So, after last week’s post, I couldn’t help but look around for things that are different in Germany compared to the US in daily life. I realised that my list was in no way exhaustive, and that it probably is impossible to write a comprehensive list on this topic. But I’ll give it another go, so here are five more things that will surprise an American in Germany:
1. Tipping and Taxing
This really startled me when I first came to the US.
We had our first dinner at some pizza place in Chicago. We ordered, ate, and received the bill. On the menu it said that my pizza was $9-something – fair price, I’d thought. However, now on the bill it said I had to pay almost $15! Where did those extra $6 come from?! Then someone explained to me that the sales tax is not included in the price on the menu but added afterwards; as is the tip, which is obligatory. I was like: WTF?! 😀
It got even worse: The menus at some restaurants didn’t have prices on them at all! There was no way of knowing how much each meal was but to ask the waitress, and 13-year-old me was way too awkward and intimidated by this huge unknown country to do that. So, it was a pure gamble whether I might accidentally spend my entire pocket money for the trip on one meal. Luckily, I didn’t, but 9 years later I ordered a $35 cocktail in Miami South Beach not knowing it would be $35 (22-year-old me was still too awkward to ask the waitress). Well, I could have known. After all, it was Miami South Beach, and the cocktail came in a 1.5l glass… Again luckily, my friend I was with was only 20, so she had to have a virgin cocktail. Otherwise we would have had to spend the night on the beach because I would have been a complete road risk even if we’d been driving a Bobbycar. 😀
We were so broke that we’d slept in our car in a Walmart car park for three nights even before that exquisitely expensive cocktail, and that didn’t make it any better. 😀
Long story short – in Germany, the tax is always included in the price on the menu (and the price will definitely be on the menu!), and tipping is not obligatory. You tip for good service and however much seems adequate to you. Of course, if you tip like a dime or so, it’s more of an insult than a tip. At least I felt that way when I worked as a pizza delivery driver. When somebody tipped me like 20ct, preferably accompanied by a patronising smile and the phrase ‘Don’t spend it all at once, honey’ – Grrr! So irritating. Like, screw you, a-hole; shove your bloody pennies up some place where the sun never shines!
Don’t be that person.
An appropriate tip would be something between 1 and 4 Euros, depending on how generous a day you’re having. More than that would really be for outstandingly good service. If you’re having a douchy day, you could even decide to not tip at all; there’s no obligation to do it. But usually, we round up to the next full euro, and if your final amount is something like €4,80, we’d round up to €6.
Oh, and if you pay for a larger group of people, you don’t have to add up the tips the server would have received if everyone had payed individually. However, if you pay individually, everyone should tip a little.
Waiters and waitresses are paid at least minimum wage in Germany and tips are a cherry on top. So, if the waiter smirks at you for not tipping, it’s him who’s being rude, not you.
2. Bottle Deposits (Flaschenpfand)
This might come across as a bit odd but us Germans, we love recycling. We recycle everything. We even recycle already recycled stuff. It’s intense.
One of the average German’s greatest concerns in life is their ecological footprint. We feel relief when we buy a plastic bag that says ‘made out of 40% recycled material’. It calms our conscience when we use chlorine-free recycled paper – doesn’t matter if it’s all grey and not ink-proof – it’s for the planet!
Thankfully, we are a canny crowd and came up with an idea – if we make people pay extra money when purchasing a drink in a plastic bottle and offer them to get the money back if they return the bottle to the store, then much less plastic will go to waste and we can RECYCLE it! Yay!
So that’s what we did. Almost all bottles (not only plastic but glass, too) are refundable. Most plastic bottles have this little symbol on them:
You can return those at basically any supermarket. There’s usually a machine to put your bottles in either close to the entrance or somewhere in the store. Pop them all in, press the button, collect your voucher and present it to the cashier. They will subtract it from your purchase or just give you the money in cash if you’re not buying anything.
This works for soda and beer cans as well.
However, some bottles and cans don’t have that symbol. That means they can only be returned at a store which sells that particular brand.
If a bottle is non-refundable, it will say ‘kein Pfand’ , ‘pfandfrei’ or ‘keine Pfandflasche’ somewhere on it.
The German eco-conscience is at ease thanks to this and likewise yours will be if you follow our humble example. 😉
3. No Free WiFi
OK, this is something I absolutely loved in the US and I wish we had, too – free public WiFi. In the US, you find a freely accessible WiFi network basically anywhere; at supermarkets and malls, in museums and restaurants, on buses and trains, at the station and the airport – everywhere. To put it simple: In Germany you don’t.
Apparently, there is some weird liability issue because of a law that makes the person who ‘owns’ (-> pays for) the WiFi responsible for what is being done with it. So, if someone was to do something illegal on the internet using your WiFi network, you could be held liable for that. I don’t really get it either. But yeah, Germany has a lot of work to do when it comes to comprehensive public WiFi access.
I mean, Estonia even declare internet access a civil right in 2000! Freaking Estonia is technologically more advanced than our oh-so-well-developed-Vorsprung-durch-Technik-Germany…
So, don’t rely on finding a public WiFi network in Germany. You probably won’t. Even though some places and cities advertise public WiFi, it often doesn’t work. The only chance you have is finding a close-by McD’s and hoping they’ll have WiFi (because even some of those don’t).
4. Fashion Trend Delay
I’ve made observations on this for several years now. First, in school when people came back from exchange years and wore the freakiest clothes ever (also, unexceptionally everyone who’d been to the US for their exchange had gained at least 10kg – quite understandably, given the amount of awesome food and snacks we all know from TV but never get to have here in Europe.).
Anyway, everyone was looking at them thinking their year abroad must have made them go bananas with their questionable fashion choices. But then, a year later, we’d all start to wear the same freaky clothes we’d raised our eyebrows on 12 months prior!
When I went to the US last year, all the girls at summer camp wore old, oversized T-Shirts with the sleeves cut off so that you could see their bra, the side of their boobs and all the way down to their bellybutton. I thought that was an American fashion faux-pas but now that summer’s finally here, I’ve started seeing people doing the exact same thing over here. Same goes for crop tops. Since 2006, wearing a crop top was only socially acceptable in Germany if you were either an 8-year-old beauty pageant contestant on Go-Go-Juice or a hooker. But suddenly they’re back and a totally OK thing to wear!
Tbh, I didn’t miss them at all…..
So, yeah, another long story short – fashion trends take some time to arrive in Germany. The upside of that is that your last-year’s clothes will be perfectly fashionable over here. 🙂
5. Weird Pseudo-English Names for Things
In recent years, a new language broke its way through in this country of poets and thinkers – Denglish; a mix of German (Deutsch) and English. How we love spicing our vocabulary up with English words which we assume to be all hip and cool even though we can’t pronounce them, and/or don’t know what they actually mean…
However, if you know the English language a little better than the average German on the street, you will notice some really strange howlers among these trendy, suave Denglish expressions. For example, in Rostock you can find this store:
Completely incomprehensible to an English speaker, isn’t it? – I mean like, what the heck do they sell at ‘Mode for Men’?!
To all of you who were hoping that they’d finally found the place to go into Adebayo Akinfenwa-like Beast Mode or to finally acquire LEGENDARY RED POWER RANGER MODE: I’m sorry. You’ve come to the wrong neighbourhood. That’s not what they do at ‘Mode for Men’.
I’ll tell you what they do: They sell men’s fashion. Mode means ‘fashion’ in German. Apparently the owner’s knowledge of the English language was sufficient enough to translate für Männer to ‘for men’ but didn’t extend to making them realise that Mode was an actual English word which does NOT mean ‘fashion’. 😀 Or perhaps they sacrificed logic to keep the alliteration…? Anyway, it doesn’t make sense and seeing that sign aggravates the hell out of me every time I pass it. 😀
Sometimes, we also adopt English words into our language but randomly change their meaning, narrow it down to only one specific possible meaning or broaden it to mean basically anything. Like, us Germans, we call ANY type of cereal ‘cornflakes’, doesn’t matter if it’s frosted flakes, fruit loops, chocolate chips, honey pops, Weetabix, or whatever – it’s all Cornflakes to the Germans.
Or that one time, when we invented the cell phone and wanted to give it a real cool-sounding English name – what did we call it? Handy. -.- That’s right, we call a freaking cell phone a Handy. A word that doesn’t even exist in English as a noun! Despite all the famous German ingenuity, we’re kind of retarded. But you have to give us credit for one thing: A cell phone is indeed pretty handy. 😉
But our love for Denglish also leads to some really hysterical incidences:
Sweet Baby Jesus, do those crazy Germans really……?!?
Sure, it’s one of our most beloved leisure time activities. It’s just like paintball …. except this time the bullets are real. If you haven’t tried it, you don’t understand the magic.
JK, this is of course yet another hilarious incidence of Germans horrifically failing at English. What they mean is: ‘We do baby photo shoots’; what they is: ‘Come in and shoot some babies! 🙂 ‘.
Here’s another one: What would you think if you received an invitation from your local church to an event called ‘The Great Ding-Dong’?
“Great. Now the church has gone completely bananas. Where can I hand in my notice of resignation?”
Or rather: “O là là! The church is finally opening up to the really interesting stuff! *winkwink*”
Since we need to keep this blog PG, I’m just gonna link you to what it refers to here.
Fie! Get your mind out of the gutter! What were you thinking?! ;D
This very unfortunate mistranslation happened in the diocese of Speyer in Baden-Wuerttemberg in the year 2000. With the best intentions, they wanted to burnish the dusty, boring image the church has, and make their backwoods village fest sound more like a mundane happening by referring to the Speyer Cathedral’s bell towers and bells in (what they thought was) English. Buuuuuut they made an unintentional sex joke.
#oops #shithappens #checkadictionaryfirst #sorrynotsorry #dingdong
And the moral of this story? Never trust a German who says they’re bringing their body bag to a public viewing, because what they mean is that they’re bringing their bumbag (or fanny pack, haha – Americans, do you even know what that means in British English?? :D) to a public live broadcast of a sporting event.