Cultural differences in surprising places.
When you travel to another country, you have to leave your assumptions
at the border. What may be perfectly normal or not an issue at all may
be a huge issue in the foreign country. Fortunately, Germany is pretty
similar to the US, so the culture shock isn't too terribly great, but
in some respects, this in itself the basis for a second level of shock,
the one that comes after you think you've familiarized yourself with all
that you need to know. Ha!
This list is a work in progress and not by any means all-inclusive.
It will grow as time permits.
When you're blue in America, you're depressed. When you're blue in
Germany, you're drunk as a skunk. In America, cowards are yellow and people
are green with envy, though now that color of course also implies an environmentalist
In Germany, political parties are associated with colors. When the
Green Party came into being, they simplified things by referring
to their party by a color that had a natural association with environmentalism
and at the same time, positioned themselves in a political palette already
made up of parties associated with other colors.
Zzzzzzz in English is Chrrrr in German. Whew! or Phew! in English
is Uff! or Pu! in German. For example, in Germany, you say "Pu!"
(pronounced "pooh") when you're hot or have finished a hard
Ow! is Auah! (ow-ah), but ouch is the same, except for the spelling
(autsch). Splash is platsch and ick or yuck is igitt (EE-gitt) or igittigitt.
Uh-oh in America is oh-oh in Germany. He? (heh) in Germany
is hunh? in America. My son says, oh-HAA! when
he is surprised by something, like when he was in the bathtub and discovered
he could spray water on the ceiling. In America, hed have said,
Counting on your fingers starts with your thumb, so if you want to
tell someone you want one of something, you don't stick your forefinger
up in the air, you stick your thumb up, as in the "thumbs up"
A hand waved rapidly and directly in front of the face means "crazy"
in Germany. In the US, this gesture means dizzy or stupid, but not crazy.
I haven't actually seen this in a long time, but the gesture for crazy
used to be pointing at your own head and making a few circles, as though
you were drawing a circle around your ear.
Please and thank you.
In the States, if you're asked if you want something and you say "Thank
you" as a reply, it means yes, but in Germany, it means no. In the
States, it's short for "Yes, please. Thank you for asking."
In Germany, it's short for "No, thank you.
The issue of manners is a topic that I could wax rhapsodic about at
great length and its one that people must take into consideration.
For the most part, in private, things are the same, but in public, they
are vastly different. Americans expect to hear and say please and thank
you and especially, "ezcuse me very much more frequently than
In America, it is considered rude to walk in front of someone who
is looking at something on a store shelf without excusing yourself. You
have blocked that persons vision, even if temporarily and you must
excuse yourself. Do not expect to hear this in Germany. In America, if
you brush against someone, no matter how lightly, you are expected to
excuse yourself. In Germany, this will be far and away the exception if
you hear this. In fact, Ive had people bump into me and even push
me out of their way and not heard a peep from them.
Shopkeepers in Germany will often act as though they are doing you
a favor by letting you in their shops, until they know you. Then they
are apt to greet you in a friendly manner. When K-Mart closed up shop
in Germany, one of the things they said was a problem for them was their
attempt to get their employees to smile and be friendly to customers.
Restaurants and Tipping
In America, you say please and thank you to the waiter. In Germany,
if you can find the waiter, you can ask him to bring you a glass of water,
which you will then be charged for. In America, the water brought to the
table is free. In America, shortly after bringing you your meal, the waiter
will come by and ask if everything is okay and you can return the food
if its not to your liking. In Germany, when youve finished
eating, the waiter shows up at your table to take the plate and asks you
how the food was, as though anything can be done at that point.
In America, tipping has edged up from a norm of 15% to a norm of 20%,
with especially good service being rewarded even with a 25% tip. Tips
are high in America because the base pay of the wait staff is abysmal.
Those who wait and bus tables depend on tips to survive. They work hard
to earn those good tips and are at the table constantly, making sure your
water glass is never empty and checking to see if you need anything during
your meal. Tips are left on the table or in the little folder the waiter
uses to bring the bill and take your credit card. If possible, the tip
should not be included in the line item on the credit card bill, but should
be left afterward in cash.
In Germany, tipping is very meager. The wait staff is better paid
and much less attentive, so tips in Germany are really token sums. The
diner indicates when he is ready to pay, the waiter comes to the table
and tells the diner how much the bill is. Then the diner tells the waiter
how much he will pay, rounding up to the next five or ten euros, depending
on the size of the bill. Ive seen people pay a two-euro tip on a
€33 bill and the waiter didnt even blink.