon rave about the great taste. Maybe my grandma is onto something after all.

PRO TIP: If ordering water in a restaurant, go for bottled. Germans will think you’re cheap if you order tap water!

3. Everything is Closed on Sunday

Germany "Geschlossen" Closed Sign
Marc Bode / Shutterstock

Another culture shock to Americans is that most stores are closed on Sundays. This is so employees have a day of rest. Bakeries, convenience stores, and gas stations are open on Sundays but have limited hours. It’s a genius idea that I wish would make it to us North Americans.

To avoid standing before closed doors, you must plan your grocery shopping trip for another day. This rule comes with some exceptions. A big city, such as Berlin or Munich, caters to tourists. You’ll likely find restaurants and grocery stores open on Sundays and holidays.

4. The Autobahn is Fast

Car son the Road in  Germany
VanderWolf Images / Adobe Stock

The Autobahn is the main highway system in Germany and possibly the most iconic in the world. It’s known for cars driving without speed limits—that’s right—none. You can legally drive your car as fast as it will go.

Certain sections of the Autobahn will have a posted speed limit, but for the most part, anything goes. Cars will zoom past you in the left lane. Most people will quickly learn to stay in the right lane.

I remember driving on the Autobahn with my great aunt in her tiny car. She was driving at nearly 90mph, but by the look on her face, you’d think she was trundling along at 30. She said if I wasn’t in the car, she’d be going faster.

It’s a really interesting feeling when you’re on it. You don’t even realize how fast you’re going until you look at your speedometer.

PRO TIP: All cars made and sold in Germany have their engines electronically limited to a maximum speed of 155mph. And yes, you will see people make full use of that!

5. Respect the Quiet Hours

Weißgerbergasse in Nürnberg, Germany
xbrchx / Adobe Stock

Germans love their rules and laws. If you visit the country and bend some of its precious rules, it won’t go unnoticed. Don’t be surprised if a random person will point out that you messed up.

Citizens are expected to respect the country’s unwritten “Ruhezeit” rules. The word Ruhezeit translates to quiet time. This tradition is generally observed at night, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., Sundays and holidays. Germans living in a smaller city may also have an afternoon time slot, generally from 1-3 p.m.

Be a good sport and keep your celebrations quiet during the holidays. You can get a fine or court order if you don’t abide and your neighbors complain.

See Related: Things Not to Do In Germany: Cultural Do’s & Don’ts to Know

6. Dogs Are Welcome at Restaurants

Dogs on a Road Trip
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Germans love their dogs, so bring Fido along to your next culinary excursion! Most restaurants, bars, and cafes in the country welcome furry friends. This is quite the difference compared to North America, where dogs aren’t often allowed inside. Although, in recent years, I’ve seen a lot of dog-friendly patios popping up in North America.

A few places in Germany may not accept dogs. In that case, a sign will be posted outside the business. Some restaurants with open kitchens also typically don’t allow dogs on the grounds. Grocery stores and butcher shops also don’t allow our furry friends inside. Wherever you bring your pooch, though, make sure they’re on a leash.

7. The Drinking Age is 16

Authentic German beer and pretzel at Chinesischer Turm beer garden in Munich, Bavaria.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

If you’re bringing your older teen to Germany, be aware that they can legally consume wine and beer. The drinking age is one of the major cultural differences between the United States and Germany. It shocks many, but not me. Prost!

Anyone 16 years or older can consume wine and beer in the country. However, to consume spirits or hard liquor, one must be 18 years old. This is quite the contrast, as one must be 21 years old to legally drink in the United States.

8. Different Dialects by Area

Map of the States of Germany
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The official language of Germany is “Hochdeutsch,” or “High German.” Also known as Standard German, it’s spoken in several countries. According to optilingo.com, there are eight main dialects in German, and I’ve personally encountered a couple.

For example, in elementary school, I was friends with a girl whose family was from Northern Germany. They were used to speaking what is known as “Low German.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand any of the words as the dialects differed. It’s like comparing the King’s English to Louisiana’s Cajun English.

9. Dinner is a Small Meal

Vegetable Quinoa Soup
annapustynnikova / Adobe Stock

In Germany and many other European countries, lunch is the biggest meal. Breakfast takes the crown as the second largest meal. A typical German dinner is something light and small. North America should follow this example as it’s better for overall health.

Dinner is usually around 6 to 7 p.m. A typical German dinner may consist of bread, rolls, assorted meats, cheeses, and pickles.

The only real exception is if Germans go out to dinner. Then they’ll eat a large main course. I highly recommend trying Spätzle or a Cordon-Bleu Schnitzel.

10. Cash is Preferred

Euro Paper Bills
nadia_if / Shutterstock

When it comes to commerce, German people are pretty old-fashioned. Most restaurants and some small business owners only accept cash, even to this day.

Foreignpolicy.com states that the country is “hopelessly addicted to cash.” This emphasizes the importance of traveling with multiple forms of payment. It’s a good rule of thumb for traveling the world in general.

While credit and debit cards exist, traveling with extra paper in your pocket is always good. Note that you need Euros for transactions; the US dollar is not accepted. If you’re planning on an extended stay, choose Wise for an international bank account, so you’ll never have to worry about finances abroad.

Things in Germany That Are Not Free

Germany is very prosperous. While it is a cheaper place to live than the US and has a much better social safety net, it’s no surprise that certain things in Germany are not free, especially healthcare and education.

Prescription Drugs

Set of Pills

Health insurance is mandatory in Germany. Prescriptions require payment regardless of whether you have public or private insurance.

Public insurance requires a co-payment of between €5 and €10 per prescription. Self-employed citizens or employees earning more than €62,550 can opt for private insurance. While you still have to pay upfront, a percentage will be reimbursed.

Make sure you have health insurance regardless of where you are. Cigna Healthcare has great plans tailored to your needs.

Pharmaceuticals

Stock Medicines

Pharmaceuticals are one of a few things in Germany that are quite expensive. That said, the Commonwealth Fund states that even though Germany seems to have high drug prices, they’re lower compared to what citizens are paying in the United States.

Global Policy Watch states that the country added new laws regarding the pricing and reimbursement of pharmaceuticals in 2022. Long story short, it affects pretty much everyone in the healthcare industry. The changes caused the price of pharmaceuticals to increase.

Mind you, you get what you pay for in Germany. They do have top-of-the-line healthcare. It makes sense that expensive pharmaceuticals go hand in hand with their exceptional system.

Health Insurance

Medical Instrument Stethoscope

As mentioned, health insurance in Germany is mandatory and must be paid monthly. The cost of health insurance will vary, but the fees are generally less than what you’ll pay in the US for similar coverage.

Many factors, such as age, income, and health conditions, come into play. According to welcome-center-germany.com, the general contribution rate is 14.6% of an individual’s gross income.

It’s important to be covered, especially when abroad. If you’re planning an extended stay, you may want to look at domestic insurance firms, but for short-term visitors, take charge of your health with travel insurance through SafetyWing or with Visitors Coverage.

Medical Care

Doctor with Stethoscope

Medical care in Germany is anything but free. According to World Population Review, Germany is among the top 10 countries with the highest healthcare costs. Germans must pay for doctor visits, glasses, contacts, dental check-ups, and other related appointments. Still, it’s frequently less than what it costs in the US.

You will also be required to buy insurance that covers your medical expenses. Some insurance companies may not reimburse you until much later.

Be warned; depending on your specific case, you might be waiting a while.

Education

Teacher and Students

Like most nations in the civilized world, if you’re living in Germany, you must pay taxes for education. The German government funds public schools, colleges, universities, and special education.

The standard of German education is world-class, and higher education is extremely reasonable. According to The Economic Times, most public universities offer free tuition. There are some exceptions.

Some will charge for a secondary degree, and some will charge non-European students. Private schools also charge tuition.

Food (especially meat)

Eating German Food and Beer

It’s not just the US – grocery prices are skyrocketing on the other side of the world, too. For example, in 2022, Germany faced an almost 24% price increase on poultry, almost 19% on beef products, and 16% on pork. The price increases are data from Statistica.com.

Germany has been toying with the idea of adding a meat tax, according to DW.com. Since meat is a main staple in the country, the government is trying to find a way to lower emissions. In theory, higher taxes mean less meat consumption.

Utilities (water, electricity)

Long Receipt

Utilities are not free in Germany. Germans pay for things like water and electricity, which can be a problem for people living below the poverty line. In 2021, the at-risk poverty rate was at 16.6%. This rating is the highest it’s been since 2006, according to Statistica.com.

While exact numbers will vary by region, Numbeo states that, on average, a household pays €275 a month. Add that to the cost of food and medical insurance, and a single person will need around €941 to live on average per month. This number does not include rent.

That seems like a lot, right? Well, Numbeo data also reveals that the cost of living in Germany is around 14% lower than in the United States.

See Related: Germany Currency: Everything You Need to Know

Transportation (particularly gasoline and diesel fuel)

Berlin Subway

Transportation isn’t free either – although I can’t think of a place where it is (outside of walking). If a bus, tram, or train is your only way of getting around, don’t worry! Germany has an incredible public transportation system. It’s easy to get to where you need to go, even if you have to pay.

Germany’s system is very logical and efficient compared to other countries. The cost per ride is also very affordable. Many people (around 75% of Germans) also ride bikes, so once you’ve paid the cost of a bike or signed up for a bike share program, it’s a cost-effective way of getting around.

Related Resources