12 Things That Will Surprise Americans about Germany

July 3, 2019

Today’s blog post comes to us from Longwood University student & #APIabroad blogger Jesse Plichta-Keller! She’s studying abroad with us this summer in Berlin, Germany.

Jesse in Berlin

I’ve been in Deutschland for a little over a week now and studied abroad last summer as well. In my time here I’ve observed a few interesting differences from my homeland in the U.S.

This is just an aggregate list – if you want more detailed stories about my time here check out my personal blog. In terms of the differences I’ve observed, I’m not complaining (about most of them), nor do I necessarily have a judgement that one way is better.

1. Personal space is less spacious.

I don’t mean just in clubs or public transportation. This applies in lines, walking, in museums, at shops, everywhere. The foot or two that Americans maintain as social distance is more like six or eight inches here.

2. In some parts, there is less demand to speak the local language.

In the U.S., you have to speak English (or in a few places, Spanish may work) to do many things in life, even as a tourist. Here I have a hard time getting some people to respond to me in German.

3. There is no ticket check to get on public transit.

You don’t swipe your card or show the bus driver (most of the time), you just get on and show the ticket checker on the off chance they show up. 

4. Lots of people use bicycles to get around.

That’s likely something you may have already known. What surprised me was the lack of helmets.

5. Air conditioning is just not a thing in Germany.

Well, to be 100% honest you may find it in a handful of museums, government buildings, or touristy places, but overall it’s very uncommon. 

6. You have to bag your own groceries.

Many Americans are aware in much of Europe (including Germany) the norm is that you bring reusable bags. However, what will come as a surprise is that the cashier does not bag your groceries. 

7. No free refills!

And the default water is bottled water, not tap water.

8. Public transit works.

In Germany, public transit can actually get you around. Outside major U.S. cities, public transit is nonexistent.

9. Jaywalking is seriously frowned upon.

It seems that it’s not a social norm to do so in most places in Berlin, but I personally try to take the “when in Rome approach” which is usually to wait for the Apfelman (green light to cross).

10. You will notice architectural differences between east and west Berlin.

There are some remaining differences between the two areas, but it’s not nearly as stark as I thought it’d be. Throughout much of the city there is a line one or two bricks thick on the ground marking where the wall used to be, but it’s not an immediate night and day difference once you cross the border. 

11. Coins actually have value.

The whole “coins actually have value” thing is a little difficult to adjust to and will likely involve some initial fumbling when looking for a one or two Euro coin.

12. For whatever reasons, backpacks seem more common than purses or briefcases in Berlin.

Obviously, there are many more differences, but this is just a list of a few things I’ve personally noticed in my time here.

For anyone interested in my more play-by-play adventures, I can also be found on twitter (@JesseKellar) and Instagram (@jewishamericanviking). 


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