Dear travelers to Germany: please don’t come visit until you’ve understood these 9 things
1. Shops close on Sundays.
Sunday is a day of rest. Shops and stores are closed, so make sure you do your shopping in advance. You might find a few stores open in train stations and larger cities, but it’s better not to rely on that.
Plastic, paper, organic waste, and glass have their own designated containers. The waste removal service might even refuse to take your bin if you don’t recycle correctly. Bottles and cans have a deposit on them so that you can turn them in at your local supermarket, get paid out in cash or use the money to pay for your groceries.
3. Du and Sie
We have a formal and informal version of the word “you.” Unless you are speaking to children or your friends, it’s always safer to address people with the formal Sie and their last name, until they offer you the informal Du. This means you are now on a first-name basis and considered a close acquaintance or a friend. No one will be mad at you if you do end up using the wrong word, but it is definitely more polite to be formal first.
4. We’re not trying to be rude…
…we are just not used to small talk. If you approach a German on the train and ask them how they are, you will probably get a confused look. before they either turn away or give a reluctant answer. This isn’t because they are being rude. They are just not used to being asked personal questions by people they don’t know.
At the same time, Germans are very straightforward when asked for their take on something — even if you’ve met them a few minutes ago. This might come off as rude, but it is certainly not meant that way. So, don’t worry, we are not trying to hurt your feelings or pick a fight about everything, it’s just the way we were brought up.
5. You can bike everywhere.
Along with using public transport, Germans really like riding their bike. Almost all roads and sidewalks have a bike lane, and you better not walk on them. Some places are actually more easily accessible by bike than they are by car. But careful. Traffic rules apply to bikers as well as car drivers, so you can expect some heavy fines if you violate them.
6. Try to not bring up Nazi-Germany or WWII too often.
Although our history is being addressed quite openly, we don’t always like to talk about it; much less make fun of it. Most things associated with the Nazi regime are actually prohibited by law and you should be careful about publicly displaying certain symbols or saying certain greetings, even if you’re only trying to joke around. You can definitely talk to your friends about German history and they might tell you some amazing stories about their grandparents, but, in general, Nazism and the War are not good dinner conservation topics
7. You’re going to get an angry look if you ask for free tap water in a café/bar.
You’ll still get your glass of water, but asking for free water instead of paying for a drink is highly frowned upon. Most people will feel uncomfortable enough to order a real drink.
8. Always have cash on you.
Not all stores or restaurants accept credit cards, which is why you should have some cash in your wallet at all times. Coins also come in handy as most places now also charge for access to public toilets.
9. Not every German is the same.
As in every country, there are exceptions to every rule. You will meet Germans who love small talk; Germans who are always late; Germans who don’t ever bike; and Germans who don’t recycle. Rather than an ironclad set of rules, this guideline is only to help you understand the German culture and lifestyle better. So please do come visit and ask questions, even if you don’t understand all of our rules and habits.