Every expat talks about "culture shock" when moving to a new country, but it's not something I considered when moving to Germany to work for InterNations from the UK almost a year ago. I'd visited the country eight times and studied the language for nine years before relocating, so thought I was pretty aux fait with the culture. Now I realize I was completely wrong! There are some enormous differences between German and British culture, here are just a few of them.
People say what they mean
Brits and Germans could not be more different when it comes to saying what's on their mind. While Brits typically internalize their anger and negative feelings, Germans value directness and honesty over politeness. My previous German roommate, for example, had no problem telling me that I'd gained weight, or that she didn't like my outfit! For the reserved Brit, this can be a real challenge.
Admittedly, my flatmate may have been a special case, but in general Germans have no problem with speaking before they think. Don't let the directness get to you. Eventually you might even appreciate it and realize that honesty and openness get jobs done faster and conflicts resolved more easily. Just remember to have an emotional barrier up when talking with Germans, otherwise you might be left feeling a little down in the dumps.
Do you cross the road on a red man when you're in a rush to get to the office? Don't even think about it in Germany! Not only will you be fined for jaywalking, but you'll get some seriously disapproving looks from the locals, and maybe even a lecture or two (see above point about directness)!
Though waiting to cross an empty road might seem a bit pointless, to Germans it's not just about obeying the rules. As the signs at many crossings show, by following the rules themselves adults are setting a good example for children when crossing the road.
As an avid sausage and mash lover, sausages deserved a section of their own in this article. Many of my British friends prefer German sausages to the ones we get back home, but I can't say I agree. With an almost-plastic coating, German sausages just taste weird! I don't want a banger to crunch and burst with liquid when I bite into it -- I want a soft, textured chipolata, drenched in gravy, that melts in my mouth.
I'm aware that it's controversial to complain about German sausage, since the country is the creator of many famous bangers like Bratwurst and the Frankfurter. There's just something about these Würste that doesn't work for me. Every time I go back to the UK, I make sure to fill up on bangers and mash, a sausage sarnie, or a good old battered sausage from the chippy!
A love of the outdoors
Perhaps the one thing I prefer about life in Germany is their love of the outdoors. As long as it's not raining, Germans will be outside -- even if it's freezing cold. They use every available opportunity to go to their nearest park, lake, or mountain range for a leisurely stroll or challenging hike, instead of being cooped up inside. Perhaps this explains why many Germans are so slim, despite the copious amounts of baked goods and red meat they consume.
Don't expect Germans to sit inside at a restaurant. As long as it's dry, Germans will dine al fresco. Most cafés and restaurants leave blankets on their chairs so that diners can wrap up while tucking in, and many eateries provide outside heaters in case your hands get a bit chilly. It took me a while to get used to outdoor dining, but I now love sipping a cappuccino while enjoying the fresh air!
I love my gym, but I spend as little time as possible in the changing room. Whereas most Brits try to wrap a towel around themselves while getting undressed or take their clothes off in the shower, Germans strip off at one end of the changing room and walk past everyone fully naked to get to the shower. There's no room for shyness in a German changing room!
Skinny dipping is also popular in Germany. Though nude swimmers usually stick to certain areas, if you don't know a lake or park very well, don't be surprised if you stumble across some naked swimmers or sunbathers. Trust me, you'll quickly become a pro at averting your eyes after living in Germany!
Where's the queue?
When you think 'Germany', one word that springs to mind might be 'order' -- you're wrong! Be prepared for some serious elbowing if you want to wait less than twenty minutes for your morning coffee. Most shops and cafés don't even have queues -- you just have to make your way to the counter and try to make eye contact with the staff and hope that they'll choose you as the next lucky customer.
The situation is even worse on the U-Bahn (the underground). From the moment the train doors open, it's fair game. If you want to get in the carriage before the doors close, you've got to use some serious elbow power to push past your fellow morning commuters -- including the ones still trying to make their way off the train. You'll feel unbearably rude at first, but you'll get used to it eventually!
(Image credit: Photo 1 by John Benson / CC BY 2.0; Photo 2 by Robert Couse-Baker / CC BY 2.0; Photo 3 by stu_spivack / CC BY-SA 2.0; Photo 4 by Mal B / CC BY-ND 2.0; Photo 5 by VIK hotels group / CC BY-ND 2.0; Photo 6 by Banalities / CC BY 2.0).