So if you’ve been reading our blog this past month, you may have seen the last two posts I wrote in which I shared a few of the red-faced, cultural faux-pas moments I have experienced over the years. In case you missed it, you can check out them out here and here.
To wrap up the series, I’m going to divert from the topic just a bit to share a few cultural lessons that I wish I had learned before traveling to Germany. Luckily, my ignorance on these topics never led to an overtly embarrassing moment – but knowing about them definitely would have made my life easier! So for any of you planning a trip to Deutschland in the future, consider these tips my little gift (“mein kleines Geschenk”):
1) This is how the number ‘seven’ is generally written in Germany:
And this is what the ‘one’ usually looks like:
Mix them up (like I did, on at least one occasion) and you’ll end up calling a very confused German.
2) If you order “Wasser” (water) at a restaurant, you will more than likely be served a glass of sparkling water. If you feel the same way I do about sparkling water, then this is an outcome you’d probably like to avoid. Just remember to clarify when you’re ordering by saying “stilles Wasser” (still water) or “Wasser ohne Kohlensäure” (water without carbonation).
3) I know I mentioned this is my last post, but I think it’s important, so I’m going to say it again. Whatever you do, be sure to look the other person in the eye when making a toast. You’ll find that most Germans are very serious about this – it’s a sign of bad luck to divert your eyes!
4) Don’t expect to find stores open on Sunday. Restaurants and gas stations are generally the only places with Sunday hours, so be sure to get all your shopping done on Saturday. You don’t want to run out of something vital (read: toilet paper) and have nowhere to go.
5) Despite what you may have heard, speed limits (Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzungen – there’s a fun word for you!) do exist in Germany. It’s true that many stretches of the Autobahn (freeway) are limitless, but over 50% have a posted speed limit, particularly within populated areas.
6) Jaywalking is never a good idea, but especially not in Germany. You’ll find that most Germans are pretty respectful of pedestrian laws, so have patience and wait for the Ampelmann (“traffic light man”, as you’d see at most cross walks).
7) When visiting a German household, don’t be surprised if you see your host switch from outdoor shoes to indoor shoes (commonly known as “Hausschuhe” or “house shoes”) the minute they walk through the door. In fact, they may even offer you your own pair of shoes to wear while visiting their home! Most German houses have tiled or wooded floors, so the shoes are used to provide comfort and warmth while walking around at home.
8) Should you be seek the comforts of home and stop at a German McDonalds, be warned: the condiments will cost you! Ketchup, mustard, and mayo are sold in packets, so you’ve got to decide how much you think you’ll need and pay accordingly.
9) Relax and enjoy breakfast. When I first visited my husband’s family in Germany in 2004, I was blown away by the production that was “Frühstück”. Baskets of bread rolls and pretzels, endless platters of meat and cheese, bowls of fruit and yogurt, even a serving of cake. To put it in a word, I was amazed. Not just by the food, but also by the feeling of community and togetherness that these breakfasts create. There was no rush, we’d sit for a couple hours chatting and enjoying each other’s company. To be sure, this kind of thing isn’t a daily event for most Germans. Usually these longer breakfasts are enjoyed on the weekends with friends and family – but I can tell you it’s a great thing to look forward to!
10) This is mostly important in Bavaria, but still worth sharing: Weißwurst is boiled, never grilled. And always eaten before noon. My Bavarian-born husband still cringes every time he sees a Weißwurst thrown on a grill here in the States.
I hope you enjoyed my little insight into the German culture! For those of you who are culture fans, be sure to check out one of my favorite aspects of the Mango program: the Culture Notes. Popping up several times a chapter, they guide you like a friend, providing gentle nudges on what-to-do and what-not-to-do. They also provide a great little “brain break” from all the language-learning you’re doing and keep you interested in the lesson!
What’s your favorite part about the Mango program? Is there a particularly good cultural lesson that you learned?