Cultural Differences Between Germany & America


I have certainly touched on some of the cultural differences between life in Germany compared to life in America, like no stores being open on Sundays and how your neighbor can sign for your packages in you aren’t home. Now that it’s been over two years since moving to Germany, I thought I would share even more cultural differences.

I would like to first say that these are not positive or negative things, they are merely differences. And differences are what make cultural so exciting and make the world go round. If you’re traveling to Germany, I hope these differences will allow for you to more easily adapt to life when you’re visiting. If you’re moving to Germany, I hope these will help ease you into your home.

Breastfeeding in public is no big deal here // I am not a mother but I have noticed that mothers here are more open and free with breastfeeding in public. I have seen women feeding their babies in grocery stores, restaurants, stores, etc. It’s a natural thing.

Car trips are given in distance, not time // If someone asks how far it is to your parents’ house, for example, Germans respond in kilometers. In the States, I would say I live 4 hours from my parents because I have no idea how many miles that is!

The middle finger // Giving someone the middle finger out of anger, like when you’re driving, is against the law. It can actually result in a lost license. Admittedly, I have to remember this a little too often.

Parenting and work reviews // I have been told by other Germans that parents are very critical and do that because it’s how they show love. If your parents aren’t criticizing you, they don’t love you. The same thing goes for work reviews. You will rarely get a, “That was so well done. Thank you so much. You’re great.” But you will get, “You have done a pretty good job, but…” Some say this produces children who can handle the world and are self-reliant and not reliant on trophies or pats on the back.

The German stares // It is well-known that Germans like things done a certain way and if you’re doing it wrong, they will point it out or just stare at you. If you wear athletic clothes outside the gym (hello, me everyday), then you will get stares. Sometimes, you’ll just be walking down the street and get stares. It takes some getting used to, but I don’t even notice it anymore.

More vacation time // It’s not just in the number of days, it is the acceptance that someone is on vacation that is most striking. Germans receive 30 days of vacation, as well as earning vacation days if they are an associate (not a manager, director or above) for working over 40 hours per week, but vacations are typically two weeks or more. In August, offices are a ghost town because people are on their summer holiday for 3 weeks. While this idea is unfathomable to many Americans, it is welcomed, appreciated and expected in Germany. The most striking thing is that co-workers, bosses and upper management accept when their employees are on vacation. No one bothers you, expects an email response or for anyone to log onto their computer at all. Projects aren’t expected to still be completed on time, either. “So-and-so is on vacation,” is a complete answer and is the project status. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but happens more often than not.

Team work // This one I know thanks to Vinn’s German teacher. He was in a lesson and asked how to say team work in German. She said, “team work,” just like in English. And then she went on to stay that Germans are not taught team work nor is it a focus in school or sports. Remember in college when you had 5 classes and 5 group projects? That doesn’t exist in Germany. Everything is by yourself. German students, even undergraduate students, must write a thesis surrounding a topic and include interviews with professionals. It’s all per student.

Splitting checks is easier // Eating out with friends is so much easier in Germany. The wait staff split the check for you and most places accept credit cards. There’s no getting a check, writing the last 4 digits of your card on the back of it and waiting for wait staff to swipe your card. In Germany, you just tell the waiter what you ate, how much you want to tip (you give the total amount you want to spent), and they run your card right at the table. It’s much easier! It will still take a long time, but it’s easier.

Of course there are more, but these are the ones that have affected me and stick out the most.

Have you ever been to a country other than your own? What culture differences did you notice? 

Cultural Differences Between Germany & US, What to know when traveling to Germany

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