As we venture into a new culture, the official rules and regulations are just part of the puzzle. The unwritten rules—the subtle norms that guide daily life—are equally important for understanding and integrating into a society. Germany, a land of rich history, diverse communities, and unique customs, has a wealth of these unwritten rules waiting to be discovered. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most intriguing and valuable insights into German culture.
Before we dive in, allow me to introduce you to a valuable resource for expats in Germany: Booka Local. Our startup connects expats with bilingual German-speaking translators, making the process of adapting to life in Germany more seamless and enjoyable.
Rule #1. Mind Your Own Business in Germany
In Germany, the principle of “mind your own business” is paramount. It’s a reminder that appearances can be deceiving, and people in Germany tend to respect each other’s privacy. This philosophy applies to a wide range of scenarios:
– Individual Expression: You might encounter a 1.90-meter-tall bearded individual confidently striding the streets in a mini skirt and heels. The unwritten rule? Mind your own business. Personal choices are just that—personal. You also enjoy the freedom to express yourself without being judged.
– Unique Moves: Someone transporting a sofa, kitchen table, and six wood-carved chairs inherited from great-grandma on the U-Bahn? Mind your own business. It’s not uncommon to see Berliners utilizing public transportation for unconventional purposes.
– Spontaneity: A daring individual changing into a swimsuit in Tiergarten and taking a plunge into a shallow, muddy pond at Luiseninsel? Mind your own business. It’s a moment of spontaneity in a city that embraces individuality.
– Symbolic Gestures: An intriguing sight of a (hopefully toy) gun placed on a velvet cushion, accompanied by a teddy bear and a rose in front of the Landesvertretung of Baden-Württemberg? The unwritten rule here is clear: mind your own business (and perhaps walk a little faster this time).
The overarching message is not to pass judgment on any of these scenarios but to respect the individual choices and expressions that make Germany a diverse and accepting society.
Rule #2: Respectful Silence and Quiet Hours in Germany
Germans take their “Ruhezeiten” (quiet hours) seriously. These designated times for tranquility are woven into the fabric of daily life, and adhering to them is a cultural norm that fosters harmony:
– Peaceful Neighborhoods: Residential areas adhere to quiet hours. During the week and on Saturdays, the quiet hours in Germany are usually between 10 pm and 6 am. During these times, noise should be minimized to ensure neighbors can enjoy their peace.
– Public Spaces: Public transportation, including trams, buses, and subways, also observes the principle of quietness. Passengers maintain a respectful silence during these periods to allow everyone to travel in peace.
– Workplace Culture: The concept of “Silent Work Zones” in offices is another testament to the importance of tranquility. Employees respect these zones, which are designated for focused, noise-free work.
The unwritten rule here is clear: respecting quiet hours is a fundamental part of German culture, emphasizing the importance of peaceful coexistence.
Rule #3: Acceptance of Individuality and Diversity
Germany’s welcoming attitude toward diversity and individuality is one of its most defining features. Whether you’re a high-powered attorney, an avant-garde artist, or something entirely different, you’ll find acceptance here:
– Embracing Differences: Germans celebrate individuality and are known for their openness to different lifestyles and choices. Whether it’s unconventional attire, unconventional professions, or unique hobbies, diversity is embraced.
– Tolerance and Respect: The unwritten rule is clear: respect and tolerance are paramount. By accepting differences without judgment, Germans foster an environment where everyone can be themselves. (refer back to Rule #1)
– Unity in Diversity: Germany’s diverse communities contribute to its rich cultural tapestry. It’s a place where you’ll encounter a spectrum of perspectives, all valued and appreciated.
Rule #4: Table Manners and Dining Etiquette
Like many cultures, Germans have their own dining etiquette, encompassing both written and unwritten rules:
– Finish Your Plate: One unwritten rule is to finish your plate. Germans value the concept of “wenig verschwenden” (waste as little as possible). Wasting food is seen as disrespectful, so it’s customary to eat what’s on your plate.
– Taking Leftovers Home: If you can’t finish your meal, don’t fret. It’s acceptable to request a “doggy bag” and take leftovers home. Reducing food waste is a shared responsibility.
– Table Manners: When dining, keep your hands on the table (but not your elbows). It’s a sign of attentiveness and engagement in the meal. Saying “Guten Appetit” (enjoy your meal) before you start eating is also a polite practice.
– Sharing with Others: In Germany, it’s not uncommon to share dishes, especially in casual settings. Passing a plate of food to your fellow diners is a sign of camaraderie. But of course, you have to ask the other person before sticking your fork into their food.
Understanding and respecting these customs enhances your dining experience and showcases your appreciation for German culture.
Rule #5: Language and Respect in Germany
Language plays a pivotal role in cultural integration and building relationships in Germany:
– Speaking German: While many Germans speak English, making an effort to speak German is highly appreciated. It shows respect for the local culture and demonstrates your willingness to connect with the community. But if you struggle to express yourself in important appointments, you can always book a local helper here.
– Informal Address: Among younger generations, it’s customary to use “du” (the informal “you”) rather than the more formal “Sie” when addressing each other. This informality signifies friendliness and openness. However, police officers may be an exception, warranting the use of “Sie”. What about older neighbours or the lady at the Bürgeramt? The advice from the founder of Booka Local, Mei Chi Lo, “when unsure, try “Sie” first. If they think it’s too formal, they will let you know.”
Section 6: Germany’s Friendliness to Foreigners Is Germany friendly to foreigners? The answer is a resounding yes. Germans are known for their warm welcome and hospitality:
– Welcoming Atmosphere: Whether you’re an expat, a traveler, or a newcomer, Germany has a welcoming atmosphere. People are generally friendly and eager to engage with visitors.
– Embracing Diversity: Germany’s diverse and multicultural society means that people from all backgrounds are part of the community. This diversity enriches the country and makes it an inclusive place for everyone.
– Integration Support: Startups like Booka Local play a crucial role in supporting the integration of expats by connecting them with bilingual German-speaking translators. These services make it easier to navigate the intricacies of daily life in Germany, including communication and bureaucracy.
Conclusion: Unwritten rules in Germany guide the way of life and provide valuable insights into the culture. From respecting personal choices to embracing diversity, these norms shape the country’s welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. By understanding and following these unwritten rules, you can enhance your experience as an expat or traveler in Germany. Remember that your journey in Germany can be further enriched by utilizing services like Booka Local, which facilitate communication and cultural integration.
Germany’s unwritten rules may differ from what you’re accustomed to, but they open the door to a deeper understanding of this remarkable country and its people. As you embark on your journey in Germany, may these insights guide you toward meaningful connections and a more fulfilling experience.