The 10 commandments of living in Germany

  1. Thou shalt forget how to smile at strangers– As I finally left Germany for a trip to neighboring Italy, I found myself almost uncomfortable at strangers smiling at me. I caught myself after a day realizing I had internalized this German cultural norm and was not too happy about it. How can I? I was raised in a country where you even smile at animals on the street. In Germany, smiles are reserved for people you have met a few times at least, and/or shared conversations. The only exception to the rule is perhaps women queued outside a toilet. I don’t know why but in this particular situation you can smile at unknown women. And then you wonder if Germans can be strange?
  2. Thou shalt forget how to do small talk- In India, you can small talk with literally everyone that you come across during the day including but not limited to cab/tuk-tuk drivers, co-passengers in public transportation, shopkeepers, staff at hotels/restaurants….you get the idea. If you try to do this in Germany, unless you have a motive for asking your question such as needing help or directions or guidance, you will most likely not get very far. I believe this also is representative of the direct style of communication which I understand way more as my German improves with time. This is also why Germans are not really the best at flirting.
  3. Thou shalt not under most circumstances express extreme emotions- This one is not hard to understand after reading the first two commandments. Germans love to keep their emotions private and usually do an excellent job at separating the professional from the private. By private here, only close friends, partners, and immediate family are implied. Exceptions: Very drunk Germans and Germans at festivals or carnivals.
  4. Thou shalt always separate the garbage- At first, this can be annoying for someone who was raised in a place that treats garbage with absolute recklessness. (I continue to be horrified at India’s civic sense). However now my brain automatically separates the types even though I still get confused a lot and need to google where a specific trash item belongs. More on this here: Let’s play a garbage game!
  5. Thou shalt always carry cash- Contrary to most developed economies, Germany is surprisingly cash heavy in daily transactions. A lot of small pubs, restaurants or even supermarkets do not accept cards and prefer that you pay cash. This makes a lot of sense because for me personally, it helps me have a more realistic hold of my finances than I would if I were paying by card all the time.
  6. Thou shalt have bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner- German bakeries are pretty darn good. Not as great as a few other neighboring countries but compared to Asian bakeries, still amazingly superior. I am used to eating some type of bread for all meals, and no this bread does not mean the usual toast type crap that we eat as ‘bread’ back home. I don’t think my stomach is yet quite used to such a high dosage of bread, but I am fast getting there.
  7. Thou shalt be ready to have a beer anytime during the day- This one speaks for itself. Until 20 years ago or so, it was even allowed at work for Germans to drink beer. Can you imagine that? It’s so true that Germans can have a beer anywhere or anytime, that it is definitely not a stereotype. Germans love their beer as much as they love not talking to strangers. You can find more about the history of the most relevant beer law here: Reinheitsgebot
  8. Thou shalt always carry an extra scarf or a jacket- It always helps to be prepared because I hid my boots three times already during the onset of so-called ‘spring’ in Germany only to have them out all over again. The weather here is notorious for playing with one’s feelings. I find myself either horribly underdressed (by which I mean fewer layers than needed and not the fashion term) or horribly overdressed for the weather.
  9. Thou shalt never jaywalk, the Ampelmann is thy God- You will probably be exposed to some older folks yelling or harshly judging you for jaywalking especially with children around. According to some, it sets a bad example for the young ones since they are taught to only cross the streets when the lights are green to ensure their safety. I think it’s advisable to do the same, even though the Indian in me just wants to run down the street like a lunatic sometimes when I see that there’s no traffic around. Muscle memory anyone?
  10. Thou shalt not call casual acquaintances your ‘friend’- The term ‘friend’ in Germany is taken way more seriously than the version back home in India. You only refer to very close folks as friends that you have most likely shared a bond with for years while growing up, at school, or university etc. It is not a term that is used loosely or granted easily but Germans can be some of the sweetest people once you do have them as a ‘friend’. I always compare them to coconuts. They are super tough to crack and need some time and effort, but once you crack them open, they are warm and gushy! (Yes, I compare humans to edible objects if it serves my purpose). In all fairness though, this commandment resonates with me the most and is by far my favorite one.

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