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Herzlich Willkommen to the land of potato salad, beer, and David Hasselhoff fans. Yes, he’s still relevant to this day for his musical talent.
German culture heavily influenced my childhood into adulthood. In some cases, I’m more familiar with European traditions instead of the North American lifestyle. I take pride in my family’s German culture, and it’s interesting to see the contrast between North American and European lifestyles.
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 on a regular basis. T
North America and Europe have their similarities, but there are still a lot of cultural differences. It’s quite a culture shock for anyone who isn’t familiar.
For example, when I was 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. (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…
- Culture Shocks in Germany
- 1. Small Refrigerators
- 2. Sparkling Water Over Bottled Water
- 3. Everything is Closed on Sunday
- 4. The Autobahn is Fast
- 5. Respect the Quiet Hours
- 6. Dogs Are Welcome at Restaurants
- 7. The Drinking Age is 16
- 8. Different Dialects by Area
- 9. Dinner is a Small Meal
- 10. Cash is Preferred
- Things in Germany That Are Not Free
- Prescription Drugs
- Health Insurance
- Medical Care
- Food (especially meat)
- Utilities (water, electricity)
- Transportation (particularly gasoline and diesel fuel)
Culture Shocks in Germany
Let’s look at things Germans find normal but are a culture shock to Americans. There might be some you aren’t aware of.
1. Small Refrigerators
Many households in Europe have small fridges, similar to a mini fridge in North America. My grandma’s fridge is hidden among her kitchen cabinets.
North Americans are shocked to find out that eggs in Germany are not refrigerated. Laws through the European Union state that eggs in grocery stores are not to be washed. This means they keep their natural protective coating and can handle romm temperatures just fine. In fact, you’re more likely to contract salmonella from a “cleaner” refrigerated American egg.
You also won’t find any colossal-sized milk here either. Most dairy comes in small cartons, also sold at room temperature. After it’s opened, it does need refrigeration though.
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. Since they rely heavily on fresh ingredients, a large fridge isn’t necessary. This is a common practice amongst German people.
2. Sparkling Water Over Bottled Water
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 would always have a case of Perrier in the house.
It’s completely acceptable to crack open the bubbly at any time in German culture. 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 the bottled stuff. Germans will think you’re cheap if you order tap water!
3. Everything is Closed on Sunday
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 its way to us North Americans.
To avoid standing in front of closed doors, you’ll have to plan your grocery shopping trip another day.
4. The Autobahn is Fast
The Autobahn is the main highway system in Germany and possibly the most iconic in the world. It’s known for cars driving with no 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
Germans love their rules and laws. If you visit the country and end up bending 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 unwritten “Ruhezeit” rules in the country. The word Ruhezeit translates to quiet time. This tradition is generally 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. This quiet time is generally from 1-3 p.m.
Be a good sport and try to keep your celebrations quiet during the holidays. If you don’t abide and your neighbors complain, you can get a fine or court order.
6. Dogs Are Welcome at Restaurants
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, there will be a sign 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
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 major cultural differences between the United States and Germany. It shocks many. Not me though. Prost!
Anyone 16 years or older can consume wine and beer in the country. Consuming spirits or hard liquor is 18 years old. This is quite the contrast, as you must be 21 years old to legally drink in the United States.
8. Different Dialects by Area
The official language of Germany is “Hochdeutsch,” or “High German.” Also known Standard German, it’s spoken in several countries. According to optilingo.com, there are eight main dialects in German, and I’ve personally run into 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 dialect was so different. It’s like comparing the King’s English to Louisiana’s Cajun English.
9. Dinner is a Small Meal
In Germany and many other European countries, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. 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
When it comes to commerce, German people are pretty old-fashioned. Most restaurants and some small business owners only accept cash, even still 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 do exist, it’s always good to travel with extra paper in your pocket. Note that you need Euros for transactions; obviously, 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. And while Germany 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 things like healthcare and education.
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 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.
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 come into play, such as age, income, and health conditions. 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. You may want to look at domestic insurance firms if you’re planning an extended stay, but for you short-term visitors, take charge of your health with travel insurance through SafetyWing or with Visitors Coverage.
Medical care in Germany is anything but free. According to World Population Review, Germany is one of 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.
Like most nations in the civilized world, if you’re living in Germany, you must pay taxes for education. The German government provides funding for 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)
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. Beef products saw an almost 19% increase and pork a 16% increase. 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)
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, on average, a single person will need around €941 to live per month. This number does not include rent.
Seems a lot, right? Well, Numbeo data also reveals that the cost of living in Germany is around 14% lower when compared to the United States.
See Related: Germany Currency: Everything You Need to Know
Transportation (particularly gasoline and diesel fuel)
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 your way to get there.
Germany has a very logical and efficient system 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.
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- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.
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