Differences between the USA and Germany – Pt. I

I know every single expat blogger and youtuber living in Germany has already discussed this topic, but I have to throw my hat in the ring as well! It also poses the dilemma: If every blogger writes this article and I haven’t yet done so, am I considered one?

Car? Don’t need it!

At first it was bittersweet giving up my rad Honda Accord when I left the US and moved to Germany, but I quickly discovered having a car is not at all necessary. Sure, if offers a feeling of independence and the knowledge that you can go somewhere spontaneously if the mood strikes, but the public transportation options across Germany are amazing. Also, I’m saving SOOOO much money by not having a car and all the costs that come along with it.

Recycling and separating trash is like its own religion

Unfortunately, the system of separating all trash and recyclables is not the same across the whole country. When I was living in Southern Germany, we had 3 separate trash cans for plastic/tin/aluminum (gelber Sack), biodegradable stuff (Biomüll), and the rest (Restmüll). We also had a separate area to collect our paper to then recycle it properly. There are also huge dumpster-like containers in every neighborhood to recycle your glass by color. 

You know what my apartment in Hamburg offers? Cans for paper trash and cans for the rest. Apparently this can differ depending on the neighborhood or rental company, but I haven’t quite figured that out yet. Needless to say, I’m not as happy with the current trash situation.

Halloween? Karneval/Fasching is bigger

Halloween is not nearly as big a holiday as it is in the USA. It’s probably the holiday that my friends and I look forward to most. I have the feeling it’s getting more and more popular every year in Germany, but even then, they focus on the creepy and scary side of Halloween. To be fair, that’s how the holiday originated, but in the States, it’s shifted to being a day where you can dress up as anyone or anything you want, even if it’s a cute princess or a banana.

University semesters

University semesters in Germany tend to run from October to February, and from April to July. Even then, it’s possible you may have an exam or a paper due during the 2 month breaks in between semesters, so you may have to continue working even though the teaching period is officially over. This is definitely something American students have to get used to when studying abroad.

Informal and formal manner of address

This is something that’s pretty hard for us native English speakers. (If it comes easy to you, I applaud you and ask “How??”) It’s very difficult for me to, firstly, accept the fact that there are 2 different forms of address and I have to learn different pronouns and verb endings for them, but secondly, to know when to use which one. In English we just have ‘you’ and its few variations. In German, it’s very hard for me to recognize whether I should use ‘du’ or ‘Sie’ with someone, so I will try to wait and see how they address me first. And apparently this dilemma isn’t just a problem for non-native speakers; some German friends have also told me they use the same tactic because it’s not always a clear-cut situation. Personally, I’m a fan of informality.

Dogs are allowed in many stores and restaurants

Not much to stay here. There are guidelines that ensure that dogs are trained if they’re allowed in public. It makes the day-to-day cuter.

Bag your own groceries you lazy bum

This is something we all seem to notice pretty quickly upon arriving in Germany – there’s no one there to bag your groceries at the end of the cash register. Do it yourself and do it quickly, or risk a menacing look from the customer behind you.

Mayo is the new ketchup

Many Germans prefer to eat their french fries with mayo instead of ketchup. I find it gross (I’m not a fan of mayo on anything) but to each their own.


Staring is fairly normal

I catch people staring in public all the time. And when you catch them, they keep staring instead of turning away quickly and feeling ashamed. What is this?? I was always taught that staring is rude. And when I’m caught looking at someone, I try to act like I wasn’t. People in Germany (or maybe Europe as a whole? Except for you, Great Britain. We know how it is on the Underground.) seem to feel much less shame. I sometimes comment if I’m feeling cheeky.

German directness

I feel like this is something you hear from most expats in Germany. Sugar-coating it here can be regarded as bullshitting or being fake. Honesty is the best policy in Germany, even if it can come off as abrasive to those who aren’t so used to it.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Americans do not like to be told what to do. Like taking the time to sort trash and recycle; wait for five minutes for a train/bus; carrying bags for groceries. We are all about convenience and and doing what we want instead of seeing the big picture.

Leave a Reply