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5 German habits that are hard to understand

Dana Regev
December 11, 2019

Upon moving to Germany, DW's Dana Regev discovered a new world of German customs. But five years later, there are still some things she simply can't understand — and probably never will.

Zehn Gründe für die Ostsee FKK
Image: picture-alliance/ZB/B. Wüstneck

Born and raised in Israel, it was only natural that once I moved to Germany, many cultural and social norms were totally new to me.

For instance, Germans seem to be more than fine with nudity in public, they have no problem scolding complete strangers on the street if they think they've done something wrong, and for some mysterious reason they prefer buying a cheap beer at a kiosk rather than paying a bit more but being able to sit in a cozy bar.

Admittedly, though, I happily embraced many German customs into my life — from tanning in parks to paying cash to better planning my holidays, but there will always be other habits that still puzzle me.

Such as:

1. Drafts are the enemy

Germans' relationships with breeze are extremely complicated, it seems. On the one hand, there will always be this colleague who insists on opening a window when it's -10 Celsius outside because they need some fresh air, but on the other hand, once this air starts moving, it becomes the source of all evil.

They call it "Durchzug," which literally translates to "a through-train," created when two opposite windows of the same room are open. This draft is apparently highly dangerous to humans, as it can lead to a stiff neck, a mild cold or even pneumonia.

I have yet to clearly identify the exact point in which a breeze of much-needed fresh air turns into a life-threatening danger, but luckily, I have a whole winter ahead of me to find out.

2. Speed limits? LOL

Blockabfertigung von Lastwagen auf der A93
Excuse me, what do you mean by '250 km/h is too fast'?!Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Kneffel

Everyone who's been to Germany for more than a day knows just how seriously Germans take their cars — and everything that involves them. The German Autobahn — the country's federal highway system – is no different. 

Germany doesn't have a speed limit on some parts of its highways, and any hint of an attempt to change that immediately faces harsh criticism. In defense of those opposed to a speed limit, statistics show that 60% of all fatal accidents do not occur on the Autobahn, but on country roads where the maximum speed limit is 100 km/h (62 mph).

Still, coming from a country where car accidents are the number one external cause of death, I find it hard to understand why it's so important to rush at a speed of 250 km/h, let alone bully other drivers who take a more modest approach with flashing headlights or driving up right behind you.

3. Paper or it didn't happen!

Europäisches Patentamt
Hard copies. Hard copies everywhereImage: European Patent Office

For a country known for its meticulous recycling culture, I am struck by Germany's extensive use of unnecessary paper.

In fact, in 2018, each German used an average of 241.7 kilos (533 pounds) of paper, making the country one of the world's largest paper consumers, and the largest among the G20, followed by the US.

Despite these concerning figures, if something is not written on paper it simply isn't valid here, so prepare to write a letter if you want to terminate any contract, make sure to print receipts you receive via email and generally forget about PDFs. Keeping a hard copy of practically everything is very important. 

4. Work is work

Germans don't necessarily consider their colleagues their best friends, which came as quite a shock for me at the beginning. My bosses here never asked me anything about my personal life, and I practically had to manipulate the conversation for them to know a bit more about me than just my name and where I was born.

Since my colleagues are those I spend most of my time with, for us not to be close in some form or another creates a cognitive dissonance I can't settle. It is very likely that these people — with whom you share at least eight hours every day — will have no other meaning in your life besides that.

According to many, this is a healthy approach, but for me as an Israeli, it's a challenge: I'm used to sharing a bit more with colleagues than just an office — from drinks after work to personal conversations about life.

5. Sundays

Fernandez cartoons "That´s so german" Sonntags geschlossen  ENGLISCH
A cartoon from the DW series 'That's So German': Even the gates of heaven are closed on Sundays in Germany

This may come as news to you, but in Germany there are only six days a week. Sundays are still to be found in the calendar, and they definitely appear time and again after a Saturday, but apart from that I have to wonder if they actually exist.

All stores are closed, apart from some cafes and restaurants, public transport runs less frequently and even in the capital Berlin, everything feels slower. And, it doesn't seem to bother most Germans. 

Don't get me wrong, I am absolutely in favor of at least one resting day a week, if not more, and I fully appreciate the strong culture of workers' rights here. But as a full-time worker, I sometimes wonder: Wouldn't you want to be able to run some errands on Sundays, too? At least sometimes?

Dana Regev DW-Englisch
DW's Dana RegevImage: DW/M. Müller

In my student days in Israel, for example, working weekends was my only chance to earn money. My free days were simply other days of the week.

This way everybody can still get their days off — and get a double pay on Sundays, for instance — but businesses are open seven days a week.

Coming from Israel, I was quite surprised to find that even our day of complete shutdown — Shabbat — is not handled as strictly by most Israelis as the German Sunday is.

Bonus: Dating a German!

Although hardly a "custom," the phenomenon called German (cis) men is still a great mystery for (cis) women residing in the country.

In fact, as early as in my first week in Germany, I was warned by women from across the globe — as well as those living here — about this elusive mammal.

Symbolbild Liebe
German men, why are you like this?Image: Colourbox

In their defense, the rumor about how undatable German men are — especially to foreigners — has reached some of them, and many were kind enough to ask me whether it's true and what is it exactly that I feel they are doing differently. 

But despite their overall kindness, I can confirm: The common German man is not easy to communicate with — let alone date.

Their communication patterns can be erratic and unexpected; they seem to avoid mainstream platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook, and overall seem to take a long time until they are willing to define this thing you have between you two as "a relationship."

Luckily, much like with the winter draft, I have the entire season ahead of me to try and crack their secret.