I did not know that one could actually experience such a thing as culture shock upon coming to Germany. That was until I got in touch with the international students of my university, listening to their impressions of this place, over a plate of a tofu pâté at the cafeteria. Berlin is so rich in different cultures and their customs that culture shock seemed non existent to me as there are cultural habits to be found for any type of person. All you need to do is just go for a walk in the district of Wedding or Kreuzberg and there you are.
However, regardless the multiculti aspect of this town there is still a chance that upon your arrival you will run into actual Germans and no matter how hard you try, bureaucracy will await you at every corner, especially during your first months.
So here is to the best of culture shocks you may (or may not) experience in Germany.
Insurance for everything
I once read a Facebook post of a Russian friend of mine that went something like: “After coming here I noticed that in Germany you have an insurance for everything. That’s so amazing. You know, they even have this thing where you have an insurance in case you go into a shop or someone else’s house and accidentally break something there. Your Haftpflichtversicherung (liability insurance) will just cover the costs of the damage.”
Indeed, universal health care is not the only thing we have to offer. Aside from the nearly mandatory liability insurance you can also have an insurance for your vehicle, your house, sudden unemployability, your pet, your personal belongings and even your life in case something happens to you and you don’t want to leave behind your family empty handed. If you do consider getting an insurance, the best thing to do is get an overview of all the offers that are available. As fancy as some of them may sound, not all of the insurances are actually useful.
No fear of nudity
One of the remains of east Germany aside from the Berlin Wall chunks and Ostalgie shops is the idea of naturism in certain swimming pools, saunas and by lakes. Germans refer to it as free body culture.
I remember a day in grade seven when a group of us students, boys and girls alike, decided to go for a swim at one of the public pools in Pankow district. We approached the gates to the (regular) swimming pool area and the girls went ahead to buy our entrance tickets when we noticed the boys who couldn’t get away from the fence separating the nudist part from the normal part of the pool. “Can’t we just go there instead?” they asked and looked at us with wide eyes, pointing at the patch of grass where men, women and children of all ages enjoyed the water and the sun in their birthday suits. We gave them a sharp no and pushed them towards the gate of the ‘more civilized’ section but it took only a few bottles of coke and packs of salt crackers in the glowing sun until the girls had no problem with the boys applying sunscreen on their backs.
Maybe it is because we are too busy with ourselves, not taking note of what is happening around us as we sit in mixed gender saunas of some wellness center or maybe it is just the general acceptance of this ‘tradition’ that makes most of us so indifferent to the shameful aspect of such practices.
Always APPLY for a job
I have never been to the United States and cannot tell whether this is a universal truth for this place but a friend recently told me about her surprising realization that in Germany, unlike in the States, you need a résumé and a cover letter for literally any job you want to apply for (unless you have access to vitamin B I suppose). Even if you just want to help out at a small bakery by a train station or work as a cashier at McDonald’s, you always have to turn in your résumé and a cover letter in which you explain why you are the best suitable candidate for the job. Furthermore, you should always check on what the specific application guidelines are for your position. Some employers request a hand written résumé in essay form instead of the regular chart.
Teachers and data protection
Despite the fact that the NSA already knows everything anyway, and despite the fact that some local comedians already refer to Germany as ‘a branch of the United States’ data protection is still kind of a big issue in German classrooms. Generally a teacher is not allowed to announce the grade of a student out loud for the rest of the class to hear, unless the student gives them permission to do so. When I was in college prep school, teachers would not even tell the grades of missing students to their friends who would bring them the news, because they feared to be reported to the police for disclosing private data.
First get a beer, then do your driver’s license
Beer, wine, champagne and cider can be purchased by people who are at least 16 years old whereas you may drive a car on your own once you are 18.
We love rules and we cannot lie
Yes, we like to follow rules so much, we would probably come up with more in our free time if we wouldn’t have so many of them already. For instance, even though this one is being disregarded more and more now, a German will not cross the street at a red traffic light, even if the street is entirely empty. Germans are big fans of punctuality, follow a certain dress code within their own walls and plan everything in advance. Also, be aware that a German is likely to correctly if you do something wrong. That’s just the way we do things so please don’t take it personally.