Moving from Britain to Germany probably won’t cause the same culture shock as if you were travelling to the other side of the world, but it’s worth keeping a few things in mind to help make your transition that little bit easier.
To begin with, as I’m sure you know, they drive on the right-hand (*ahem* wrong) side of the road so make sure to pay attention before cycling the wrong way around a roundabout. Cycling is also how most people get from A to B if they’re not taking the Straßenbahn, so I’d suggest investing in a bike (but don’t lose the lock keys as you may get arrested while trying to cut through it to freedom)! But don’t trust everything you hear about the amazing cycle lanes out here. Yes, they exist and probably to more of an extent than in the UK, but in places like Berlin you may struggle to keep your cool. With the amount of people there, the cycle lanes are taken up mostly by pedestrians, resulting in some very frustrated cyclists!
Another important thing to keep in mind is traffic lights. Remember the days your mum used to tell you to „stop, look, listen, think, go“ and „always wait for the green man“ to make sure you were „Staying Alive“ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnwxN24E2yY …? Well, Germany abides to this even more than your parents probably did. Words to live by: Do Not J Walk. Especially in front of a child. It is thought that if children watch adults abide by the pedestrian codes even on the smallest roads with no traffic, it will reinforce the road safety rules to them from a young age. These road rules work both ways, however. For adults to be more aware of their driving, certain initiatives have been implented to make them think of children whilst driving, therefore resulting in them being more cautious on the road (or so they hope). Therefore, don’t be shocked when you hear a child’s voice on the voiceover on the bus, reading out the stations, or signs/buttons for pedestrians with hand-drawn children’s faces on them. Scarily effective?
Tea and Biscuits? Forget it!
Fruit tea is the cure for everything, apparently… Forget your Yorkshire Tea or PG Tips with a digestive, you’re all about that Kaffee und Kuchen Leben now. Mid afternoon, Germans love to catch up over a freshly brewed coffee and a slice of cake. Whether at the local artisan cafe, or at home (most people have a coffee machine), it’s happening. Additionally, forget your milky brew. Fruit tea is now the norm, and also somehow doubles up as the cure to all illnesses… don’t ask, I’m still learning…
And while on the topic of food, you’ll have a lot to get used to. Take it from someone who WAS vegetarian and favoured quinoa over bread and potatoes, it won’t stay that way. Enjoy your year. Eat the bread and sausage. I promise, it’s worth it.
Aside from the traditional food, Germans usually eat considerably healthily (especially when compared to England!). Vollkornbrot and boiled eggs, a few sandwiches here and there, and no, I repeat, no large meals in the evenings. I’ll be honest with you guys, this is a norm I have not gotten used to. I like a big evening meal. But if you really want to experience Germany like a German, buy your cheeses and Brötchen to create a picnic style dinner. Though, this doesn’t include Cadbury’s, Walkers, sausage rolls or cheddar…sorry. Germans also have a specific time of day where they eat bread: Brotzeit. You need never feel bad for your carb binges again!
Unlike in the UK, in Germany, if you meet someone new and you get along well, or you bump into someone you haven’t seen for a while, DO NOT say „I’ll see you soon/Let’s do this again“ unless you mean it. In Britain we see it as courteous when we politely say, „I’ll message you, we’ll catch up soon“ when we have no intention of doing so. In Germany, people mean what they say so either get your diary out and plan a time, or don’t say it in the first place.
And don’t be afraid when someone speaks to you at the bus stop or while waiting for the traffic lights, it’s normal here, I promise.
Chit chat isn’t such a big thing in Germany, if you’re speaking, it’s probably because you have something to say. I feel that sometimes us Brits speak just for the sake of it, so try not to ramble. Though, if you do end up rambling, don’t apologise for it. It may be the general way of life in the UK to apologise every time you, or someone near you has done something remotely wrong/right, but other nationalities may find it irritating. Get used to saying ‘uups’ like a British ‘oops’ to avoid annoying and alienating any potential new friends before they get to know you. Saying sorry for every possible action doesn’t make you polite, just like dancing around questions with flowery language and therefore confusing most locals. If you go into a bakery and want some bread, it’s easy: Ich hätte gerne ein Brötchen/Ein Brötchen bitte. Fertig. Do NOT say the following: „Ist es möglich dass ich vielleicht ein Brötchen kaufen könnte, nur wenn sie nicht beschäftigt sind und sie Zeit haben, wenn nicht warte ich…“
Obivously, again there’s a word for everything in German. So this rambling British language is described in the German verb ‘britisieren‘. You can never be lost for words in this country.
If you’re from Britain or have ever been, you may have noticed that Brits loves a queue. It is a HUGE adjustment to go to other seemingly similar European countries and have your queuing dreams shattered. I constantly mutter ‘Gibt’s eine Schlange‘ (is there a queue) in my head (and no, I’m not referring to a snake, it’s the same word). Don’t confront anyone about it, it’s unfortunately a cultural difference that you’ll have to get used to. For any non-Brits reading this, our love for queuing is no joke. Check out this: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/weird-news/was-a-fox-really-spotted-queuing-at-cash-machine-in-east-london-9490181.html. Everyone abides by the rules. It is even in fact ILLEGAL to queue jump at a tube station!
That being said, we still know how to have a laugh, though our dry humour and sarcasm is wasted abroad. I would recommend that you suppress your sarcastic tendencies, unless you’re keen on explaining every single joke you make, in order to clarify that you were in fact trying to be funny and not incredible offensive…! Also, stop chatting about the weather. Let’s be honest, it’s dull for everyone (or a pleasure lost in Germany, depending on your take on things).
Bevving in Britain
As for ‘boozy Brits’ versus ‘serious Germans’ the stereotypes don’t always hold up. Yes, UK-ers, do not drink too much in Germany. Arriving at a club after a few too many or stumbling on the way out is no longer funny or ‘classic’. It’s just a waste of an evening that you won’t remember anyway. They know how to have a good time out here, but, unlike in England, your invitation for a coffee won’t turn into 3 wines, just as your invite for 1 wine won’t turn into 12 and turn into watching the sun come up at 5am. Although work stays at work in Germany, play does exist too. Germans seem to take any given opportunity to celebrate. Whether it be October (no idea what’s special), the start of Spring or Karneval, there’s always some kind of Fest. On these occasions, people really know how to let their hair down! Drinking beer in tents or the street and everyone collectively enjoying a positive atmosphere. Yes, some people ‘go hard/steil gehen’ but most just enjoy the community spirit. …Though, you must be punctual to said events. If your watch battery dies in Germany, I’d panic if I were you. Punctuality is very respected and if you’re a typical late-running student, you need to get on top of this. Personally, I’m one of the few early 20-ers who loves a wake-up-and-sunrise, but I’m aware it’s not for everyone.
Controversial irritances: things I felt confronted with & things to get used to!
For a nation of recycling lovers, the Germans do seem to overindulge in paper-printed documents. From registering your address to applying for a Bankkonto or getting a german phone number there’s always a document to print and file. The issue us Brits encounter following this, is which bin to put it in?! Is it paper, plastic, biodegradeable, glass or just extra Restmüll. Those in Germany will think you’re lazy or silly that you haven’t done it before, and you’ll feel pretty confused! But once you get the hang of which coloured bin-liner to put in which bin and what to put inside, you’re golden. Now, for me, it’s second nature to separate all of our rubbish (much to my family’s irritance as we only have two bins), so I can assure you, you’ll get used to it! All of these bins do however make for a very clean country, which you really can’t complain about.
A few final tips…
- Painting a new picture in your head about what German University entails is a good idea too! Whereas in the UK, we emphasise the experience, part-time work, travel, societies etc… in Germany there is very little emphasis on life outside university in comparison. Few societies aside from music and Erasmus, and Hausarbeits so lang that it’s no wonder why!
- The pillows. Despite being called Kopfkissen (head kiss), lying on them feels like the total opposite (perhaps Kopfmörder: head murder). I would highly recommend bringing your own pillow to Germany, unless you’d like to invest 70 euros in a conventional one when you arrive.
- Don’t believe everything you hear about the public transport in Germany. Yes, it runs in hail and snow, but in terms of Deutsche Bahn, always prepare yourself for severe delays or cancellations. Maybe best to sit tight and get a Flixbus? Free Wifi too 🙂
- Dressing for the weather is something we’re rarely famed for in England. I suppose we’re so used to the ever changing climate that we don’t even try to predict it any more. Do not, like in England, leave the house in ‘booty shorts’ when we know the clouds are coming. Pack that anorak. Werk it.