Today marks my 26th day in Germany!
Each culture and country has its own social rules that are understood by everyone, accept outsiders. During my time here, I have learned so much about how Germans in the south interact and the basic dos and don’ts to be socially accepted or understood. What I have learned about the social culture has really helped me better understand the locals and adapt quicker into society. I love to talk and have learned so much about Germany by asking questions about everything.
After writing a paper on Germany before my arrival, it is interesting to experience situations that are not written about online. America and Europe are very different places and that is why when one travels to the other, culture shock is inevitable. Socially in America, walking is not considered a high priority by people who have cars or are considered established in the workplace. However, walking takes a complete different mindset in Europe or at least what I have experienced in Germany.
EVERYBODY WALKS. I live in a small town called Lich and everyone walks. Walking here is more of a way to experience nature and be with the ones you love. I took my first “walk” last week after dinner and had no target time to hit but it ended up being a 1 hour and 30 minute walk. It was a very peaceful walk and something I could not imagine doing in Kennesaw at my university without getting several weird looks. On my walk, I saw at least 5 elderly women above the age of 60 just taking a stroll.
Each of them had their walkers of course, but guessing their age and thinking back on the elderly women in America, it was sad. The majority of the elderly are confined to assistant living homes or nursing homes, but here in Germany, they still have the energy to live independently and take daily walks. Apart from the elderly walking, I have seen multiple families walking together and many dogs unleashed walking next to their owner or a few paces behind. Walking is not something anyone has to do but is something that is rooted in the culture. The city of Frankfurt is the same way…everyone walks.
COFFEE COFFEE. Starbucks is present Germany but it is not a go-to for most Germans as it is for most Americans. Why? Many German households have their own coffee machines that are able to make basic black coffee, cappuccino, macchiato, and expressos. Hot coffee is not just consumed in the early morning hours but rather after each meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner,). I indulged in this behavior once or twice the first full week I was in Germany, but that is all I could take. I am not a coffee drinker and it is a habit I am not willing to start.
BICYCLES. I work in Frankfurt every day of the week (if it is not a holiday) and I have seen more bicycles here than in my whole life. Once again, this is a social norm that many Germans participate in. What would drive me crazy as an outsider, but is understood by the locals, is that bicycles are meant for the road. I learned just a few days ago that only children up to the age of 12 can use the sidewalk to ride their bikes. It is illegal for those above the age of 12 to ride their bicycles on the sidewalk and will get fined by the police if caught. In Frankfurt, bicyclers must follow the same rules as cars do and stop at red lights and yield on yellow. There are bicycle lanes but as a biker, you are caught often riding right next to, behind, or in front of a car. All cars must drive slowly when behind bikers and bikers must use hand signals when they want to go right or left.
EDUCATION. The first Sunday I arrived in Germany, my host family through me a welcome party. I was completely unaware until the door bell was ringing non-stop for 45minutes. Before I knew it, we had several German students in the house. It was a great time of celebration and to learn about each other. I learned so much about the German school system as we talked. First, their GPA system is literally the complete opposite of the US. The lower the GPA you have here in Germany, the smarter you are. The best GPA to have is a 0.98 and the worst is around a 3.5 but most German student’s average between a 1.8 and 2.6. This little nugget of information blew my mind because on average, US students strive for the 3.5s and the 4.0s. In high school there are potentially three routes one can take and the highest is called Gymnasium. Gymnasium is equivalent to a basic high school in the US, where it gears students to continue their education at a college or university. What is intriguing to learn about the European education system, is that once one graduates high school, he or she can take an exam which allows them to enter medical school or law school etc. Once accepted, it is between a 6-8 year process to complete and become certified.
These details may be small, but understanding how a culture functions at a glance, helps create the proper image that is not distorted by the media or foreign opinions.