You found an agent, signed the contract, told your friends and family and bought your Nike thermal gear for the winter. Now what? Don’t know what to expect after your arrival? Unsure about the culture? Keep reading to prepare yourself for the first 30 days in Germany – your new home for the next soccer season!
Coming to Germany for the first time in January of 2011, I literally had no idea what to expect. Were people going to speak with me or ignore me after the first English word that came out of my mouth? Were they going to respect a professional female athlete or was it a more traditional, masculine culture? All of these thoughts and more crowded my head.
The following observations are very subjective and based on 5 years of living in northern and eastern Germany, as well as traveling to many cities all over the country. I had wonderful, life-changing and positive experiences; however, the cultural differences below are authentic and explicit examples of daily life occurrences.
Life is more laid back and chill. Speaking for the majority of people, they like to relax after work and do not answer the telephone. It is even more common for employees to close several minutes (even in larger stores) before closing time. Full-time workers also enjoy at least a 4-week paid vacation period each year.
Given all of the order and rules in Germany, grocery stores are sometimes a war zone for me. People bump into you without apologizing. They stop and stand directly in front of you while you search on the shelves. After waiting for 7 minutes in line, they race ahead of you when a new line opens. There is hardly grocery store etiquette.
Learn to BYOB (bring your own bags) and bag your own items. Yes, you do the bagging. I cannot say how many times I got annoyed when cash register workers scanned my items too fast. They love to scan items so fast, you cannot bag and pay in time.
Eventually, I found a way to cheat the system – bring large bags (like this Empowering Women bag from Erewhon) to the store. Have it opened and ready to bag even before they start scanning. Luckily my neat freak (German) boyfriend showed me how to organize shopping bags in a fast manner so I do not squish my beloved tomatoes and avocados. I smile proudly and celebrate every time the men or women go so fast and try to catch me off guard.
Follow the rules. Every rule. Unless you are in a mood to play verbal combat with an older person. I remember I came home after rolling my ankle earlier in training. It was throbbing and already swelling over my sock, so waiting one minute for the street signal seemed like pulling my nails out. I crossed the 2-lane street and, of course, some older lady remarked in a snooty tone, “Oh, couldn’t wait for the signal today?” I just said “Ugh” and rolled my eyes. She gasped in disgust and acted as if I called her a name. As if she was totally in awe of my behavior!
There are major differences between social cultures of the U.S. and Germany. First – everyone, young and old, greets each other and shakes hands. If you don’t shake someone’s hand to say hi and bye, it will be a bit of an insult.
Get ready to test your self-confidence, goals, self-esteem and entire life. Everyone loves to tell you what you are doing wrong, which law you are breaking or how you should run your life. Just woo-sah and focus on your own goals and dreams.
Do not take sarcasm personally. It may seem like people have to mess with you (in a negative way) to be friends. Sarcasm is not polite or light, as it is in the U.S.
In the U.S., you don’t stare unless you find someone attractive, want to kick someone’s ass or a person has sh*t on their fivehead. Here, people will stare and keep staring. They will do it rudely and not care if you catch them doing it. However, I found an extremely fun way to stop people. When you notice someone staring, frantically turn your head at them and disturbingly stare back with huge eyes. I have found this unorthodox tactic totally amusing and it works like a charm!
Coming from California, I wear my athleisure all day everyday, except when going out to dinner. There is hardly a casual sports or athletic culture here in Germany and – compared to grazing Manhattan beach at 10:00 am – nobody wears training clothes except in the gym. In the beginning, I was self-conscious about it, but now, I stay proud because I am staying healthy and fit.
Learn the language before you land. I studied for 4 weeks with a CD-ROM I bought from Barnes & Nobles. For a few weeks, everyone thought I could speak conversational German because I said “Achso,” “danke schön” and “bitte bitte” so much. (I see, Thank you and Your welcome). Many will try to speak when you are alone, but as soon as other people are around, they get shy. Usually those who can’t speak English are the ones making jokes. Don’t get frustrated, just show support to those who try to speak English.
This is a big deal to landlords and neighbors. Glass, paper, packaging and compost (when available) must be sorted. It is pretty simple when you 3 or more separate bins at home, but you will be taking several different bags outside to the garbage. If not, your landlord has the right to say you are breaking the lease by not adhering to tenant laws.
Personal Pet Peeves
Here are some things that annoy me.
Although the entire European continent is much more natural in terms of food standards and prohibited ingredients, it is still extremely difficult to follow a green lifestyle. If you eat or buy organic, you are considered an “öko” (a negative connotation for “eco person”) and way out there. As a disclaimer: I know us Californians are extremely spoiled with farmer’s markets, agriculture and amazing imported foods. There are no other options besides kale and spinach for making green drinks and (personally) the produce has no flavor. I have tried countless times to enjoy mangos, bananas, apples, pears, avocados or strawberries with no success. I know almost every item in the store is imported, but I had no idea it was going to be such a drastic change.
I can honestly say living in the Bay Area or Los Angeles, I can eat different places every weekend and have healthy, satisfying meals. Cafe Gratitude in Venice, The Farm in Malibu, Milennium in Oakland and Crossroads on Melrose Avenue are a few great places. However, unless you are in a bigger metro or affluent city in Germany, these options are just not available. You will find yourself eating the same things after a few weeks because no exotic options are offered. I am not sure if it is due to customers not wanting greener choices or if it is the companies deciding to always offer the same things. For example, at street fairs, you will never find exciting ice cream flavors – like mango. Things are done like they have been for 50 years and, in this case, only vanilla and chocolate with the occasional rare strawberry are offered.
Update: I have recently found Goldhelm Chocolatethat offers an amazing lavender, apricot and homemade truffle ice cream, along with several other exotic tastes! Simply amazing! Thank you Goldhelm!
There are beautiful people that are open to other cultures, however, there are a lot of people (typically in smaller cities) that will make judgements and stereotypes about you. Just the other week, I was sitting down on a bench in the city center in Jena waiting for a friend. I had my typical Nike athleisure on and my hair was a bit frizzy from training. This guy walks in front of me, looks into my eyes and says to himself in German, “Ugh, the city is full of Kanaken.” (Kanaken is a derogatory word for people who look Turkish or Middle Eastern). I looked around to see if anybody else was around me at the time. There was no one. He really was talking about me! I was so shocked, disappointed, disturbed, sad, angered and appalled that something like that could be said in 2016 in Jena – a laid-back, leftwing, sister town of Berkeley, California. Like you are wondering, I have tried so many times to understand why these people think or do illogical things, but you can’t understand irrational thought processes. A wise man once told me, “Once you know the limitations of people, you can no longer get aggravated.” Just do you and try not to think about ignorant, narrow-minded people.
Here’s a handy list for those warm-blooded lizards moving to cold Germany. I couldn’t imagine November through March without them and neither should you!
1. Hand– & Body-warmers – Life saver during training in 10-degree Fahrenheit weather.
2. Thermal apparel for sports – I froze. My teammates froze. You will freeze. Stay warm.
3. Thermal apparel for leisure – Dito from above.
4. Amazing Grass Raw Reserve – When the winter months come, and they will, it will be hard to not eat warm carbohydrates every day. Keep your vitamin intake high by adding this organic powder to your juice in the morning. It gives me more energy than coffee!
5. Organic Moisturizing Lip Balm – You will thank me later.
6. Adapters for electronics – What is more important than an iPhone or a curly hair diffuser? Nothing!
7. Wool or Fleece Socks – Some apartments have floor heating, but most will not. Keep your toes warm!
8. Trigger Point Roller – After training, you need more your muscles to be relaxed, loose and recovered. If you can’t get a trainer (physio in German) appointment every day, a Roller and Ball will be your best friends.
9. Organic Body Lotion – You will go through buckets of lotion because of the cold and dryness. Buy some good stuff for your skin!
10. Sport Botanics SPF Organic Lotion – Even though it only lasts a few months, it gets sunny, humid and warm in Europe. Don’t get a sunburn!
11. Waterproof (leather) gloves lined with fleece
12. Wool scarf – better than a fleece or a stylish Zara scarf.
13. Organic Tea – My favorite is Numi from SF. Tea keeps you healthy and keeps you from drinking hot chocolates and coffee every day! There are usually organic tea choices, but no where near the flavor choices in the States.