Now that we have been in Germany for three years, I have really learned how to be a good German, and I wanted to share my knowledge with you. While Germany is a great place to live, there are a few quirky things you need to know so you stay out of trouble. So, sit back, relax, pour yourself a glass of wine, and listen up.
I was holding a hand-held basket for my groceries. I had forgotten my plastic grocery bags in the car and I said to my son in a private conversation,”No worries. We will run outside with the basket; put the groceries in the car, and you can run the basket back inside the store.” The man behind me in line leaned over and loudly said, “NO! YOU DON’T TAKE BASKET OUT OF STORE!” (Think Schwarzenegger in “Terminator.”) I was astonished that such a nosy character would be in my business. After rolling my eyes, I politely asked him if he was the “basket police” and could he show me his basket police badge. Strangely, he could not speak English all of a sudden and did not respond.
Nevertheless, we did not take that basket outside. I was worried about being taken down by an armed swat team. So, get nosy if you want to fit in; everyone does it!
2. No mowing your lawn on Sunday – Sunday and public holidays are for rest; it is actually against the law to work in Germany, and by work I also mean work on your car, your yard, or your house. It is actually forbidden to mow your own lawn on a Sunday. We were unaware of this law, so I thought it would be best to share it with anyone coming to Germany. Sunday is for drinking beer, so get with the program.
3. Tell your dog when he is allowed to bark – Germany has set laws on quiet hours; those being from 22:00 until 7:00. There is also a “quiet time” from 13:00 – 15:00 – meaning you should not make noise. Please enlighten your dog to those hours or you will get a nasty letter from the city. If you need a copy for reference, I have many of them.
4. Think inside the box – Listen, if it doesn’t fit in the box, it is not happening in Germany – and you better have all the paperwork that goes with the box – and I mean all of it! Paperwork and exact thinking are kings in Germany. Don’t stray or try to find a different way – it’s not going to happen!
5. There is no such thing as customer service – If you are coming from a customer service country, you are in for a rude awakening in Germany because there is none. Furthermore, when you walk into a restaurant, don’t expect to be greeted with a smile or offered a table. Instead, you can just find your own table. You also should not attempt any small talk with your waiter/waitress; you will immediately get shut down, so don’t even go there. Lucky for you, you don’t have to leave a 20% tip for the not-so-friendly service. When tipping in Germany, round up to the nearest €. For example, if you have a bill for 20.10€ leave 21€, unless the service was exceptional.
6. Germans love to be naked – In the saunas and hot tubs, which are co-ed, everyone is butt naked. If you are not down with the nakedness, you will be reprimanded. If confused about this, re-read rule #1 on being nosy. I once walked into a sauna with 25 men and balls up to my neck. I was swiftly told that unless my suit came off I had to go. No, really! Let’s not even get into how unsanitary this is. My vahjayjay is just not going there.
7. Peeing is not free – Most places will charge you .50€ to use the toilet, including gas station rest stops. So, pay up or hold it. Maybe this is why I see so many men just whipping it out on the road or in the street. Hmmm…
8. Germans are more formal when it comes to doing business, but like to kiss everyone the rest of the time – Most Germans are more formal when it comes to the work place. If in doubt, use the last name of the person you are addressing. If you have made friends with Germans, don’t be astonished when they lean in to kiss both your cheeks. I thought it was one kiss, and got some love dead on the lips when I didn’t turn the other cheek, so watch out! Hey, if it’s good enough for Merkel it’s good enough for me! However, this could be a problem if you are a germaphobe.
9. Don’t be late – Switzerland is very close by, and everyone has a good watch; invest in one, too.
10. Blue is for plastic, yellow is for paper – You are expected to recycle. No exceptions. There are multiple trash bins – yellow (plastic), blue (paper), green (bio), and black (regular trash). You must recycle or they will come knocking on your door. Even at fairs and markets, you will normally pay a deposit for glassware/mugs. When you are done, you should return them so you don’t put plastic in the trash bin.
*Special note for drinkers – There are special bins set up around Germany for glass bottles (such as beer and wine). You must keep your glass and take it to the containers. This is one rule that seems inefficient because I usually have more wine bottles than paper and plastic – but hey, no one asked me!
So, there you have it – ten rules on being a good German. Learn them, live them, or subject yourself to harsh tongue lashings and copious amounts of paperwork! Auf Wiedersehen.
This is part of Sunday Traveler. Check out some other great blogs at the link up at Chasing the Donkey, a travel guide to Croatia.