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How to avoid getting scolded by a German

Dana Regev
June 24, 2020

Have you ever walked on the bicycle lane? Put a refundable bottle into a regular bin? Asked a bus driver how much the ride costs? In Germany, these beginners' mistakes might earn you a good scold. Here's how to avoid it.

Kanzlerin Merkel mürrisch
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

Have you ever been on a bus or a trainwith a passenger who thinks it's a great idea to have an extremely loud fight over the phone right there and now? Or while driving a car, have you ever been startled by a person crossing on a red light just in front of you — and to add insult to injury, they're walking really slowly?

Obviously you're not alone, and the list of annoying actions done by humans — whether they are just rude or even illegal — goes on and on.

But the question is: How do you react to those annoyances?

Anyone who has spent time in Germany must have noticed that Germans will not hold back and educate you for your wrongdoings in public — whether with words or with deeds.

Here's what to avoid if you want to save yourself the time and heartache:

1. Oh, the bicycle lane

Not all countries are blessed with a network of paved lanes solely for bicycles, but the ones that are take it very seriously — and Germany is no different.

Many times, though, the difference between the bike part of the pavement and the one reserved for pedestrians is a tiny difference in color, or bricks cut into slightly different sizes — so it's hardly surprising that tourists and newcomers fail to distinguish the two. 

Deutschland Mülheim an der Ruhr | Fahrradautobahn
Germans take their bicycle lanes very seriouslyImage: imago-images/R. Oberhäuser

"I was strolling around the streets of Berlin when I accidentally stepped a few centimeters onto the bicycle lane," says Tali Kushnir, a 35-year-old fashion designer from Israel, recalling one of her visits to Germany.

"Not only did I almost get run over, I was screamed at in German by a random lady until she realized I was a tourist and set me free with a mere warning in my resume," she laughs.

But what about those who are aware of the rules and decide to break them? Do they deserve a good scolding from a stranger, or is it best to just let them be?

"I was riding on a bike path on the side of a vast sidewalk. Admittedly, I was riding on the wrong side," confesses an American colleague who's been living in Germany for years.

"There was one pedestrian as far as the eye could see. She stuck out her arm as I rode past and she knocked me off my bike."

That's right, folks, as long as you're walking on two feet, you want to stay out of this holy lane, and if you're on your bike it better be on the right side riding in the right direction — for your own good.

2. 'Are you going to pick this up?'

If you've settled in in Germany to the extent of owning a dog here, you may have noticed the rules regarding pets can be quite different than the ones in your home country.

Dog poop
Have your poop bag open and ready to pick it up before it hits the ground...Image: picture alliance/blickwinkel/W. Layer

To start with, dog owners are required to register their dog, pay a dog tax and at times even purchase a liability insurance for their good boy. You can of course face a fine if you fail to collect your doggo's fecal legacy in a public space. But way quicker than the fine is the reprimand.  

"As I was standing in one of Berlin's main streets with a dog poop bag visibly wrapped around my hand, a German looked at me scornfully," says Limor Kishinevsky, who's been living with her husband in Germany for the past four years.

"He asked me if I've had any intention to pick it up. No, I'm just standing here with a nylon pouch on my hand for fun while admiring the beauty coming out of my dog's anus."

3. Scolding! For our children's future!

Despite the reputation of the law-obedient German, Germans actually aren't that strict when it comes to jaywalking. That is — until kids are involved.

"I was crossing on a red light and a woman yelled at me from the other side of the street that there are children looking at me and that I should be ashamed of myself," a friend who lives in Berlin shared.

"The point is not whether they are right or not, it's that anyone here thinks they're allowed to educate you," she added.

Another colleague — Germany-born and raised — shared a similar experience: "An old lady was basically beating me down my bicycle with her umbrella when I crossed on a red light."

Watch out guys, you're setting an example.

BdT Grüner Pfeil für Fahrradfahrer
Crossing a red light apparently corrupts the next generation of humans — you have been warnedImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Gatteau

4. Be on time, stranger!

Germans are known to be quite punctual creatures — but more than keeping up to their own standards, they seem to enjoy lecturing others about it.

"Once a German scolded and lectured me about the importance of being on time for work," Marjolein van der Boon, a Dutch living in Heidelberg told DW. "I was merely asking him if he had seen my bus leave the station," she shared.

His message is clear: You being late is not only an insult to your boss and colleagues, but also to the entire nation.

5. No topic is off limits for patronizing comments

While jaywalking or playing loud music on public transport seem to be condemned in many places around the world, people who visit Germany for the first time really do find themselves surprised by the cultural norms they seem to have broken unintentionally.

Strafpredigt Fotolia
There's always something to learn ⁠— and any German could turn into your parentsImage: Sandy Schulze/Fotolia

"I said happy birthday to my soon-to-be mother-in-law the day before her birthday," said Kansas-born English teacher Christina Gutmann, who now lives with her German husband near Stuttgart.

"The restaurant went dead silent and the waitress dropped the fork she was carrying... I had no clue."

Rajat Handa, a Humboldt research fellow from Delhi living in Berlin, was amazed when he got scolded for throwing a bottle into what he later realized was the wrong bin. "Pfand [deposit] bottles should be left outside," he quickly learned, unaware that such an act is considered rude toward people who might want to later collect this bottle for the refund.

While visiting Berlin, Israeli tourist Ortal Zino got on a bus and asked the driver how much the ride cost: "I got yelled at for daring to ask, because apparently here it depends on where you go. It was my first day ever in the city."

Adi Hagin, 41, who's living with her German husband and their two daughters in Frankfurt, was surprised to get scolded a day after organizing a birthday party for her eldest daughter in kindergarten.

"I was told by her teacher that I had brought food with too many wraps, and that it was bad for the environment," she recalls. "She asked me to avoid that in the future. You better believe I would."

7 things I had never seen before I came to Germany

You'll find more from Meet the Germans on YouTube or at dw.com/MeettheGermans, or check out our new Instagram Channel @dw_meetthegermans. 
And we're sure you'll like DW's cartoon series That's so German for a humorous take on German culture and stereotypes.

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