1. German Customs
Despite what stereotypes make you believe, Germans are not that different when it comes to social interactions. Still, if you want to connect with the local population, you are always well advised to know the mentality and thus the cultural differences you need to consider when interacting with others.
The background knowledge specified in this segment will help you make a positive impression on your new neighbors and acquaintances and make it easier for you to acclimate by avoiding misinterpretations and pitfalls deriving from existing cultural differences.
Further official resources:
General Mentality - Germans are considered markedly organized in their way of approaching things and masters of planning ahead. Punctuality indicates proper planning and is deeply rooted in the German culture. Exact planning gives a sense of security, and rules & regulations let them comprehend what the expectations imposed by society are, so they can plan accordingly. In the light of such a densely populated country of 82 million people living in an area the size of Montana, this organized cohabitation makes perfect sense, though.
German people are hardworking, efficient, disciplined, and quite practical in their thinking. In social situations, Germans tend to be less out for small-talk and more straightforward to give the other person the opportunity to respond to whatever it is in the best way possible. It is not considered rude but rather a sign of truthfulness. So, if you talk to a German don't be surprised if he or she gives you their honest opinion. Look at it this way: After all, when a smile or laugh appears in a conversation, you will know it's genuine.
Meeting Germans - German meeting etiquette is usually rather formal unless among friends. When invited to a German’s house it is important to be on time (or better 5 to 10 minutes early) and customary to bring a gift such as fine chocolates, a bottle of wine, or flowers. If you are going to arrive more than 15 minutes late, try to let your host know. Using the formal “Sie” instead of the personal “Du” is also customary unless you are offered the “Du”.
In general, it is a good advice to wait for your host to introduce you to a group. You will be expected to shake hands with everyone individually upon arrival at small parties and gatherings and make the round again when you leave. A nod of the head and a friendly "Guten Tag" (good day), "Guten Abend" (good evening) or "Auf Wiedersehen" (goodbye) usually accompanies the handshake.
Dining out - First of all: You do not have to wait to be seated in German restaurants. The upside of seating yourself is that you can pick a table of your choice. Signal that you are ready to order by closing your menu and making eye contact with the server.
If you order wine or beer in a group of people, be prepared to toast as soon as everyone has received their drink. The most common toast with wine is "Zum Wohl" and "Prost" with beer. It is customary to look in the eyes of the other person while clinking. Signal your waiter or waitress when you are ready to pay the bill. A good rule of thumb for tipping is a range of 5% to 10% of the total, depending on the quality of service.
Shops in Germany have just about everything you can imagine, from fresh, locally grown vegetables on street markets to cheap groceries in a supermarket or low-price home furnishings. For your everyday needs, you will find small local shops, such as bakeries and butchers as well as supermarkets. To avoid unnecessary trips, just check our segment 'Project Communities' to find the businesses you are looking for in your area. While you can get most everyday products locally, you may have to go to a town center or main shopping street to buy household goods, electrical equipment or fashionable clothes.
The following are some distinctions between stores in the US and Germany you should be aware of before shopping on the economy:
Shopping carts – Before entering the store, you will need a .50-, 1- or 2-euro coin (tip: a quarter usually matches, too) or a plastic chip as a deposit for the shopping cart. All you have to do is insert the coin into the slot to unlock the cart. You will get it back when you return the shopping cart and lock it in with the rest of the shopping carts.
Check-out - Since there are no baggers at the register, you will have to bag your items, while the cashier rings up your selection. If available, try to bring your own cloth bags. Otherwise, you will have to purchase new ones, since shopping bags are usually not included.
Deposit bottles - Most of the glass and plastic bottles you get in Germany have a deposit value you can get back by returning them to any market.
Guarantees/Warranties - In common speech, many people use guarantee to cover both, even though they are not the same thing. If you buy a product on the economy and you notice faults or defects that existed at the time of delivery, you have an entitlement to a warranty for two years after the purchase. This warranty entitlement does not cover faults that arise if a product wears out, though.
A guarantee, however, is given on a voluntary basis and is the manufacturer’s promise that the product will function for a particular length of time. If you want to return a product, you do not need the original packaging and you also do not necessarily need the receipt. The receipt does make things easier, since it is proof where you bought the product.
Cash - Get used to carrying cash. Not all German stores (especially smaller stores) accept credit cards so make sure you have enough cash on you.
Shopping Hours - Opening hours differ depending on the shop. Shops usually stay open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and are closed on Sundays. There are exceptions like the “Verkaufsoffener Sonntag” (Sunday opening), which occurs up to four times a year per community.
End-of-season-sale - In Germany, there is a winter sale in January (Winterschlussverkauf) and a summer sale in July (Sommerschlussverkauf) where notably seasonal clothing, sporting equipment, and household items are offered with savings of up to half price.
Weekly markets - Most towns have a weekly open-air market from spring to fall. However, larger communities hold these weekly markets all year long. Fresh vegetables, meat, cheese, wine, flowers, and other local specialties are only a foretaste of what is available.
VAT forms - Another benefit you can take advantage of when shopping on the economy is the tax relief program. It ensures that you do not have to pay the Value Added Tax, which ranges from 7% to 19% in Germany. All you need is a VAT form from the VAT-Office. Afterward, deliver the orders and purchase payment to the vendor. Find more detailed information on VAT forms here.
It is always helpful to know the basics and be able to speak and understand the host nation language, whether it is for leisure or for business. It can also help you navigate around your new home more easily.
KMC Off-Base - The Adult Education Center in Kaiserslautern is a focal point to keep in mind when looking for a German class in the area. They have a long-term experience and more than 2,500 people learn German as a second language here every year.
On-Base Classes - Because learning a new language can be challenging, you will find language courses on base as well as off base to make it easier for you to grasp the languages’ concepts. Find out more by checking the program of your Support Group:
Online - Nowadays, with the possibilities of the internet, it has become easier to learn a new language online on your own. There are several online applications, which you can use to improve your German skills. Some of them are:
- Deutsche Welle: Listen to short audio clips and repeat it back.
- Goethe-Institut: This is the cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany for international cultural exchange.
Apps - Practice anywhere and whenever you want with these free apps on your cell phone:
Anki, WordPic, Memrise, Babbel, DeutschAkademie, MindSnacks, Wie Geht’s, Busuu, Duolingo