German vs. American

I have been asked what difficulties I have had integrating into the German culture. The answer? Not very many. I am pretty easily able to adapt to different situations, my personal experience has been very good, and I thoroughly enjoy living in this country. But there are many differences between the two countries, and while these differences are not necessarily good or bad, they are definitely things that took getting used to.

1. SHOPPING

- The grocery stores in Germany are much smaller and usually only sell one or two brands of any given product and they ONLY sell groceries.

- There are a few stores that sell more than just groceries (like Real) but unlike WalMart, they aren’t cheaper than other stores. In fact, they are much more expensive. And you still can’t get everything at Real. For instance, you can’t buy furniture at Real. I would say that Real is about half the size of a regular Walmart and probably about a third of the size of a Super Walmart.

- The electronic stores in Germany sell ALL electronics. That includes microwaves and hair-dryers. Maybe I have forgotten, but I am pretty sure Best Buy or other electronics stores in America don’t sell hair-dryers.

- The frozen food section of a German supermarket is TINY in comparison to an American supermarket. I am guessing it is about half the size of one of regular sized aisle in America. And a TV dinner? I’ve never seen one. Pizza is the only already prepared frozen food that I am aware of.

- Germans tend to go grocery shopping more frequently than Americans. Refrigerators are smaller and freezers are almost non-existent. Because of that, almost everything that is cooked is cooked from scratch and cooked from fresh ingredients. Which is alright. I actually have learned how to cook since moving here, so it is all good with me.

2. SOCIAL INTERACTIONS

- I would can sum both cultures up in one word: Germans are direct, Americans are polite. They are just two different cultures. It takes a while to figure out if an American actually likes you. Americans are very polite to everybody, so it is difficult to tell if someone actually likes you or if they are just being nice. You pretty much have to actually have to be an American to tell or stick around in America long enough to get a feel for things. With Germans, it is obvious from the beginning. I actually prefer the German society. I don’t like to have to second guess if anybody likes me.

- I think that this difference stems mostly from the language. German is structurally more strict than English, so there aren’t as many different ways to say something (although I have been told that I just need to expand my German vocabulary and then I might be able to express myself better). For instance, when sitting at a the dinner table in America, it is polite to ask, “Could you please pass the cheese?” whereas in Germany it is standard to ask “Gib mir den Käse bitte” (Give me the cheese please).

3. CLOTHING

- The styles are different in Germany than in America. At least from the North-western part of America. I grew up in Spokane, Washington, so I can’t speak for America as a whole, but in Washington State the fashion is much sportier. But I think the most differences in fashion are with the men’s clothing. In Germany every guy wears sweaters, scarves, and never wears running shoes. The jeans are much different as well. They are tighter than American jeans and the pockets are placed lower down than on American jeans. It is really easy to spot an American guy: Everybody can see the cargo shorts, t-shirts, New Balance shoes (or sport shoes of some sort), sport watch, and baseball cap from a mile off.

4. GRADING

- In the University and school system, the Germans are graded on a scale of 1.0-6.0 with 1.0 being the best and 4.0 being passing. I have composed a list from Wikipedia with the basic conversion, so I thought I would post it here:

Percentage German Grades American Letter Grades American GPA
90-100 1,0 A+ 4.0
1,3 A
80-90% 1,7 A- 3.7
2,0
2,3 B+ 3.3
65-80% 2,7 B 3.0
3,0 B- 2.7
3,3
50-65% 3,7 C 2.0
4,0 D 1.0
0-50% 5,0 F 0.0

Like the table? I was playing with my HTML skills. That brings us to another major difference between Germany and America.

5. SYNTAX

- I actually find it very interesting how handwriting varies from country to country. I always thought it was kind of miracle how Sherlock Holmes was able to tell so much about a person from their handwriting, but the truth is that is is not difficult to guess where someone comes from based only on their handwriting.

Some unique characteristics of the German handwriting:

- When writing the character “1″ you really emphasize the little flag part at the top, so that the “1″ looks almost like an upside down “V”.

- When writing the date, the days and months are switched. (That is actually the same in all European countries. Maybe the whole world. I am not sure.) They also use a “.” as the separator for the days months years. So in America the date looks like: Month/Day/Year, and in Germany it looks like: Day.Month.Year. For instance, my birthday in America is: 11/21/1990 and in Germany it is: 21.11.1990.

- The “.” is also used as the ending “th” in the case of numbers. So “1″ means one and “1.” means first.

- Commas are used as the decimal place and periods are used to mark the thousands places in a number. I still personally think it looks really weird, when they write 1.098,23 instead of 1,098.23. But since I have to go shopping a lot, I now don’t have to think twice when something says 3,24 Euros. I know that it means 3 Euros and 24 cents.

6. OTHER DIFFERENCES

- The language is different, obviously. And that leads to a lot of subtle differences that aren’t that easy to explain. And while most Germans CAN speak English, most DON’T speak English on a regular basis, so when you have only talked to a German in English, you probably haven’t been able to pick up on some of the cultural differences that you would recognize had you been talking German.

- The measuring system is different. Everyone knows their height in centimeters (I am about 173 centimeters tall) instead of feet and inches and their weight in Kilograms instead of pounds. Milk is sold in liters, the average bottle of coke is 500 ml, the average can of coke is 0,33 liters, and almost all beverages are sold in 1,5 liter bottles. They also sell eggs in sets of 10 instead of a dozen (12).

- Most Germans live in apartments. Most Americans have the desire to own a house at some point in their lives.

- Germans think that debt is the worst of all evil. They are extremely frugal and don’t spend more money than they earn. Almost every American, on the other hand, has “managable” debts (or debts that aren’t quite manageable). But it might help that higher education is very cheap.

- The schooling system is different. In Germany, it is decided after 4th grade to which school the child will go based on their performance at that point. The lowest school is the Hauptschule. There the students learn basic skills and are done with their schooling by age 16. The next level is the Realschule, and the highest is Gymnasium. One can only go to University if they get an “Abitur” degree from the Gymnasium. But it is also possible in Germany to learn a profession without going to University.

Yeah. There are definitely other differences, but I can’t think of any right now. So I am going to go eat some bread and cheese. Oh yeah…the bread in Germany is WAY BETTER than American bread. Any day. And you can go to one of the many bakeries whenever you want fresh bread.

13 Comments

  1. Interesting. I think I fit with the German culture. :) :) :) However, FYI you can buy hairdryers and all sorts of household appliances at BestBuy. And, I think, things in the US varying greatly depending on where exactly you are from in the States. So like for the polite thing, I think coming from the Pac NorthWest, people up there seem to me to be much more “polite” then someone from somewhere else. And I must say, that compared to other cultures, ie the Brits for example, Americans tend to be very straightforward and easy to read.

    Reply
  2. Yeah. I was a little worried that I don’t quite know the American culture quite as well as I used to. I hear so many stereotypes now that I think I believe a lot of them. But I know we aren’t all cowboys. And I agree with you on the whole British thing. Definitely. But my view of America is probably also skewed because while I lived in America I was 18 or younger, and I was convinced that everybody didn’t like me. It was the whole high school insecurity thing, which I have probably lost a bit since then just by growing older.

    Reply
    • Wow! This was very informative! I’ve sincerely enjoyed reading it.

      Germans being frugal makes a bit of sense now that I think about it… They were really against bailing out a European Union member weren’t they?

      I wonder, are there any other things that are much cheaper in Germany?

      It sounds like their schooling system is a bit more strict in regards to achievement. Or are there social subtle things that are unmentioned?

      I had no idea that you were insecure in Highschool…

      All in all, great post Joy.

      Reply
      • Yes. The Germans were very against the bailing out of Greece, and for good reason if you ask me. Greece has next to no economic structure, so it is pretty much throwing money into a sink hole. And Germany, which has the strongest economy in the EU, was forced to bear the majority of the burden. Too bad Germans hate to give money out even for the things they need. Let alone for another country’s lack of structure.

        And actually…although Germans are frugal, everything is more expensive here. Partly because more is imported, and partly because the lack of consumption leads to a less strong market economy.

        Reply
  3. Hey Joy nice post! I read it with interest and would like to comment on the following things:
    “Gib mir den Käse bitte” – you could say “könntest du mir bitte netterweise den Käse anreichen” :-) which is even more polite than the english equivalent ;-) but mainly german is short and non melodic correct, but that does not mean that a polite and calm/friendly voice can make it sound very friendly^^
    about the clothes i partly agree, my ex from the UK says we are pathologically fashion obsessed, ESPECIALLY people from Düsseldorf.
    Strange thing you encountered there, Lana always moans that the second she tries to say something in german people instantly talk english to her.
    Ok my train arrives in duesseldorf and the shaky ride is driving me nuts using a touchscreen :D i will mail you a german school system list i created a while ago since i was sick explaining it every time to international friends :-) good article! Ecki

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment!
      But you do know that you are one of the only Germans who actually insists on speaking English to me. I think people talk to you in the language that they are used to talking to you in. Most everybody in the Uni is used to talking German to me, so even after they find out that I am American, they don’t bother to try to speak to me in English. Just like I wouldn’t dream of speaking to my roommate in English, even when we are together in an English speaking nation. It just feels weird.

      Reply
  4. I think its really interesting that they sell eggs in 10 instead of 12.

    Some things you mention vary quite a bit even in America. For instance, the whole “sporty” thing is extremely Northwest. So on the East Coast everyone dresses up. Remember Chicago?

    I want you to come home and try Dave’s killer bread. That bread is awesome. And in Seattle you can go to a bakery and buy bread. Oh, and we also have small grocery stores.

    Move to Seattle!!!

    Love ya sis. -Jenn

    Reply
  5. What a great post!! Keep us informed. You said there are alot of steriotypes that you think you are beleaving. What are they? Are they spoken to you regularly? That isn’t american at least in the culture I live in. We don’t steriotype and don’t promote it. (I’m not sure I am explaining what I mean.)

    Any how, Keep writing. Keep enjoying. Steve told me to tell you to “maintain your Joy”. All will be well. LUBM

    Reply
  6. Joy,
    I stumbled upon your blog and very much enjoyed reading this article. I spent quite a bit of time in Germany and miss it quite a lot.
    Best to you, keep up the good work.
    Bob

    Reply
  7. Hey Joy! I stumbled upon this post on your sidebar and I thought I had never read it! I didn’t even realized that I read it until I read my comment! Funny. :) I actually think I have a different perspective because now I’ve been to Germany!

    Reply

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