Rules are everything
It’s true. Germans love order. It’s not so much that they love rules – there is certainly plenty of complaining about that – it’s more that they love the level playing field brought on by having every single thing spelled out in black and white. It can be difficult to learn all the rules when you come from another country, but after enough fines from the police for crossing the street against the red man, or yelling matches in the street over a photo you took of a city worker, you’ll learn.
Private and public are two very different things
There is a massive difference in Germany between what is private and what is public. For instance, city workers can not be photographed without their consent while doing their jobs on a public street because they have a right to privacy. Many, many houses are blurred out on Google Maps because even though there are no identifying marks on the house aside from the number, Germans consider even the outside their private space. Even throwaway small talk questions like asking the bank teller how their weekend was can be awkward. It’s not that Germans are unfriendly or excessively suspicious, they just don’t feel like their business is always/ever everyone’s business.
Fresh air cures all ills…
Germans love fresh air, particularly in rooms where sleeping happens. The land of logic and reason still thinks that stagnant air carries disease and is generally not good for the Gesundheit. Most houses in Germany have radiant or underfloor heating, so there is very little fresh air introduced naturally. Happily, there is a solution: leave the bedroom window open all day with the heating on full.
… but a draft can kill you
Yes, heating a room with the window open is wasteful, but a draft can kill you, don’t you know? Basically, the rule is, if a person has not opened the window themselves to alleviate a stale air problem, real or perceived, then that person is at risk of being rendered ill, or in extreme cases, dying on the spot thanks to the draft. Just ask Oma.
Irony? Nein, danke.
Much is made about Germans have a sense of humour fail at pretty well all times. It’s not that Germans don’t like jokes. They are just, to English speakers, not very funny. Mostly this is because Germans in general don’t understand irony and the entire foundation of humour in English-speaking cultures is self-deprecation, sarcasm and double meanings.
Germans are Olympic-standard garbage sorters
In my house there are three garbage cans – styrofoam/plastic, cardboard/paper, and everything else. Also a separate bag for returnable bottles. In other parts of the country, there are four or five different bins. Manufacturers of plastic containers must pay a fee to garbage collectors to deal with all their containers, so most Germans take sorting seriously. Even the garbage cans in the train station have three or four divisions.
The worst Würst is no Würst
No doubt about it, Germany loves the weiner. And the Bockwurst and the Weißwurst and, and, and….Each region has their own specialty, though most are available in most supermarkets all over the country. Try Blutwurst in Cologne’s famous Himmel un Ääd or find Thuringia’s white sausage at nearly any Christmas market.
Being super cautious is standard
Germans don’t, as a people, have much appetite for risk. If you can think of a situation, there is an insurance for it. Personal liability insurance, while cheap, is a must for residents. If a car hits a biker who is permanently injured as a result, the driver is liable for the biker’s medical costs for the rest of their life. Businesses insure their employees on the journey to and from work, but only if the employee takes the most direct route. So, naturally, almost everyone has additional personal insurance to cover any accidents that may happen while dropping off a child at daycare while on the way to work.
Berliners are the Latin Americans of Germany
It seems that Berliners didn’t get the memo about conforming to broad German stereotypes as part of their role as residents of the capital city. The rest of Germany makes fun of Berliners for their relaxed approach to timekeeping and getting things done. Berlin Airport anyone? Or taking three years to build 2 km of new tram lines? Berliners are also known to regard contrarianism as a sport at which they alone are, now and forever, world champions.
Garden gnomes are a thing…
Standing by toadstool, sitting in a wee chair or even reclining like a bearded odalisque, garden gnomes in Germany (Gartenzwerge) are a thing and they are not ironic. There are somewhere around 25 million living in gardens around the country and while most people don’t think they are really cool, the primary function of a gnome is not as some sort of wink, wink inside joke.
… and so is Supermarktorschlußpanik*
Supermarkets are not open on Sundays and public holidays, because workers at supermarkets have families too and why should they be expected to leave them and scan your ridiculous hangover breakfast ingredients? Even though this happens every week and most supermarkets in the city are open until at least 10pm, people shop like they will have to survive at least seven days.
Even worse is when a Sunday and a national holiday run together, meaning that there two days in a row where the shops are closed. That is next level stuff – Supermarkttorschlußapokalypse, if you will. On those days, if you go to the supermarket after midday, expect only a sad carrot or two and a couple of rusty cans of beans.
* vocab help: torschlußpanik is the fear of missing out on a opportunity because time ran out.
Allotments are everywhere
Look carefully out the window of any local or regional train you’re on and you’ll see periodic clumps of little sheds. These are not, as I first thought, a creative solution to the homeless problem, but rather Schrebergartenen (allotments). As with most things designed to give pleasure in the Deutschland, these are very serious business. There are lot of rules about what you can grow and the waitlist for a plot in a central part of the city can be ten years.
The only water worth drinking is sparkling water
Despite freely having access to what by world standards is considered top quality water from a tap inside their house, most Germans carry 9 litres of sparkling drinking water home from the store even if they don’t have a car. This is, of course, 9 kg or nearly 20 pounds. Tap water is in the same family as stale air and is somehow bad for your health. If you are visiting someone at their house and ask for tap water, you probably won’t get it. Don’t even try it in a restaurant. Just no.
Bread is a way of life
Most foreigners would agree that German bread is pretty good. There’s plenty of it, and even the tiniest village has at least one bakery. Almost none of it goes in the toaster and almost all of it has some Dinkel (spelt flour) in it. In general, German bread is much heavier than fluffy white American or Italian bread, so doesn’t lend itself well to sandwiches. Still, Germans love the stuff. Bakeries are open on Sunday morning because bread is considered essential to life.
A German friend is a friend for life
Like many other northern Europeans, Germans can take a while to warm up. It helps in the beginning, if you perceive the distance as respect for your privacy rather than dislike or indifference. After all, these are people who can work with someone for 40 years and never call them by their first name or use informal pronouns. Once you break through the wall, Germans make excellent friends. It’s very common for people to meet up once or twice a year with their school friends well into middle age.