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8 quirks that foreigners will pick up while living in Germany

A shopper packing groceries at a Berlin supermarket. You have to be very quick to pack your shopping in Germany.
A shopper packing groceries at a Berlin supermarket. You have to be very quick to pack your shopping in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene
When you get settled in a new country it's inevitable that you'll pick up some of the lifestyle quirks. But you might have a bit of explaining to do if you take these German habits home, writes Antonia Harrison.

You speed-pack like an Olympic champion

It’s a long-running joke that you have to pack extremely quickly in German supermarkets because the cashiers are so speedy at the checkout. To exacerbate the problem, the space you have to pack up your groceries is absolutely tiny, and if you don’t manage to get them into the bag in time, the next person’s weekly shop will start piling up directly on top of yours. 

Maybe it’s part of the German love of efficiency or maybe the cashier really does just hate you, but there’s never any small talk when your shop is being scanned. You might exchange a quick greeting, but the niceties are mostly skipped to save time, so don’t expect to be making friends at the supermarket.

The same goes when you’re in the queue and an extra checkout is opened in the aisle next to you. There’s no politeness about who entered the queue first and should get first dibs; it’s a brutal race to the top, and if you snooze, you lose.

Watch out when picking up this quirk, because you might seem a little rude returning to your home country where shopping is more laid-back if you treat the shop like a battleground, refuse to greet the cashier and whip your shopping away as if someone is about to seize it from your hands.

READ ALSO: German lifestyle habits you should think about adopting

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You do your grocery shopping on a Saturday night 

While it can be annoying or inconvenient at first, you get used to the slow pace of life on Sundays in Germany. 

And when you’re truly settled, you don’t even think about how (nearly) every shop is closed. 

You’ll probably also do your shopping on a Saturday evening and not think anything of it. Well, where else would you rather be on a Saturday night?

Groceries at the checkout. Almost all shops are closed in Germany on Sundays.
Groceries at the checkout. Almost all shops are closed in Germany on Sundays. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

You get straight to the point

Germans don’t like to beat around the bush. It’s a long-standing stereotype and definitely a generalisation, but it has a lot of truth to it too. 

Germans are far less prone than English or American people, for instance, to speak euphemistically, drop subtle hints, lie or embellish to get their meaning across. German manners are impeccable, but they consider a direct form of communication to be more open, transparent, honest and efficient. Germans are more likely to speak to you plainly, clearly and with candour rather than worrying so much about how it might make you feel or how you might view them. 

Undoubtedly we all have something to learn from this honesty, and I don’t personally know anyone who is a fan of the English tendency to say everything apart from what you actually mean, but be aware that this quirk can be something of a culture shock and some people might interpret it as unfriendly. 

You drink more bottled water

Even though tap water in Germany is safe to drink, you’ll usually get a few resentful stares if you try to serve guests in your home a nice glass of cool water straight from the tap. Instead, you’re expected to load up your fridge with endless bottles of mineral water, both still and sparkling, to serve any visitors as well as yourself. 

In many ways, this obsession with bottled water is quite inexplicable, especially for a country so keen on minimising plastic usage. German tap water consistently comes top in blind taste tests compared to bottled varieties, and mineral water does not even have a higher mineral content. 

One of the main reasons for this quirk, then, is that Germans generally prefer sparkling water to still water. Carbonated water is a favourite across Germany – 78% of bottled water consumed is sparkling – and by default you’ll likely be served this in restaurants. 

There are 500 different brands of mineral waters in German stores attempting to capitalise on the preference for bottled products, as the average person drinks 147 litres of mineral water per year. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about tap water in Germany

You drive fast 

If you drive, it might take you a while to get used to the fast pace of the German Autobahn (motorway). About an eighth of the Autobahn network is de-restricted, which means that there is no speed limit at all, so it’s not unusual to see people driving extremely fast. 

However, you have to be careful because speed limits do apply near large cities and most of the motorway is lined with signs reading ‘130’, meaning ‘130 km/h’ (or 80mph), which is the recommended speed on the Autobahn. 

READ ALSO: Will Germany soon introduce an Autobahn speed limit

Traffic on Autobahn 8 near Pforzheim Ost in Baden-Württemberg. Some sections of the Autobahn have no speed limit in Germany.
Traffic on Autobahn 8 near Pforzheim Ost in Baden-Württemberg. Some sections of the Autobahn have no speed limit in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uli Deck

You communicate with your eyes 

Newbies in Germany are often puzzled and more than a little perturbed to find their German colleagues, friends, neighbours and often complete strangers staring directly at them. A lot of countries hold to that maxim that it’s rude to stare, but when you’ve lived in Germany for a little while you’ll probably find yourself decoding the silent language of the unflinching gaze.

In Germany, it is perfectly normal to communicate through the eyes and expect the other person to understand you completely. A stare could arise out of annoyance, for instance if you’re breaking an important custom like mowing your lawn on a Sunday, or out of admiration, for instance if you’re wearing a nice item of clothing.

Although it might be a little uncomfortable at first, you’ll quickly get used to being stared at intensely for the tiniest misdemeanour, or just by bored neighbours looking for something to observe from their kitchen windows. Soon enough you’ll catch yourself staring at strangers on the Metro too. 

READ ALSO: 10 reasons why a German might be staring at you

You buy slippers

In a lot of German households it is considered rude to wear your shoes indoors. Many Germans have Hausschuhe, or ‘house shoes’ (indoor shoes or slippers), to wear around the house. It might seem a little pernickety at first, but there’s apparently no more luxurious feeling than sinking into your indoor shoes, when you get into the comfort of your own home after work. 

If this isn’t something you were familiar with before, we’re pretty sure that you’ll get on board very quickly. You’ll probably find it hard to visit your family back home without your trusty Hausschuhe, and will instinctively reach for them on the shoe rack as you get through the door. They’re really that good. 

You carry cash everywhere

Carrying cash everywhere might not serve you well in some countries, where most things are now paid for by card, particularly in the pandemic. But in Germany you’ll be at a loss if you don’t leave the house with some coins jangling in your pockets. 

It’s not only buying products from stores and visiting cafes that will mean you need to have cash on you at all times, but you’ll need to be carrying a coin to unlock the chained trolleys at the supermarket, use the lockers at the sauna and swimming pool and more. 

READ ALSO: 7 things the Covid-19 crisis taught us about Germany


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