What are some German customs and habits that seem weird to foreigners?

I’m going to come at this from a British perspective, based on my experience of living in Germany and having a long term relationship with a German.

(Please remember this is all tongue-in-cheek and I love the Germans a lot 🙂 )

01: Schultüte (School Cone)

The first time I went to meet my girlfriend’s parents in Bad Dürkheim we took part in the socially-awkward tradition of going through family photo albums. You know the kind, where you smile and nod and go, “Oh yeah….wow. Really? Cool.” and try to figure out what expression you should have on your face.

As we were going through childhood photos I stumbled across a picture of the first day of school, where every child was stood holding a strange large cone (almost as big as the child themselves) covered in decorations.

Nobody else looking at the album seemed to react to the photo, but before they turned the page, I had to ask them to hold on and explain this weird phenomenon to me.

Apparently on the first day of school it’s normal to give your child a three kilogram cone filled with stationary, sweets and treats. They must then proceed to walk around the school on their first day holding said cone. And, then, they’re allowed to open to the cone once they get back home after the first day of school (they very thing the items in the cone were created for).

Nope. Still don’t get it.

02: Polterabend (Smashing Porcelain Before You Get Married)

Before getting married, a couple will post the date of their Polterabend in a local newspaper, much like a classified advert.

People in the surrounding village or area (read: total strangers) can then turn up to your event – seemingly hosted in a car park or wide open space – with their unwanted Porcelain products such as toilets, sinks and cups, and donate them to you.

You then, as a couple, process to smash all of the Porcelain into tiny pieces for the amusement of your friends, family and total strangers as they watch.

Once all of the porcelain has been broken, the onlooking masses get drunk and eat food while you and your partner spend the rest of the evening sweeping up the porcelain and tidying up the mess that you’ve made.

03: Being Naked

It’s incredibly un-British how often German people are naked.

Not long ago I was on Skype with my Girlfriend while she in the bath (not for that reason). And, in the 10 minutes we were on the call her: sister in law, brother, mother, nephew and other brother all came into the room and had a shower.

People love to be naked in local Sauna’s and, well…just in general, really.

I’ve seen more German Penis’s in my life than I’d care to admit.

04: Directness

I’d like to admit I’m rather English: I talk around specific subjects, if someone is clearly enjoying an awful new outfit I don’t mention it, and unless it’s one of my really close friends I don’t tend to speak my mind.

I’m a regular ol’ Hugh Grant in Mancunian clothing.

In Germany, they haven’t gotten their heads quite around that concept.

  • Wearing an awful t-shirt? They’ll tell you.
  • Been a bit of a dick? Oh, they’ll tell you.
  • Put on a little bit of weight? Yeah, they’ll god damn well tell you.

In one respect it’s quite nice because you always know where you stand. But, in other cases, you’ll come away with a crushed soul.

05: Wanting All Their Money Back

In England, if I lent my mate £5, I’d be quite happy if he bought me a beer and we called it quits. If I lend someone £1 and the only have 50p to give me back, then, okay, that’s fine by me.

But Germans have a way of being incredibly precise with their money and how much they want it back.

“Have you got that 2 Euro 38 I lent you for the S-Bahn the other day, James?”

“Erm, I’ve got 3 Euro.”

“Let me just see if I have 62 cents to give you in return”

What scary is that’s not an unusual conversation to have! Take my extra 62 cents and be done with you.

06: Stopping At Every Pedestrian Crossing

I met my Girlfriend when we were both on the Camino de Santiago. (That’s a big hike across Spain). Which meant we’d do a lot of walking through villages, cities and the countryside.

What always confused me is why she had to stop at every street crossing and wait for light to turn Green. The Spaniards, and every other tourist, would just saunter across when there were no cars coming. But she insisted on waiting.

Then I got to Germany and found out that’s what everyone does. You get the German Stare, which is the equivalent of an English tutting noise, whenever you cross on a red light.

I was later told a story by her Father when he was in Paris for work. It was late at night, there was no traffic, and he was stood waiting at a red light. He was then accompanied by another man who also stood waiting for the light to change. He turned to him and said, “So, you’re German too?”.

There was never a truer word spoken.

07: Not Talking About Money

Unless they’re asking you for the 71 cents back, it’s a taboo to talk about money in Germany. Especially with people of an older generation, or even of my generation.

I used to joke with my Girlfriend that she was rich because of where her family lived. And, it was always met with a brief, “Heh…yeah” and then shrugged off. Then, when I found out one of her friends was gifted a stupidly expensive car for his 18th birthday, I also made a joke met with the same response.

People don’t like to admit they have money. They could be sat in a mansion on the side of a hill overlooking wine country, while their butler cleans their Bentley, and still be adamant they’re not well off.

I learned from a Podcast, and later from some friends here, that it’s not unusual for people to lie about their income on official documents!

Edit: I updated and expanded this answer over on my Blog because I had so much fun writing it. You can check it out here[1] if you really want to 🙂

Footnotes

[1] 10 Weird German Cultural Differences That Confuse British People