Including my year abroad in Hannover, I’ve now been living in Germany for over three years. Woah.
Over these years, I’ve become accustomed to doing things that are accepted and expected in Germany. I’ve also got used to not doing things that are not accepted and certainly not expected (and I’m talking things that may actually be accepted in other countries).
So, if you were considering coming to Germany, what should you do and what should you really, really not do? Well…
- DO look at people in the eyes when saying “Prost” as your glasses full of alcoholic goodness hit one another. Sounds strange, and may be unusual at first if you’re in a group with some people you don’t know too well (you get used to it), but if you don’t do that, you’ll apparently get seven years of, brace yourself, bad sex (gasp! I said it). Definitely better safe than sorry though.
- DON’T wish somebody a ‘Happy Birthday’ before it’s their birthday. Even the day before. I learnt this the hard way back in Hannover when I announced to my colleagues I was going to a birthday party on the Saturday of one of my English friend’s whose birthday was on the Monday after. I’ve never seen so many shocked people in a room due to something I said. It is, without doubt, bad luck in Germany. I think it’s something to do with the fact that “I may not make it to my birthday, don’t jinx it!”. Slightly morbid. However, you are allowed to ‘reinfeiern’, which means ‘celebrate into’ your birthday. So you can start the party the day before then celebrate properly when it turns to midnight. So at least there’s that.
- DO give tips. In England, you tend to give a tip if you were really satisfied with the service. In Germany, the unwritten rule is that you don’t give a tip if you were really unsatisfied with the meal. So if there were no problems with your meal, give a tip. How much you give is up to you. I usually round up to the nearest 50 cent or euro (with 50 cent on top of that), plus a bit more if I was extra happy.
- DON’T order tap water. It’s apparently a sign of stinginess. I once got yelled at by a barman in a club after ordering a tap water along with another drink. He was not happy and chucked my change right back at me for the drink I ordered. But I didn’t get the tap water. I think generally this is a hit-and-miss thing, but all in all I’d say just order bottled water.
- DO say “Guten Appetit” before you start eating your meal. We don’t have a phrase in English, but in Germany I’ve found it’s pretty impolite to not say it before eating. You should also say it when someone else is eating and you’re not, such as if you were to walk into the kitchen to find your housemate eating. I’ve learnt it as the phrase that allows me to actually start eating, and I actually find it a bit awkward if someone starts eating when it hasn’t been said (I’ll be wearing socks and sandals before I know it).
- DON’T jaywalk. Always wait for the green man before you cross. If you’re caught, you get fined. OK, I only ever follow that rule when there are children around. You know, to set a good example. Oh, and I obviously don’t cross at red when there’s police around. And I guess I also follow the ‘no jaywalking’ rule when there are actual cars on the road, too. Probably should be on the safe side.
- DO do your grocery shopping well in advance of a bank holiday (Feiertag). Many people don’t do this and all come to the conclusion that they should all go to the supermarket at the same time and buy enough food for a month. You know, just in case Germany forgets that the bank holiday lasts only a day and not a year. And if ever a Feiertag takes place the day before or after a Sunday (reason being below), then… well… Please, just plan ahead and go a few days before. That’s coming from a guy who once queued for around 20 minutes for two bread rolls for dinner because he had no food at home. I’ve never made that mistake again, that’s for sure!
- DON’T forget that Germany closes on Sundays. I’m used to it now (I guess I’d be worried if I wasn’t after three years), but I had many unhappy Sundays in my first months forgetting that shops do not open on Sundays, including supermarkets. Bakeries are sometimes open till around 10am and shops in big train stations are open, but you’ll find that everyone else knows that too so it will be heaving with people in there and you may lose your will to live.
Have you got any dos and don’ts for Germany that you’d recommend to someone?