13 Things Americans Should Know Before Moving to Deutschland

By: Amanda Schaefer

  1. Forget about personal space. Get accustomed to strangers standing close enough to breathe down your neck and skip you in line before you can say, "Entschuldigung."

  2. Be a good hausfrau. The sidewalk in front of your house is directly correlated to your social acceptance in the neighborhood. Shovel and salt it before 8am if it snows and make sure it's swept clean of miniscule dirt particles at all other times. And wash your windows, too.

  3. The weather is completely unpredictable. When I first moved here I thought people were being rude when I asked for a description of typical German weather because they always replied with something like, "Well, who knows! Maybe this morning it's sunny, maybe this afternoon it snows!" Take their "advice." You should always have a jacket, an umbrella, a scarf, possibly gloves, rainproof shoes, and sunglasses.

  4. Unless you are moving to a region time hasn't touched (which might seem the case but probably isn't), know that most people speak English and they are offended if you ask, "Sorry, sprechen sie Englisch?" Once I made this mistake and the man indignantly bellowed, "Of course I speak English! It is the international language!!!"

  5. If you are American, people know it. I don't know how they know; they just do. You can stop wearing Nikes everywhere, throw your elastic-waisted pants in the garbage, and take off your baseball cap but they will still see you coming from a mile away. Inexplicably, after several months of living here you will also be able to distinguish other Americans in a crowded place before hearing them speak.

  6. Learn to love recycling. Some villages actually weigh your Restmüll/Restabfall (everything that can't be recycled/composted) and you can be fined if you go over your allotment. It's easy to get the hang of it. You'll live by your Waste Calendar and your days will be classified as Glass, Paper, Bio, Recycling, and Regular Trash. Before you know it you'll be happily recycling everything from wine bottles to toilet paper rolls. You're such a good German!

  7. Water is served in tiny glass bottles with their own special designer cup, typically at room temperature. Don't ask for tap water unless you want to be forever shunned. The good news is that beer is usually either the same price or cheaper than a dainty little bottle of water. This results in guiltless day drinking.

  8. Ice cubes are nonexistent here. I've read some theories as to why but haven't discovered any concrete reason for ice-less beverages. I suggest you purchase some old-fashioned plastic trays and munch on the nostalgia in the comfort of your own haus.

  9. Carnival is as exciting as you imagine! It's like Mardis Gras and Halloween on steroids. There are endless parades with intricate floats, everyone wears painstakingly-crafted costumes, and all of the candy thrown from the floats is washed down with beer-- lots and lots of beer. There isn't a bad place to participate in the Carnival festivities. In fact, you can attend lots of different celebrations because there are so many villages and each has its own parade. Just be sure to use the right salutation: In and around Köln, it's, "Alaaf!" Almost everywhere else it's, "Helau!"

  10. Driving is an adventure whether cars are whizzing past you on the Autobahn or you're zigzagging around haphazardly-parked cars on a one-way cobblestone street in a quaint village. You will become intimately familiar with roundabouts and make many jokes à la National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Always yield to pedestrians and don't hit the cyclists. Don't worry; you'll become accustomed to the whiplash.

  11. Don't leave home without your shopping bag/basket. German grocery stores do have bags available-- for purchase. If you want to avoid buying and amassing lots of oddly-sized plastic bags, just bring your own. And hone your bagging skills because there's no friendly teenager offering paper or plastic. German cashiers are extremely efficient so your purchases will already be waiting for you at the end of the conveyor belt while you're clumsily fumbling for money and everyone in line behind you is sighing and glancing at their watches. Move out of the next person's way as fast as possible, even if that means throwing all of your items into your bag, breaking your eggs and crushing your bread, and awkwardly yelling, "Tschüs" to the cashier as you run out of the store. Grocery shopping will eventually become less traumatic.

  12. Do you love asparagus? You will during spargel season or you just might starve. Germans are obsessed with white asparagus and as soon as spargel season arrives (around mid-May), roadside stands pop up and it dominates restaurant menus. Spargel soup. Steamed spargel. Spargel with Hollandaise sauce. And don't forget to peel it. I only made that mistake once but once was all it took.

  13. The most important thing to know before moving here is that you'll become accustomed to everything and realize it’s not very different from the good ol’ USA. As long as you embrace your initial confusion and learn some common German phrases, people will be receptive. In no time, you'll be zooming down the Autobahn, cycling everywhere, and complaining about the weather like any good German. Viel glück!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingAmanda Schaefer is an American expat living in Germany. Blog description: Germany is my new home and Girl in Geilenkirchen is an account of my experiences settling into a new country.
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Contest Comments » There are 13 comments

Julie Ann wrote 9 years ago:

Funny, I'm almost positive you're telling the secrets of many Germans who enjoy watching the typical American figure these things out! Great article!

Ferdinand wrote 9 years ago:

Perfectly captures the expat experience, great summary of must-knows for Germany!

Elizabeth Hayden wrote 9 years ago:

Great article ;)

Ted Rooney wrote 9 years ago:

You had me at,"guiltless day drinking!" Fantastic summary of the German experience!

Kathy Dinneweth wrote 9 years ago:

My, you have settled in quite nicely. Hope you have an extra bedroom at your haus for when I come to visit!

Melodi wrote 9 years ago:

This is fantastic. I am going to be taking German this fall as my second language and Amanda's article makes me excited to begin. One day I will visit, that I know.

Rachel Rhoads wrote 9 years ago:

I will definitely have to learn to love beer before I visit :)

Tammie Warren wrote 9 years ago:

Expat lessons learned in real life experiences seem to be the best! I am heading to Germany! I have to meet these people now!

Andrea G. wrote 9 years ago:

Very insightful, well-written article! I love more than anything to learn about other cultures, and I learned a lot from reading this. I find it so interesting/funny about the sidewalk/windows tidbit. We would definitely be frowned up in Germany as we rarely sweep our sidewalk or clean our windows. LOL.

Andrea G. wrote 9 years ago:

Very insightful, well-written article! I love more than anything to learn about other cultures, and I learned a lot from reading this. I find it so interesting/funny about the sidewalk/windows tidbit. We would definitely be frowned up in Germany as we rarely sweep our sidewalk or clean our windows. LOL.

Monica wrote 9 years ago:

The only thing I would like to add is that some Germans do not speak English (there are exceptions to the #10 you listed, Amanda). We went to a cafeteria in Frankfurt where they did not speak English and it was hard to tell them what I wanted to order or even to ask what the different sauces were.

Autumn wrote 8 years ago:

Ice cubes are not used in Europe due to reasons dating back to the 1800s. When the ice trade began in the U.S. people began selling it to Central America, South America and even Africa but Europeans never felt the need to purchase the ice. Therefore while everyone else was learning to put ice in their drinks and make ice cream to try and stay cool Europeans continued on with their lives happily without. To this day it just hasn't caught on.

Jana wrote 8 years ago:

Your article was funny to read but in Germany we DO use ice cubes and we even eat ice cream and posicles! i has to laugh when reading this.. But I can agree with the rest :)

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