We’ve been living in Germany for just under six months now, and even though we have been locked down since November, we’re still managing to explore and enjoy our new home. There are so many differences between Germany and the US, and I find them fascinating, so I thought it might be interesting to share a post every month or so comparing aspects of the two cultures.
I also know that we have quite a few German readers and I’ll be interested to hear their take on some of these things, too.
While it’s certainly inappropriate to generalize an entire culture, I have noticed a few things about Swabian Germans (this is the specific area of Germany where we live). Before we arrived, a lot of people told me that they’re standoffish, but I don’t think that’s exactly correct.
Their behavior is similar to what you see in any large US city, like New York or Washington DC, in that you don’t make eye contact with random people you pass on the street, or make small talk with the cashier at the grocery store (I know my friends in the South will have a hard time with that one!). I think it’s more of a reserve that comes from being constantly surrounded by people; it allows you to preserve a sense of privacy.
That being said, when I pass people in our neighborhood the rules seem to be a bit different. Most of them will make eye contact and we will nod or say “hallo” to each other. I’ve only had one or two people ignore me completely when I initiate a greeting and I just tell myself they must not have heard me!
I think it’s important to at least try to speak the language of your host nation, so I’ve got the basic “politeness words” down. I’m also taking a German class, but it’s been slow going, and my German is still a zero on a scale of one to ten. I took Spanish through college, but obviously that doesn’t help me here!
So this is what’s funny to me: whenever I apologize for my bad German and ask someone if they “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” they usually reply that their English is terrible and they only speak a little, and then they proceed to launch into perfect and rapid English.
One of my neighbors explained that it’s because they begin learning English in first grade in German schools, and they learn both British and American English. By the time they graduate, most of them speak English better than I do!
My daughter sent me this and it sums things up perfectly:
Most Germans I’ve met speak at least three languages with fluency, which is pretty impressive. I’m sure that if each state in the US spoke a different language I’d know several, too, but it is funny how they downplay their skill.
While there are some stout Germans, I don’t think I’ve seen a single obese person since I’ve been over here, with the exception of a few people on the US bases who are probably American. I’ve dropped about fifteen pounds myself, which is amazing given the fact that my bread, cheese, and wine intake has definitely increased!
My theory is that even though the food is SO MUCH BETTER, Germans live such an active lifestyle that they work all of their calories off. Whether it’s walking to the market or going on a weekend hike, time outdoors “taking the air” is a huge part of their culture. It’s truly one of my favorite things over here. There are miles and miles and walking and hiking trails to enjoy, whether in the city:
…or the country:
In the winter, sledding, downhill and cross country skiing, and snowshoeing are added to hiking and biking as outdoor activities. No matter how cold, dark, or snowy it gets, Germans head outside on the weekends, especially on Sundays when all the stores are closed. Which leads me to the last thing I’ll mention today:
Everything is Closed on Sundays
This was a little hard to get used to, since we as Americans are used to being able to go anywhere and do anything on Sundays, with the obvious exceptions of Chick Fil A and Hobby Lobby. 😉 However, now that I’ve begun to plan my week accordingly, I love having a day where everything is closed, because it forces me to slow down and enjoy a day with the family (usually outside as mentioned above).
Whether we take a stroll downtown, or walk through the vineyards, or drive to a trail so we can hike around a castle, or even just stay at home and play games as a family, the weekly Sunday shut-down is a great forcing mechanism for making us observe the Sabbath (for those of you who are wondering, churches in Germany are thankfully open right now).
So that’s all for today; I have a huge list I’ve been keeping of things to cover so unless I hear that you hate this topic, I’ll share a few more observations next month.
Thanks for stopping by!