It only takes a few weeks after moving to Germany for most people to notice many eye-opening cultural particularities here. We’ve collated this list to help you manage the daily grind and also have a great weekend. Germans take both work and free time quite seriously so these tips will give you good insight into day-to-day life in Germany.
How to navigate “German order”
Germany is actually not very efficient.
The cliché of German efficiency is actually a fallacy; bureaucratic processes can be very complicated here. Germany is instead a country of meticulousness and precision, which by definition means that things take longer than they might if done more... efficiently. Be prepared to wait a long time for applications to be processed for visas, driver‘s licenses, and so on.
Some things just are carved in stone.
There are systems in place and rules to follow, and you‘ll be expected to not only know the rules but also not question them. They are unbendable and no amount of flattery, bribery, or begging will get you out of paying a fine or put you at the top of the list for that flat you want to rent.
The language barrier is real.
Civil servants in Germany rarely speak English, and even if they can, technically they‘re not supposed to. So you‘ll have a much easier time if you bring a translator to your appointments until you can speak German yourself. This is especially helpful because your translator will know the rules and can guide you through the red tape.
Be on time.
Punctuality is important and if you‘re late for government appointments you might have to book a new one. And in Germany, even three minutes late is still considered late.
Don‘t catch a free ride.
In Germany there is no ticket check on public transport — you just get on, assuming you have already purchased a valid ticket, that is. Learn how to buy tickets and which zones they‘re good for. If one of the plain-clothes ticket checkers (yes, Big Brother-style) finds you with the wrong fare, they‘ll fine you up to €60. And you won‘t be able to get out of it (see above)!
Respect your neighbors.
Every building has a set of house rules, and neighbors will complain if you break them, so make sure to get a translation of that part of your flat contract. Most importantly, quiet times are regulated and the police can be called if you make noise after 10 pm or at any time on Sundays.
Out and About on the Weekend
Paying and Tipping.
It's not necessary to always tip in Germany. At restaurants you can add 10% if the service and food were particularly good or if you‘re with a large group. The server will only bring the bill once you ask for it, and they‘ll wait while you pay on the spot. You also don’t leave the tip on the table when you leave; when they tell you how much you owe, you tell them how far to round it up.
Conservative, but not prudish.
One way Germans exercised freedom during the Nazi and East-German regimes was to get naked. Outside. In public. A summer visit to parks and beaches will be an eye-opener for many an expat. Perhaps what will be most noticeable is the nonchalance with which everyone greets nudity — it‘s no big deal and nothing to stare at. And at indoor saunas, you‘ll be kicked out if you want to keep your bathing suit on.
Drinking in public is a thing: anytime, anywhere. It‘s also a good opportunity to hone your bottle-opening skills. When out and about, Germans use a cigarette lighter (or any other object close at hand) to open their beer.
Seven years of bad luck.
Birthdays are celebrated on the day itself, never, ever in advance! In fact, even saying “Happy birthday” early is considered a jinx, even if it‘s 11:50 pm the day before and you‘re leaving to spend the next six months in the wilderness without any internet.
Water isn't just “water”.
Most restaurants won’t give you free tap water. If you order just “water”, they‘ll bring a bottle of fizzy water to the table if you don‘t specifically ask for still.
Paying a visit.
Free public restrooms are a rare thing so keep small change on you. Restaurants and cafés often charge €0.50 for non-guests to use the facilities.