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Guide to Cultural Traits for Expats in Germany

Submitted: October 2013

Many people regard Germans as being punctual, hardworking, loyal, obsessed with rules and tradition, proud of their country and having a sense of superiority. It is often said that Germans have no sense of humour, that they are rude and do not understand the concept of queuing.  While some of these traits manifest themselves in almost every German, others are plainly wrong.

Germans love tradition. For example, Christmas Eve will inevitably be celebrated with the same family meal each year. Very often, the meal eaten on this day throughout childhood will remain unchanged even once an individual has become an adult and runs their own household.

Germans love rules and stick to them. Once a German is told about rules in their street, apartment block etc. they will observe these come what may – even if the individual does not agree with them. For example, a rental contract for an apartment will usually contain a clause that forbids loud music, the operation of washing machines, vacuuming and other such activities between the hours of 8 or 9pm and 7am. It would be very unusual for someone to flout this rule.

Most Germans will not cross a pedestrian crossing if the light is red. Anyone doing so will be met with disapproving and disbelieving looks by fellow walkers and subject to a fine should this incident be witnessed by law enforcement officers.

Punctuality is a trait valued by almost all Germans. It is considered extremely rude to turn up late for a dinner or party invitation. It is usual to present the host with a small gift such as flowers, chocolates, wine or other alcoholic beverage. Gifts are opened in front of all guests and passed around for inspection and approval. Generally, if Germans meet up with acquaintances or work colleagues, this would be in a bar or restaurant instead of someone’s home. The individual doing the inviting would usually pay for the drinks/meal unless other arrangements for settling the bill are made prior to the evening out.

While Germans can often come across as cold during ‘get togethers’ and meetings, a better way to describing their behaviour when meeting new people would be to call it ‘reserved’. Upon first meeting a stranger who is a guest at the same function, an individual will usually shake hands firmly and at the same time introduce themselves by their surname. It is expected for strangers and the younger generation to address someone by their surname until invited to be on first name terms. Germans take their time in making friends and will remain reserved until they have made up their mind that someone is on their level and worthy of their trust and loyalty; subsequent friendships are often formed for life. Those friends are always offered a helping hand and a warm welcome. German loyalty goes further, however, it encompasses always buying the same make of car or electrical item, going to the same restaurants and shops. Why try something different when the original choice made years ago has stood the test of time?

Germans are very direct and usually say what they think.  This straightforward way of talking often takes expats by surprise and can be considered rude. Indeed, Germans living abroad often find it difficult to adjust their way of talking to accommodate the sugar coating and general platitudes often employed by other nationalities which can mistakenly lead people into thinking that they have made a friend only to later discover what was said to their face was nothing more than insincere babble. You know where you stand with a German!

Germans do not like to queue. That said, if a number of people are standing in front of a counter waiting to be served, in a bakery for example, the service is usually on a first come first served basis but without the need of a lengthy queue stretching halfway around the block. Although this may seem chaotic in comparison to the orderly queue, the system employed in Germany has been in operation for many years and works just fine most of the time.

It may take an expat a little time to adjust to the way of life in Germany, but once settled many expats might find the general attitude of Germans together with their rules and regulations an interesting combination that should be explored in more detail.



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