Europeans and Americans have much more in common than most people think, making adjustments to life in a new country easier. Many customs are similar to practices in the United States. Germans have their own way of being German. Germany is a relatively small and densely populated country. Unlike the United States, which is a large, densely populated country.
The greatest shock to Americans is the speed at which Germans drive. The roads and freeways are quite narrow. Speed limits in cities are strictly enforced, but on much of the Autobahn there is no limit on how fast drivers can go. Although it is against the law, impatient Germans may also tailgate at high speeds and/or flash their headlights when they want to pass your vehicle. If you are driving for the first time in Germany, keep right. Left lanes are for passing only. Unlike when you are driving in America; Americans tend to travel in the lane that is meant for passing and the faster drivers. Americans tend to think I am going the speed limit, so I am going to stay in the left lane, the Germany way of thinking is that if you are not passing anyone or if you are going too slow, your car needs to be in the right hand lane.
Unlike in the United States, train travel is a German way of life. You can get on at train at any bahnhof (train station) and travel to any destination in Europe you would like. The Germans use the train as their main mean of travel due to pollution and the inflated gas prices. Americans tend to use the automobile as our main mean of travel more than we should.
Nobody likes to wait in line especially the German people, who seem to have to do it more often than Americans. Even normally courteous Germans may elbow their way ahead if you don’t stand your ground. It’s not unusual to get bumped by a “tailgating” shopping cart. Keep smiling; it is just the German way of life.
It’s usual to greet others when walking into a waiting room, small business or train compartment. A simple Guten Tag or, in southern Germany, Gruess Gott, is in order. Germans are also avid hand-shakers. Not only do they shake hands when meeting someone for the first time, but at every meeting thereafter. Upon arrival at small parties and gatherings, it is not unusual to greet everyone individually, with a handshake – and then make the round again when you leave. Never have a hand in your pocket when shaking hands and always make eye contact.
Germans are quite reserved and usually won’t take the initiative to meet someone unless it’s necessary, especially if they notice you are American and their English is rusty or nonexistent. Germans expect Americans friendly, so it’s a good idea for you to take the initiative and introduce yourself. Every little bit of German you learn helps. Germans and all Europeans appreciate Americans who are trying to learn their language.
When you’re invited to a German home, it is customary to bring a gift. The safest tokens of appreciation are bottled, either wine or spirits. If you choose to bring flowers, don’t pick red roses – unless you’re in love with the host – and always unwrap the florist’s paper before handing over the bouquet.
Even in inclimate weather, Germans love to take long walks and work in their gardens. They are firm believers in the benefits of breathing fresh air and staying active. Which is a good thing since the main ingredients in their diet are fat and alcohol. Germans have well-kept public swimming pools called schwimbads, that are reasonably priced and very popular. Germans also regularly air out their homes and bedding. It is not unusual to see open windows with blankets and feather comforters hanging out of them. Another familiar sight is men or women leaning out their windows watching the world go by. They’re not being nosy – they’re enjoying a bit of fresh air. In the summer, outdoor cafes and beer gardens are packed. Beer gardens are often located outside of town, in shady park-like areas or in the woods. Germans often take walks through town when all the stores are closed, or hike in the forest, stopping for a leisurely drink at an outdoor cafe or outdoor pub along the way.
In America we wait to be seated, even at pizza hut and we would never think of sharing a table with a stranger; in Germany the traditions on this are totally different. It isn’t customary to be seated by a host in many eating establishments in Germany. Often guests sit down at any unoccupied table or, after asking permission of those seated there, at an occupied table. Sharing tables with total strangers is common, especially in the South. Watch out, though, for tables with a Reserviert sign or those labeled Stammtisch, which are reserved for regulars. You won’t automatically get a glass of water when you sit down. In fact, you should order something to drink, because 10 percent of the charge for the food and drink is part of your waiter’s pay; even though you should round up you bill to the nearest mark. Most drinking water in Germany is bottled and carbonated. Germans believe it’s unhealthy if you drink tap water (Leitungswasser) – but waiters will bring it if you insist. After your food is served, it’s polite to wish your fellow diners Guten Appetit. In America we ask for the bill when we are done; if the wait staff hasnt already brought it. In Germany, how you position your knife and fork sends a message. If you’re done, put the knife and fork together, tips toward the middle of the plate and handles toward your right elbow. Lying them down in a V with the tip facing away from you means you’d like another serving.
The German dining and celebration culture revolves around alcohol much more than in the States. It only takes one visit to a German festival, like the famous Oktoberfest, for visitors to realize that it is nothing more than a big beer party. When it comes to alcohol consumption, Germans are No. 1. The average German drinks 12.1 liters of pure alcohol per year. It is much more common to have beer or wine with dinner than a soda or water. It’s no wonder – southern Germany produces some of the best wine and beer in the world. If Germans invite you for a drink, it means they intend to pay. Having a drink with friends means toasting. Lots of it. In a group setting, you’ll hear calls to toast – Prost or Zum Wohl – continuously. When everyone raises a glass, be sure to clink with each person and make eye contact as you do so. Lighting up a cigarette is still fashionable in Germany. A larger proportion of Germans smoke compared to Americans, especially among the younger generation. Germans don’t typically ask permission to smoke in your presence. They just do it. Non-smoking sections of restaurants and even hospitals are rare.
I am going to commit a large part of my essay to the German Fests. While Germans may seem reserved, the truth is they take every opportunity to let their hair down. Almost everyone has heard of Oktoberfest, the famous Munich event that dates back to the 1800s. Between six and seven million people visit the fairgrounds each year to visit the seven huge beer halls or peruse hundreds of smaller stands. Oktoberfest isnt just popular for its beer; there are also roller coasters, Ferris wheels, helicopter swings, and bumper cars. Waiters and waitresses deliver tons of rotisserie chicken, ham hocks, sausages and pretzels. While the patrons drink their beer in the famous one-liter mug, bands blare inside the massive tents. Summertime brings a steady flow of fests. Every village, no matter how small, has at least one fest. Some celebrate foods and others just celebrate. Germany is not known internationally for wine since Germans drink most of it, rather than exporting it – but vineyards have been cultivated since Roman times. Even cold weather can’t keep Germans from their fests. The winter holidays of Christmas and carnival each bring their own celebrations. Many cities host a Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market, during the four-week Advent period before Christmas. These markets are a wonderland for anyone with a sweet tooth. Vendors sell all kinds of cookies, along with ornaments and small gift items. To ward off the chill, shoppers can buy mulled red wine or gluhwine as the Germans call it. Soon after the New Year, carnival festivities get rolling – as if the festivities had even stopped. Originally a pagan celebration, carnival now fits in with the church calendar. The fun comes together in the days before Ash Wednesday. Some say the Fasching revelry is a good way to unwind before Lent, the 40 somber days leading up to Easter. Each region’s Fasching traditions are different, so it’s worthwhile to visit parades in several cities. The big, elaborate parades in Mainz, Cologne and Munich are the most famous, but people have more fun at the smaller local events. The villages often compete with each other to throw the most entertaining gala. Witches and fools in grotesque masks tease those along the parade route, playing tricks, scaring children and handing out goodies. Fasching is much like Halloween, Easter, and Mardi Gras rolled into one.
During day-to-day operations Germans may be more reserved than Americans; however, when the Germans are finished with their daily obligations, they really loosen up. You shouldnt visit Germany looking for sunny, warm weather; but, if you are looking for a good time, Germany is the place to go.