A Cheeky Guide to German Culture
By Judee Bendiola
Nothing beats the first year in Germany! This is the best time for adjusting, integrating, and learning. When you live in another country, you will usually be confronted with a lot of cultural differences or some unique scenarios, which you will find confusing whether to accept or just shrug off. Let me list down my fair share of personal experiences.
Calling a medical clinic
It is, of course, not practical to always fly to the Philippines whenever there is a medical emergency. So somewhere at the top of a migrant’s checklist should always include scouting for the best and most accessible medical facility.
I remember a time when I really needed to call a medical clinic to book an appointment. Since the staff who received my call could not speak English and I was not proficient in German back then, she really did not understand me. As a result, she just dropped the call. I was thinking that if this was an emergency and there was no way to communicate clearly, would they care to save a life? Perhaps they thought it was a prank call, or our encounter was a case “lost in translation.” Luckily I called the help hotline of my university, which assists foreign students in their day-to-day living. I got an appointment thanks to this initiative. If there is a will, there is always a way! Or should we say, if there is a medical emergency, help should be on the way.
Fried rice for breakfast
We, Asians, are undeniably rice lovers. We eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Safe to say, we always have rice meals on our dining table. Who could ever resist a bowl of warm fried rice with a lot of garlic cloves, or what we fondly call sinangag? This is our staple breakfast meal paired with fried eggs, tapas, or any other fried meat. Oh, how I miss tapsilog right now!
But as much as we dearly love this breakfast meal, some Germans find it awful having rice for breakfast, more so the smell of garlic, early in the morning. They would rather have cereals, coffee, or bread with cold meat. So, if you ever live in a wohngemeinschaft (WG) or a shared apartment with Germans, you better think twice about having a full warm meal early in the morning.
At the end of class presentations or sessions
University level presentations can be very formal. You need to have an outline of your presentation, an introduction, then an analysis of the main topic and not merely a summary of related literature, and finally, a discussion question that allows everyone to think critically and engage in an academic debate. During my first presentation, I tried to spice it up a bit with “showtime” level enthusiasm and attempted to ask questions in a hep-hep-hooray energy, but I thought twice of having a game at the end because it seemed that this kind of “entertaining” presentations did not always work with my German audience. For them, content always weighs far heavier than the form.
Such formality with the conduct of university presentations may be expected. What may come as a surprise is how it is concluded. After one finishes a class presentation or after a seminar or lecture, it seems so weird for me to knock on the desk. But I just always go with the flow, so I do. Come to think of it, most of the class attendees do it, too. As an alternative to clapping their hands, they knock. It seems that it is their way of acknowledging the end of the presentation.
Get comfortable with your own skin
After going to the gym or finishing your lap in the swimming pool, of course, you need to shower. It is very common for Germans to take their clothes off and shower naked in the shared shower room. At first, I tried to shower by wearing some clothes because I was very uncomfortable being naked in front of other women. But suddenly, a grandma just called me out and asked why I was doing it? This Freikörperkultur, naturism or nudism as others call it, is a lifestyle for some Germans who are comfortable showing their skin both in private and public areas. Yes, public areas like holiday resorts, wellness bathhouses, and parks to name a few.
Do you want to know more interesting and funny situations where you can learn German culture on a much deeper but informal level? This book “German Men Sit Down to Pee,” written by Niklas Frank and James Cave, may not answer every question you have. Reading this book, however, is a good starting point in understanding German culture.
‘The problem with stereotypes is that they’re limiting’
The authors begin the book by pointing out that there are also stereotypes that have been associated with Germans throughout different time periods. One of which is: “Planning is such a big part of the German psyche that everyone expects everyone else to be organized as well” (106-07). I meet a lot of Germans, however, who just chose not to be organized. Chaos has been their friend throughout their lives!
As foreign readers, the book gives us a lot of perspectives on German life, culture, tradition, celebration, entertainment, food, drinks, etc. There are also some trivia that I never knew before, like: “April Fool’s Day… is said to have originated in Germany” (34).
The book has also an in-depth explanation of some interesting German terms such as wohngemeinschaft, freikörperkultur, etc. It has many short chapters that make it easier for readers to understand and remember the content. The information in the book is short, concise, and direct with some historical or social context.
If you are planning to migrate to Germany, this book is worth checking. With hope, you can read this before embarking on that one-way journey. Or if you are already in Germany and still need to try to make sense of the German culture, reading up a bit more may help. There is a lot of interesting information here, and you will basically know the truth and the reason whether German men really sit down to pee.
What other books that helped you get acquainted with German culture can you recommend?
Contributing writer Judee Bendiola is a Filipino expat in Germany. Get to know Judee on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter at @iamjudeebee. She is also currently working as a Marketing & Communication professional for Non-profits. You can reach out for possible collaboration via LinkedIn or at [email protected] Join his advocacy in supporting the Global Filipino community and share his stories.