I’m sure most people who have ever lived abroad would agree that moving to another country is exciting and part of what fuels this excitement is discovering the things which surprise and maybe even shock you culturally in your new environment.
While I can’t say I experienced any kind of real “culture shock” when moving from the UK to Germany last year, there are differences that I see in my day-to-day life here in Germany which often bring a smile to my face and, while often very small and may seem insignificant to some, are constant reminders that I’m no longer in Yorkshire. In this blog post I thought I’d write about the differences I personally have noticed while living in Hannover and then Berlin. To highlight these differences I’ve composed a short list of various things to do and customs to follow if you want to feel truly “German”.
- DO keep your wits about you (in the supermarket)
Aisle 1, 2 and 3 have queues the length of Germany itself and you’re patiently waiting at the back of one, perhaps pondering what you’re going to do at the weekend or regretting the decision to not buy that döner on the way home instead of waiting for what feels like hours in line to buy a much healthier option for dinner. You’re deep in thought and then, suddenly, aisle 4 lights up and a cashier is present. Everybody scrambles to get to the front of that line. People who joined the queue only seconds ago have leaped past and are now having their items scanned before yours. You were too slow. You weren’t concentrating. If you don’t want this to happen to you, keep your wits about you. Welcome to a German supermarket!
- DO use public transport
Germany is known worldwide for its great public transport system. Though the idea that all trains are ALWAYS on time may be a little misconstrued, Deutsche Bahn definitely provides a more reliable and enjoyable service than Britain’s rail network. In Berlin, where I am currently residing, it makes far more sense to catch a U or S Bahn than to get around by car, where traffic and lack of parking spaces will definitely slow you down. Its much smaller population size also means Berlin’s underground system is also far less crowded than London’s, for example, making your journey much less strenuous.
3. DO wait for the green man
We all know, whether you’re in the UK or not, that crossing a road on a red light is not a good idea. If children are around, then a red light should never be crossed. In Britain it is often the case that people will J-walk when they can, because realistically all British people are daredevils who prioritise time-saving over their safety. In Germany however, it is in under no circumstances ok to cross on a red light, and, if you do, prepare to be heavily tutted at by the elderly lady that you left on the other side of the road. You can also get fined, so I’ve learnt its just best to be patient and wait. This was all well and good with me until the moment I realised vehicles in Germany are allowed to go through crossings when turning a corner even when the pedestrain light is on green (!!!).
- DO have cash
This is something that still continues to surprise me. The UK is largely a cashless society; we love our contactless payments and the convenience that comes from paying with a card or phone. Personally I also feel like this is a more secure method of payment and I like the idea that if I were to lose my purse, there wouldn’t be a whole load of cash sat within it that I would never be able to get back again. This is why I have only just started to adjust to often not being able to pay by card in many places in Germany and having to remember to go to a machine and withdraw physical cash. I would recommend always having enough cash on you in Germany to avoid the painful “Where’s the nearest cash machine?” conversation as you attempt to buy your morning coffee. The same goes for most taxis and buses in Germany, where cards are almost never accepted.
- DO stock up
Sundays in Germany are so very different to Sundays in the UK. Sundays at university would be my shopping days- I’d either get ready for the week ahead by popping down to the local supermarket and doing my weekly shop, or I’d often head into town and do some clothes shopping. These two things are impossible in Germany, including Berlin, because everything is shut on Sundays, bar cafes and restaurants. This is something I have forgotten on multiple occasions as I’ve headed into city centre Berlin to find very quiet streets and dark shops. Frustrating, indeed, but also refreshing in the sense that so many people don’t have to work- Sunday is truly a day of rest here and that is something I am sure many people are grateful for.