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Three things I learned after moving to Germany

The Local Germany reader Michelle Jung, who runs a childcare centre, moved to Germany from the UK for love in the mid-90s. Here are three things she's learned since settling down in the Schwarzwald (Black Forest).

The German and British flag.
The German and British flag. Michelle Jung had a few culture shocks when moving to Germany and becoming German. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

Words have more ‘weight’ in Germany

One of the biggest lessons I learned when coming to Germany was that the spoken word has more weight here than in the UK.

Whilst growing up in the UK I never realised how flippantly we threw in comments during small talk – the main thing was that we were friendly and polite. It never felt shallow or superficial. As a Brit, you just seem to have an inbuilt capacity to differentiate when a person really means something and when it is just polite small talk.

My first encounter with this difference was when I introduced my husband for the first time to my family in the UK. As you do, my mum welcomed him warmly and said all the nice things like “make yourself at home”.

My husband (then just a fiancee) took my mum by her word and one evening, without asking, dived into the fridge and made himself a sandwich. My mum wasn’t amused and my husband couldn’t understand why my mum seemed put out. It was then I realised that this international relationship could be a bit tricky and cultural differences would need to be taken into account! 

When I moved out to Germany (back in 1995) I was very keen to try and make contact with the locals, and would often engage in small talk with neighbours and acquaintances.

READ ALSO: What I’ve learned from five years of living in Berlin

A Biergarten in Bavaria

When making friends with Germans to get an invite to the Biergarten, remember your small talk may be taken literally. Photo:
picture alliance/dpa | Armin Weigel

Being the friendly Brit I was, I often threw in the line “you must come and visit me“ to keep up the chit chat. To me, it was just another sentence like “how are you doing?” and “ooh, the weather is awful today“, and I never really expected a definite response.

Therefore I was taken aback when these random people I met did take up my offer and turned up at the doorstep. Gulp! That’s when I realised my words maybe have more meaning here in Germany. 

READ ALSO: Are these the 10 most German words ever?

Germany doesn’t have the same ‘greeting card culture’

Another lesson I have learnt is that greeting cards do not mean the same to Germans as Brits. When I moved to the Black Forest in the 90s, I realised that traditions that were big in the UK, such as people sending cards for Valentine’s Day, were seen as a bit frivolous and ‘very American’. Around 25 years later, we have moved on and I think it has become more accepted in Germany. But there is definitely a different culture of cards in both countries. 

Whenever we are over in the UK we always stock up on cards and surprisingly enough, a lot of my German friends adore the cards. 

At Christmas time the Brits really go to town and pull out all stops when it comes to their card obsession. Hanging up in our living room are cards that say “to my niece and her husband across the miles“ and “to a very special son-in-law at Christmas time“ – every card perfectly printed for the situation and relationship.

Christmas cards hung up in a Bavarian home.

Christmas cards hung up in a Bavarian home. Germany has a different greetings card culture compared to the UK. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Our German guests are gobsmacked. The German cards seem pretty pathetic in comparison and I usually try and hide them a bit behind the curtains. Some of the neighbours still can’t fathom why they get a Christmas card from the Jung family every year but I just can’t imagine not sending them one.

My husband put his foot down when it came to giving the postman a card.

READ ALSO: What it’s like navigating Covid travel rules to get back to the UK from Germany

Be more direct

The last big lesson I have learned living out here in Germany is to speak out and say what you think. Of course you need to think before you speak.

But Germans just get to the point straight away and it seems like they have remarkably thick skins. I don’t see anyone getting upset and hurt when an acquaintance tells them how to do their tax more efficiently.

READ ALSO: How dropping the small talk helped me make friends with Germans

It can be very daunting for a Brit who often is used to dancing around a subject and whose main goal in life is not to offend anyone. It takes a lot of practice, and even after 25 years I sometimes still worry that sentences like “I think we should do it this way” could be very obnoxious.

The difficulties arise when we go back to the UK. It sometimes seems like I am an elephant in a china shop and I have to dig deep to bring out all those niceties that Brits tend to use like: “if it isn’t too much bother“ and “I don’t want to tell you what to do but….“

So here I am, half Brit, half German (yes, I have two passports) with a whole bundle of traits from both countries.I like to think that my living here has made me a better and more open person and my aim was always to take the best of both countries. We certainly can learn and profit from one another.

What have you learned after moving to Germany? Let us know by emailing [email protected] or leave a comment.

Member comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences Michelle. I am an American (New Orleans, LA) living here in Berlin for almost 4 years. One thing I have learned while living here is that all of my mistakes are expensive. You need to pay attention to all the details and read the fine print! HaHa. All the best.

  2. I loved reading this Michelle. We have been in the Schwarzwald for 3 and half years and not out much due to Covid but yes, the Germans are very direct and really do take you to your word. The Christmas cards made me giggle! All so very true. Thank you

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What it was like navigating Covid travel rules to get home to the UK from Germany

Like many people, the Local Germany reader Michelle Jung, who runs a childcare centre, had lots of ups and downs while trying to visit her home country of the UK this summer. Here's how confusing Covid travel rules affected her plans.

What it was like navigating Covid travel rules to get home to the UK from Germany
Michelle Jung with her mum after managing to get home to the UK. Photo courtesy of Michelle Jung.

I have lived in Germany for 26 years but this summer has been the most difficult and complicated year to get back to the UK and visit family. My summer plans were a mixture of excitement, worry, frustration and hours and hours of scouring the net for information!

The original plan was that my husband, who’s a teacher, and I drive over to the UK for three weeks. We wanted to have enough time to visit relatives and also spend time sightseeing this wonderful island. These plans kept us going through a very challenging school year. April, May and June passed and regulations in the UK were still pretty tight not allowing visitors, even if they were fully vaccinated, to visit the country without going into self-isolation.

Unlike Germany, there were no “special” regulations for families to be reunited and I had to face the fact that I was being treated just like millions of other European tourists. My British passport seemed irrelevant. As July approached we started to get unrestful – the summer holidays were looming ahead and we had nothing booked. We set a deadline for ourselves and if nothing had changed by the end of July we would scrap our plans to go the UK. My poor family in England were left dangling – are they coming or not?

READ ALSO: Better than I could have imaged – how foreigners feel about being able to travel to Germany

‘Gave up all hope’

With no change of restrictions by the end of July we gave up all hope of traveling to Britain. Going into self-isolation was not an option for us. I was feeling pretty despondent and as a comfort we spontaneously booked a non-refundable holiday travelling in Austria and Italy. As fully vaccinated travellers living in Germany this was no problem. I had just started to get excited about our new holiday plans when the British government finally got round to changing travel restrictions at the beginning of August.

Now I was in a mess! How can I go round travelling in Europe when I haven’t seen my family for over a year? I decided to spontaneously slot in a week’s visit to the UK before going on holiday to Austria.

I quickly booked a flight before all seats were taken and started the process of wading through regulations.

Michelle reunited with her mum, brother and sister. Photo courtesy of Michelle Jung.

The tricky part was flying on a Sunday but having a PCR test not older than 72 hours. How do I get my results at the doctor’s surgery at the weekend? Then I had to order an expensive PCR test in the UK for day two of my visit. Before the trip had even started I had spent nearly 200€ on tests. Good that I was travelling alone and not with my husband and three children.

Just before flying off to UK and anxiously awaiting my PCR test results, I discovered that Austria and Italy do not allow anyone to enter the country if they have been in  the UK  in the past 14 days. Great… we had to cancel our holiday and lose money. The long awaited summer holidays were turning into a disaster and my stress levels were pretty high.

READ ALSO: How travel to England from Germany has become stricter

Reunion with family 

Yet the unbelievable seemed to happen – I arrived in the UK safely and had a lovely reunion with my precious family. Everyone was happy but the trip was over-shadowed by coronavirus. My day two PCR test results came through half way through the week. Fortunately they were negative and so now the holiday could really begin. A day later a family member announced that she was ill and had tested positive. The rest of the family appointments were all cancelled and everyone had to do a PCR test and wait anxiously for results. My biggest worry was if I could get back to Germany.

And something else happened – on my second to last day in England I happened to read the latest issue of The Local on my phone and with horror discovered that people vaccinated with two different vaccines (Kreuzgeimpfte) aren’t counted as fully vaccinated in the UK (note from ed – these rules have now changed).
The bizarre thing is that UK citizens living in the UK don’t have to go into self-isolation after returning to the UK if they have had two different vaccinations. There are some things in life which are totally incomprehensible – UK Covid rules included! So I spent the last two days in the UK lurking around trying to avoid any attention or contact with authorities. When I finally got to Manchester airport to fly home I saw two fully armed policeman patrolling the halls. I was that stressed that I genuinely thought for a moment that they had come to arrest me! Sitting on the plane flying to Germany, I let out one big sigh of relief.
Michelle Jung takes a trip down memory lane by visiting her old school. Photo courtesy of Michelle Jung

Week three of my summer holidays: sitting here in Germany  after getting back from UK without having caught Covid. Needed a couple of days to recover from all the stress whilst travelling. My husband and I have spontaneously booked yet another holiday but just locally in Germany. After the booking confirmation came through, I discovered that Austria have yet again changed their travel restrictions and I can now enter their country. It’s not even worth thinking “what if….”

This summer holiday has been pretty exhausting and as I approach the end of it, I am feeling pretty drained when it comes to travel. I am almost looking forward to just getting back to work. As I write these lines I realise that I am complaining on a pretty high level and my problems are luxury problems. My family and I are all well and have managed to see one another. We have a house, plus work and peace in our country. Maybe my chaotic summer was there to teach my what really counts in life.