Upon moving to Germany, DW’s Dana Regev from Israel couldn’t understand why Germans were being so… German. But five years later, she has embraced these seven German practices that she once strongly rejected.
Born and raised in Israel, I found many things about Germany superbly odd when I moved here five years ago. Why is there no air conditioner? Why are Germans so thrilled to get naked? And for the love of everything that is holy, why do they think sandals and socks are a legitimate way to leave the house?
While still grappling with those, there are also several German practices I must admit I was too quick to judge. Here are seven of them that have now become an essential part of my everyday life.
1. Stop everything! The sun is out
Hold tight, a ray of sunshine has emerged from between the clouds. It is time for everyone in Germany to stop their errands, halt their walk, get off the train and just… absorb it.
Vitamin D, as I have come to learn, is a rather scarce resource — especially compared to sunny Israel.
If you were to tell me five years ago that I, too, would stop everything to stand in the street with my arms spread just to soak some sun, I’d probably laugh in your face. Today, I am shamelessly chasing its elusive warmth, making sure I’m not missing out on any vitamin unit.
2. A tan in the park
This spontaneous sun chasing happens in ways and places I felt were highly unusual.
In my Mediterranean hometown, local gardens and parks are mainly populated with joggers, young mothers with children or people having picnics during hot summer days. Bikinis, however, are never part of the deal.
And it’s not because we don’t flash our tanned bodies in the sweltering Israeli summer. It’s because bikinis belong strictly at the beach.
Moving to Germany, I was shocked to find topless men (and women) casually laying on the grass, right next to a restaurant, a kindergarten, or just a few meters away from a rail station — right in the city center. What are they doing?
But living in a country without many beaches, I have to ask myself: Is there a real difference between a beach and a park? I am now convinced: I was wrong.
3. Being financially cautious
As I first set foot in a German bank, I may have seriously scared the poor bank teller. “Hi, may I please open an account and order one MasterCard, one Visa and one American Express please? Thank you!”
Needless to say, he was not impressed.
Credit cards here are more like a loan, for which one needs to prove financial stability, a regular salary and a credible bank history. This reflects a general approach taken by German banks and citizens alike: One should only spend what one can afford.
Critical at first, I now fully respect this attitude, which helped me follow my expenses, not chase overdrafts and live according to my actual income.
4. Paying cash
The ability to pay with credit cards in Germany is quite limited. I still find myself annoyed by this at times, but having a history of reading credit card reports without remembering where and why I have made some purchases, I can see the advantages of having to pay cash.
The first tip for anyone trying to save money is to use only cash, in order to feel each expense better. It might be paternalistic to force people into this method, but nevertheless it works.
5. Yeah, but what’s the actual price?
The actual price in German shops is the same one that appears on the price tag. Apart from some very few exceptions, there are no favours and no bargaining. Coming from a different culture, I was surprised to find out that bargaining is not at all a common practice in Germany. But soon enough, I was thankful for all the time and headache that it saves.
Taxi rides are a good example: Drivers in Germany will not cheat you — even if you’re a tourist, there’s a fixed price and the taximeter shows you exactly how much you need to pay. No need to worry about drivers taking you through the entire city to milk some extra cents.
6. What are you doing in 189 days from now?
Germans just love planning ahead. For some reason, they find it easier to arrange their holidays months in advance, rather than a few weeks max, as we in Israel tend to do.
I was firmly against this habit: Who knows what will happen in months from now? I barely know what will happen with me tomorrow. But even though I still struggle with this custom, I also see why it can be very reassuring to know your next resting points.
This way, every time work gets too stressful, or family matters become unbearable, you can focus on your next window of relaxation, knowing that is only a month or two away, rather than at an unknown point in the future.
7. Plastic, paper, carton, glass?
Germans are devout trash separators. It took me quite some time to accept the fact that I have four different bins in my apartment, not to mention the despair in finding space for all of them. But despite the hassle, there is no real valid argument against recycling.
True, there must be easier ways to do this that don’t involve separate locations for plastic bottles and other plastic rubbish, for example, but the bottom line is: Everyone should recycle more, so I’ll deal with the extra burden for the time being.
And all the other German customs? I might need five more years to get used to the rest of them.