8 Things to Know Before Moving to Germany
There’s more to know about moving to Germany than simply learning the basics of the Teutonic language; this fascinating and historical country has a long list of cultural norms that may appear initially baffling to an American. Fortunately they all make perfect sense once you have the lay of the land, and know what you’re doing. Here are a handful of tips that will assist you in settling into German society, and prevent any avoidable mishaps.
Most people speak English, but…
Germany has a substantial immigrant population from all over the world so you’ll hear a variety of different accents and languages being spoken on the streets. English is the predominant language in business dealings across Europe, and is widely taught throughout all tiers of the German education system, so you may even get by just by using your mother tongue.
However, some German nationals – especially if you find yourself drifting further afield from the core of major city centers – will appreciate you showing willing and at least attempting to communicate with them in German. You’ll probably find that they’ll reward your efforts by meeting you halfway and replying in English, but you’ll ingratiate yourself more to the natives by making a little effort.
It’s an eco-friendly country
Germany absolutely love bicycles, with many major cities designed with cyclists as a priority over drivers. Of course you’ll be able to pick up a car (though you will probably need to re-take your drivers test to qualify for a German permit), but you can also hire bikes to get around the city – and you can hire a car for long-distance trips using your existing American license.
On a similar note, Germans are huge on recycling. Simply tossing everything into a garbage bag for toting off to a landfill is hugely frowned upon – sift through your waste and divide it into glass, plastic, cardboard and anything else that can be re-used. You also won’t find dishwashers or clothes dryers in many apartments, as Germans consider such luxurious appliances to be a criminal waste of energy. You’re going to have to start getting your hands dirty again!
Formality matters – personal lives are personal
You do not gain the kind of reputation for ruthless efficiency that the Germans enjoy by accident, and you’ll have to learn to embrace rules and formality if you are to thrive in the country. There is a bureaucratic office (and license or permit) for just about everything, and laws are to be followed to the letter.
Likewise, watch your interactions will people, especially in the workplace. When you meet somebody for an interview or are addressing a superior at work, they should be addressed as Herr or Frau Surname, with Christian names only used upon invitation, and a professional title such as Doctor or Professor should always be used.
Likewise, do not attempt to make small talk surrounding shared interests, as this makes most German people feel uncomfortable. If you walk into your bosses office and they have a framed photo of a German World Cup-winning soccer team, don’t treat this as an opportunity to tell them all about how you captained your Elementary School team. They’ll just be confused as to why you are talking about personal matters in the workplace.
If in doubt, say nothing at all – silence is often golden in Germany, and nobody will judge for you keeping quiet if communication is not strictly necessary. Maybe that’s because there is no equivalent for the word ‘awkward’ in the German language!
Select the size of your move to get free quotes
Be punctual and thorough
This is very important in Germany! There is no such thing as fashionably late in this country – you’ll just be considered rude. On the other hand, however, being early is just as much of a cultural no-no. Master your timetable to thrive in Germany.
This attention to detail should also stretch to your communications. Proofread any emails or letters that you may send, as typos and spelling errors are considered to be careless and easily avoidable.
Cash is king
Don’t assume that you can just flash your American Express card anywhere in Germany – a great many establishments, including bars and small, independent shops, do not like to deal with plastic and will only accept cash. If you must use a credit or debit card, expect a charge to be levied at each transaction – and to hear tuts of disapproval from locals, who consider you to be holding up the wheels of industry as cash is considerably faster.
Sunday is the day of rest
Germany is not a particularly religious country, but Sunday remains a day that you’ll struggle to find any shops open. You’ll still be able to eat out, but do your grocery shopping during the week!
If you’re sick, you’re sick
Germany has a largely efficient healthcare system, but some people complain that people are admitted into hospital unnecessarily, or kept in too long. All the same, Germans take their health seriously – and this goes double when it comes to sick days in the office.
You may be used to coming to work feeling under the weather and waiting to be sent home, but if you try this trick in Germany, you’ll be scolded for potentially sharing your germs with all of your colleagues and banished from the building post-haste. Don’t take any chances – if you feel under the weather, run with it and tell your employers you will not be coming to work that day.
Develop a thick skin
Germans tend to be honest, even if that means that you don’t like what they have to say! Try not to take offence to being told that you have gained weight, look tired or are trialing a different outfit or hairstyle to what you usually wear – it’s just the Germanic way to be blunt, and to expect honesty in return.
You’re also likely to be scolded in the street in your early days of arrival as you unwittingly break various laws and unspoken etiquettes that you are yet to learn. Apologize and learn from these experiences – it’s never personal.
Still interested in moving to Germany? You should be. It’s an amazing country, packed with fascinating people and places. Just follow these suggestions, and be prepared to learn more as you go, and you’ll be able to build a fantastic life for yourself.