Any new place your travel, there are bound to be some cultural non-sequiturs that you encounter. These are some crazy lessons I have learned from my travels in Germany:
Lesson 1: I’m bad with locals
The shopping experience in other countries is rarely the same as our own. My first full day in Regensburg I went out with Jake to purchase some items I had forgotten at home in spite of my best efforts. At the register I tried to pay with a credit card. Big mistake- Germans find the carrying of debt to be irresponsible, so was met with funny looks when I charged 5 pounds to my credit card. After I received my copy of the receipt to sign, I could not locate a line to sign my signature. Whereas in the US we typically sign at the bottom, this was instead on the backside of the receipt. In an ideal world I would have brilliantly scanned the receipt, quickly noticed the difference and moved on, but in reality I fumbled around, pointed at the receipt and grunted out guttural English phrases until the worker rolled her eyes and flipped the paper over for me. Smooth move indeed.
2: I can’t read aynhting
Be prepared to be frustrated when you go into a country you aren’t familiar with. Though Europe tends to be more international than the United States, you will still encounter plenty of times that you have no idea what you’re doing. Examples include: restaurant menus, museums, electronics, etc.
The first few meals were very confusing with guides attempting to help us by reading every item on the menu. Though appetizers and every item used to make them can be interesting, I struggled to stay patient when I got confused, especially given the amount of questions asked by our large group. However pretty soon I was able to parce out key words as I became familiar with the language (Word Lens helps extremely well also on print).
As far as museums go- they become much less interesting when you can’t read any of the words in the exhibits. Luckily most locations offered a guide if our own didn’t take over. If I went on a trip strictly by myself in the future, I believe you can listen to an English guide if you bring your own headphones and have Internet access, but my phone was typically destroyed from the taking of photos.
3: I can’t speak German
The second day in Regensburg I went for an epic bike ride with Jake, Rob and Amber to explore the city. When we returned, Amber and I decided to stop at this local gelato place to order something cool and refreshing in the 90 degree heat. I deferred to Amber to start the conversation with the employee because while I am a confident English speaker, I was twice as sure that in a tiny city like Regensburg there was no chance that anyone would understand me save scribbling out drawings caveman-style for my needs. When Amber confidently began her greeting with “Hola!” …I knew our experience was really going to end well. But after that, Amber recovered, ordered her cone and moved on with flying colors. Now the pressure was on.
As I approached the vendor, I pointed to the flavor labeled ‘vanille’ and said “Ein vanilla…uh…cone?” The woman responded in something I couldn’t understand, so I nodded in response. When she said it slower the second time, I knew that this was a clue that I hadn’t finished my order yet. So I smiled bigger to show that I either had no clue what she was saying or I really enjoy repetitive conversations with gelato employees.
Frustrated, she pointed to the variety of gelato-storage options I could put “Ein vanille” into for my enjoyment, and I learned that my hands probably wouldn’t be ideal for the job. Quickly surveying the scene, I responded with my best German phrase, “Oh…I’ll have this guy,” pointing confidently at the waffle cone covered in chocolate and nuts (right?). Surprised, the woman tilted her head back and responded, “theese guy? Oh, theese guy!” And proceeded to make my treat.
We had communicated! Except when she finished scooping my cone and handed it to me, she then kept calling it, “theese guy, theese guy! Ein vanille en theese guy!”
And I had done it, I ordered a gelato. And possibly changed forever the English translation for an ice cream waffle cone with chocolate and nuts in the city of Regensburg.
4: Conservation sucks, but is kind of cool
Ice does not exist in Germany. People never receive it in drinks without asking, and find our drinks too cold for their preference. Air conditioning is also unusual, and fans aren’t even available for purchase at most stores. Instead they open windows and shut blinds. One thing that is cool, when you aren’t unconscious from the blistering heat, is that many houses and buildings have metal blinds that automatically roll down to block out the rays of the sun and to deflect heat energy. The cooler thing is that in America we’ve already solved this problem with a thing called an air conditioner. Impressed that you use so little energy Germany, but can we at least agree to have a machine in reserve for when it’s above 90 degrees?
5: I’m Socially Awkward
Hotels are different here- In our room in Geisa, I spent the first ten minutes of the experience trying to get the television and lights to turn on. On a hunch, I then pulled out my charger and went around the room, testing electrical outlets systematically in vain. Convinced my room was without power, I sought out Wood, who slowly slid his keycard into a slot on the wall right next to the doorway, and everything magically turned on. A clever device for guaranteeing that you do not lose your keycard or at the worst you save electricity if you forget to turn off everything when leaving the room.
Jaywalking- my favorite activity- is completely uncouth here. Germans will wait for twenty minutes at 2 AM for a light to change. Luckily our group leader, Wood, warned us of this first, but it doesn’t mean that I haven’t screwed up once or twice. It is incredible to watch given our lack of respect for this rule in America, but it also makes sense. People here slow down for no one no matter what the circumstances. Be polite or you’ll be smushed.
Because so many people in Germany ride bikes to get where they are going, there are also specific rules in order to avoid getting intro trouble or worse, run over. Riders have their very own lane almost everywhere in every city in a special red colored break along the sidewalk- if you get in their way they can essentially run over you, so know where you are at all times. Ironically many less people walk with their cell phones out here due to the fact you could get run over, so it’s probably better for society as well.
Lastly, people just believe in different social mores in Germany. For example, kids can drink beer and wine at 16 here, but aren’t allowed to drive until they’re 18. From this method, it appears that kids aren’t at bars frequently anyways, and rarely order beer to the excess that they would in America when they turn 21 and it’s been forbidden for so long. Secondly, their bathroom stalls beat ours, hands down. Ever wonder why there are cracks between every stall in a restroom so you can kind of see in? So do Germans, so across the country there isn’t a crack or even a broken seal between the stalls, or that weird open space on the floor that we have in America so you can check out shoe fashions while doing your business. They also have sealed doors between the facilities and the sinks, so you can avoid the fun sights and smells of the typical restroom. While these are both interesting, my favorite difference has to lie in difference in morality we have at our checkout counters between both countries. When I was waiting in line to make a purchase at a local grocer in Regensburg, I couldn’t help but scan the extra item stands that they hoped to convince me I couldn’t leave without. At first, it seemed pretty similar- tabloids, gum and candy, but I never expected to see condoms, hard liquor and cigarettes. Say what you want to about the Germans, but it seems like they really know how to celebrate once they put away their groceries.