Over the past 22 months I have had the pleasure to immerse myself in many aspects of German life – daily life, culture, behaviours, trends, traditions, work habits, events – to be able to formulate some observations and generalisations*.
Here is what I have so far:
- Germans like to greet – with many variations of the basic form of hello.
- Germans have guidelines for communicating with others on a formal basis (Sie – siezen) or an informal basis (Du – duzen) and are intrigued when the guidelines are not followed, ‘Did you notice, he offered me the Du!’
- Germans are punctual and appreciate punctuality.
- On that note, lunch time is 12pm. Sharp.
- Coffee and cake hour runs between 3pm and 5pm. Fighting with pensioners to secure a table in a cafe during this time is highly likely. (I am surpised at how many people regularly enjoy a slice of cake or sweet treat).
- Despite the obesity epidemic (most probably fuelled by the cake eating) – the Germany I see is active, with walkers and runners seen in streets, parks, around lakes, at all times of the day and throughout the year.
- Many of said walkers, as well as hikers, are often seen with two ski-pole-like walking sticks in their hands. The Nordic Walking trend is big among the German folk.
- Germans like to wear activity-specific clothing. Yes, we understand that one must wear appropriate clothing when skiing for example, but is it really necessary to wear the summer equivalent of ski pants for your hiking/trail-walking/stick-walking/wandern activities? Outfit ‘sets’ made in light weight ‘breathable’ fabrics and matching sweat-bands are often seen.
- On the topic of clothes – Germans know all about quilted jackets – having expert knowledge of the appropriate grade of padding required depending on the temperature or season and of course whether one should wear sleeveless, full-length or the fur-lined version.
- Outdoor activities are performed in all weather conditions. No excuses – and winter can get a little hairy at times. I have vivid memories of runners in Düsseldorf who would rug up in layers to run at -15 degrees with head wind and rain. (This creates a stark contrast to the Sydney weather-whingers I knew; immediately cancelling outdoor plans once a dark cloud was seen).
- Having said that, Germans appreciate every moment of sunshine. I take this is related to the general fact that Germany isn’t renowned for having the best weather. From the first hint of summer sunshine in spring to the last ‘warm’ days of autumn, Cafes and Biergartens are bursting with activity, river banks are lined with portable BBQs and picnic rugs, and employees enjoy their midday break on lawns and in outdoor spaces.
- This hint of sunshine is also the catalyst for ice-cream eating, a much loved past-time with the Germans. A patisserie in my neighboured produces their own gelato (Eis) between spring and autumn. It is not rare to see a line of 10 people deep waiting for gelato at 10 am on a Saturday.
- Germans enjoy Sundays. As all shops, supermarkets and services are closed on Sundays (apart from cafes/restaurants) it means that the day is truly dedicated to enjoyment, relaxation, family activities, the outdoors, catching up with friends…
- If you close your eyes you could easily follow your nose to the next bakery. Germany’s answer to meat pies, sausage rolls, pasties, salad rolls, finger buns, jam tarts and lamingtons come in the shape of the Brezel, Leberkäsesemmel, bread rolls filled with camembert cheese and cranberry jam, Laugenstange, Krapfen/Berliner Ball, pastries, danishes and poppyseed snails (Mohnschneke).
- Significant value is placed on the freshly-baked brötchen (bread roll). Brötchen are bought daily, never eaten on the second day (made into bread crumbs) and should have the perfect mix of crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. It even goes so far as a current-affairs program reporting on the best brötchen bakers.
- Speaking of the olfactory system, walking around the neighbourhood and through public spaces during Summer and one is seduced by the smell of BBQs everywhere. If it weren’t for the winter handicap, I am sure the frequency for firing up the BBQ in Germany would give the Aussies a run for their money.
- Akin to the Aussies – Germans have a passion for sport – being both avid spectators and players of a variety of sports – football, basketball, ice hockey, boxing, motor racing, not to mention winter sports. This passion for sport is positively related to their passion to win.
- Germans are a proud folk. They are proud of being German, proud of their beer, proud that German is the official national language, and proud that they want to keep it that way. Sorry English, you’ve got no chance.
- The legal drinking age for beer is 16, for wine and spirits 18. Surprisingly, public events and festivals are quite controlled despite and crowds generally have fun rather than getting out of control.
- Beer is enjoyed by many. Cheaper than water and often drunk before 12pm, beer is a popular choice. At a recent marathon held in the city, both regular and non-alcoholic beer was served at the finish line – talk about a refreshment!
- Germans are travellers. Only recently overtaken by the Chinese, Germans spend a lot of money and time on travel both within and outside of Germany.
- Where long trips require use of the Autobahn (the default option), the potential traffic conditions are first assessed. Things considered include: potential public holidays, start/end of school holidays, known construction areas and detours.
- Germans have difficulty pronouncing the English ‘th’. This is usually pronounced as an s, or sz e.g. Thinking = sinking. While I also often make pronunciation errors, hearing Happy Birzsday being sung makes me laugh every time.
- Germans like Schlager music (think folk style pop anthems with a touch of 80s synthetic) and have a love converting current pop songs into Schlager hits; rendering them singable after a Maß of beer or two.
- During Carnival season you must dress up if attending a carnival party. This is taken very seriously – no half-attempts at a costume are allowed.
- Germans do not throw a bottle away if it could be returned for Pfand – a small deposit on the bottle. And of course they have systems in place – bottle collecting vending machines at supermarkets and one would often see a small fee charged at events/festivals to encourage one to return the bottle.
- Germans are thinking about the future – with fields of wind turbines, biofuel and biogas fermenters and solar parks as sources of renewable energy. The problem, Germany now produces too much energy. No joke.
- In line with this interest for sustainability, wastage is big on the radar- with some residential areas requiring rubbish to be separated into as many as four bins.
- Germans go through many seasonal food crazes throughout the year: berries in spring/summer (damn they are good), pumpkins in autumn, Spargel (white asparagus) (where the season officially ends on June 24), Lebkuchen, Stollen and Weinachtsplätzchen (Christmas cookies) before Christmas.
- Germany like to decorate their home throughout the year in celebration of events: eggs, lambs and bunnies during Easter, tulips in spring, pumpkins, nuts and acorns in Autumn and reindeers and doves during Christmas. A neighbour of mine has a wreath hanging on her front door – changing it every month in reflection of the season.
- You won’t find a German restaurant menu without potatoes, speck, Wurst and some style of pancake dessert.
Learning about new cultures and behaviours makes daily life interesting. A day doesn’t go by where I notice something new or do or say something the ‘wrong’ way – this only makes for things to laugh about afterwards.
I would love to hear your observations!
*Being generalisations, we know these do not apply to everyone – try not to take offence.