Moving to Berlin, Germany for a semester presented a lot of unknowns for me. Not only was it my first time in Europe, but also my first time out of the United States, period. I was excited but also uncertain about what to expect. “How different would Germany be than America?” I wondered. I didn’t expect it to be that different, but I realize that sometimes it is the little things that are the hardest to adjust to. Now that I’ve been here a week and am adjusting fairly well, I can say that I don’t feel a complete culture. Let me share with you a few things that I have learned about life in Germany.
1. Helping the environment is taken very seriously.
Recycling and conserving energy are actually a thing in Germany. Americans talk about saving the environment, but many actually do very little about it. Meanwhile, in Germany it is normal and expected that you separate your trash and recycle what you can. Many beverages are packaged in glass bottles instead of the plastic Americans often use, and you can count on being able to take your bottle back to the store and get money back for recycling it!
2. Processed and frozen foods are few and far between.
Processed food is much less of a thing in Germany than in America, at least as far as I have experienced. Enter a grocery store and you have fruits, vegetables, fresh breads, cheeses, and meats to choose from. Looking for a freezer meal? You may not find a wide selection here.
3. Meals are to be enjoyed, not rushed.
While we’re on the note of food, let me also share that meals are done a little different in Germany, as well. As Americans, we often quickly grab a bite to eat before rushing on to the next big thing, not taking time to enjoy a longer, quality meal with family and friends. In Germany, it is expected that you take your time. I have found, at least with my host family, that meals are eaten in courses. For example, my host mom will serve me my main course of spaghetti. There is also a salad to go with the spaghetti, but I wouldn’t serve myself any salad until I am done with my spaghetti. Sometimes she will also serve me another vegetable to eat before the salad. After those three courses are eaten, I finally get to enjoy a little dessert.
4. Silverware positioning is often used as a communication signal.
As I eat, I cannot help but note the silverware provided for me. I find I have a plate for the main dish, a salad plate, and a dessert plate. I also have a spoon, a fork, a knife, and a dessert/tea spoon. As I eat my food, I need to be aware of how I place my silverware on my plate. If I want to signal that I am done eating, I place the silverware pointing toward the four o’clock. If I want to signal that I didn’t like the food, I cross my silverware
5. Beer is a huge part of the culture and should be respected.
If you have heard that beer is like water for Germans, you have heard right. Beer is very commonplace. There is a bar on most every corner and you can buy beer at most any store. Going to a coffee or tea shop? You’ll probably find some alcoholic drink on that menu, too. The thing is it is so much a part of their culture they don’t really think twice about it. I have yet to meet a drunk German. So yes, beer may be everywhere, but moderation is also present. As our RA told us: “It’s all right to drink, just don’t show up drunk.”
6. Germans drive on the right side of the road, too!
Lastly, there’s the side of the road Germans drive on. In this way, the Germans are actually like us Americans. All my life I had been under the impression that Germany and most of Europe drove on the left side of the road as the English do. The instant I stepped outside the airport, I realized how wrong I was. The Germans (and apparently much of Europe) drives on the right side of the road. This was one little thing that was not different, but the same, and it has brought comfort to me. It has been one less thing that I have had to get used to and I am thankful for that.
This post was contributed by Laura Gottfried, who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Berlin, Germany.