6 cultural stereotypes expats in Germany love to hate

Bring your own grocery bag! Don’t cross the street at red lights! No vacuuming on Sundays! German culture is filled with fascinating quirks, and expats in Germany will recognize these differences immediately.

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Header Cultural Differences

Germans have a pretty colorful reputation throughout the world; sometimes for being stern and strict, but also for being crazy and eccentric. For expats in Germany, it won’t take long to notice the big cultural differences that set Germans apart from the rest of the world. Life in Germany has plenty of benefits, but it also takes some adjusting to. Most expats will recognize these habits from their time living in the country. So if you’re getting ready to make the move, don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Life in Germany

What Americans love most

1. Functional fashion

In comparison to their chic French neighbors to the west and cutting-edge fashions from Italy to the south, Germans are not known for their style. This manifests itself time and time again with the popularity of brands like Birkenstock. Expats in Germany who truly want to adapt to their new home country will usually find themselves with at least one item of “functional clothing” during their time in Germany. If you’ve been here for a while, check your own closet for a Jack Wolfskin coat if you don’t believe us. Even once the sun comes out in springtime, it’s not uncommon for Germans to stay bundled, wearing scarves while other nationalities sport sundresses. They’re known for the Zwiebel-Look, which means dressing like an onion, or layering. Additionally, they’re not the type to shy away from bright and bold patterns and designs.

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2. Very superstitious!

Somehow, despite their common-sense attitude, Germans are also extremely superstitious. Expats in Germany have no doubt run into trouble by accidentally bringing bad luck upon a fellow German friend. If you know someone has a birthday coming up, don’t make the mistake of wishing them a happy birthday before the date as this is considered a major faux pas.

When drinking with friends, make sure to look everyone directly in the eyes as you clink your glasses, or else you’ll doom yourself and your dining partners to seven years of bad luck in the bedroom.

Drinking Cultural Differences

And if you want to express your hope for a friend’s success, don’t cross your fingers, press your thumbs! Expats will pick up on these habits pretty quickly, but it’s still surprising to most how seriously Germans take these traditions.

3. Follow the rules

The Germans are known for their love of structure. A common German saying says “Ordnung muss sein,” or “There must be order.” While whimsy is permitted on a case-by-case basis, the underlying mentality of most Germans dictates that most tasks should be taken seriously. Expats in Germany can appreciate this philosophy when it comes to strictly regimented bureaucratic processes, or the reliability of public transportation, or even the no-nonsense attitude when crossing the street. (Don’t even think about jaywalking. German police have been known to issue tickets for expats who try to cross a street at the red light!) To stay on the right side of the law, make sure to always have the right transportation ticket and brush up on local rules. For example, in parts of Bavaria and southern Germany, it’s illegal to vacuum on Sundays. This adherence to rules is apparent every day, and expats need to adapt quickly to stay on good terms with their German neighbors.

4. Eco-friendly

Germany, the 3rd largest producer of solar energy in the world, loves planet Earth. Expats in Germany will notice this in most every day routines. For example, it’s not enough to recycle a bottle now and then. In German households, it’s common to have four separate trash containers: one for organic waste, one for plastic, one for paper, and one for “everything else.” Additionally, bulky objects that you might need to dispose of, including batteries, old appliances, furniture and more can be disposed of at a specialized trash collection center called an Abfallwirtschaftsbetrieb.

Expats in Germany will know it’s not easy to befriend a native German overnight. Whereas most English speakers can find friendships in just minutes, usually just by pure virtue of speaking English, a German takes time to build trust before investing in a new relationship.

Nut Cracking

That being said, they also value their friendships and commitments deeply. Once you’ve made a German friend, they’re often happy to help with the trickiest of tasks: translating a letter to your landlord, driving you to IKEA, even helping you move across the city. They have little patience for superficial connections and prefer to develop friendships based on mutual trust and understanding.

6. Extreme honesty

Americans are known for sugarcoating their speech. “Yes, dinner was delicious,” even if they could barely eat half of it. But if someone wants an honest answer, they should ask a German and be prepared for the truth. It can be shocking for expats in Germany to adjust to at first, but many people appreciate the Germans for their candor. They believe that there’s value in being straight-forward with others, and while it can be difficult to take for those who are used to a delicate delivery, most expats come to appreciate this straightforwardness with time.

Espen Markus Mjøs
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Espen Markus - originally from Norway - is sales agent in ottonova's English sales team. He's in contact with potential customers every day and answers Expats' questions about German health insurance.

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Our ottonova team of experts has over 40 years of experience in private health insurance and answers questions about it every day. What are old-age provisions and for whom does private health insurance make sense? What is the actuarial interest rate and which tariff is right for you? They know!

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