Germany does a lot of things right. It’s safe, clean, affordable, and efficient (German engineering is no joke!). Every day I see something so simple and common to life here that would make a big difference back in the States. Germany isn’t perfect. No place is. Here are 6 characteristics that make this country stand out for me.
When we lived in Ohio, we were a single-car household. Josh used his bike to commute or took the bus. It was difficult to do this where we lived because there were few designated bike lanes, and people didn’t know how to drive around cyclists. In Ohio, it was hard to even find sidewalks. If we could, we would walk everywhere and take Sherlock with us. That gets hard to do when you’re forced to walk in the street. When we lived in Ohio, my average mileage walked per month was 21. In Germany, I walk about 90 miles a month. Bielefeld prides itself on its trail system, with parks and greenspaces that wind through neighborhoods and connect to each other. Every trail eventually connects, and the one by our house even takes you all the way to Bad Salzulflen. I’ve taken trails out of curiosity and ended up at soccer fields, cafes, nature preserves, churches, lakes, and castles.
Public transportation in most communities in the US takes forever, doesn’t connect well to other cities, and smells bad. Take everything you know about public transport and toss it out, because that is not the case in Germany. The busses and trains are clean, people are quiet and polite, fares are paid, and no one is trying to sell you anything (looking at you, New York). Coming from cities with little to no public transportation system, and having a place where we can use the Stadtbahn, busses, and regional trains to get around, we haven’t felt the need to get a car. The funny thing is, ask around and locals will tell you the Bielefeld transport system isn’t even that good compared to other cities in Germany.
I’ve talked about Germany’s café culture before, and I think it is something to be admired. No restaurant will succeed in Germany unless it has a patio and outdoor seating. Germans love sitting outside for hours on end with their coffee and pastries. Bonus points if the café is in a busy thoroughfare or park and they can people watch while they sip. I enjoy eating out, but I hate feeling rushed by the waitstaff. This will never happen in Germany. Instead, I can relax, enjoy my food and my company without feeling the urge to pre-bus the table and calculate the tip. I always felt guilty in the US, that I was preventing the server from making money. Here, that is not a problem because the staff are paid a living wage and don’t rely on tips. In fact, tipping in Germany isn’t really a thing, you just sort of round up.
When the church bells start ringing Sunday morning, that’s when I usually smack myself in the forehead and remember something I forgot to buy at the Markt. Mist. Can’t get it until Monday, because everything is closed on Sundays (except for cafes and bakeries).
While the shops are closed for religious observance, a law since the 1900s, most Germans aren’t using the time for church. A Pew Research Center survey found that while 71 percent of Germans identified as Christians, most are non-practicing (attend services no more than a few times per year).
The church bells ringing remind Germans that Sunday is less a day of worship, but rather one of leisure, spending it in parks, at cafes, or with family. Having a day where most things are closed forces people to slow down and gives everyone a mini-holiday. No one is thinking about running errands, doing last-minute shopping, or waiting in line. It acts as a soft reset and helps start the next week off right.
Like Sundays, everything is closed on holidays. And this can be a little crazy. For example, Christmas this year was on a Tuesday. The shops were closed that Sunday, then open on Monday (Christmas Eve) until 1 p.m. Then they were closed for Christmas, and what’s called Second Christmas (Boxing Day). That’s pretty much 4 days of closed shops. Luckily, we bought enough toilet paper.
But the locals need all those days off to recover from the hardcore partying they do (not a joke).
On Christmas Eve, our neighbors invited us over for drinks and singing (unfortunately, we couldn’t go, because Josh had the flu). The whole building was up and about singing carols until the early hours of Christmas morning. I don’t think we saw anyone until late that afternoon. New Year’s Eve is even crazier. People stay out all night, shooting fireworks for hours. I have never seen such an amazing firework display than midnight in Germany.
We haven’t been here that long to experience a lot of the holidays, or go on any major vacations, but from what I can tell, Germans take their holiday and leisure time seriously.
Sorry, Cash Only
In the US, we used our credit card for everything. We made a profit with that thing and rarely paid for a flight. Working in optical, I often worked with money, but rarely with cash. In Ohio, people used cash a bit more frequently than card, and debit more frequently than credit. In Germany, credit cards are not a thing and cash reigns supreme. The only place I used my card is at the grocery store, and every time, I get the stink eye. There are a thousand reasons for it, but the main reasons are:
- The credit card processing machine takes forever, and it slows down the line.
- The cashier never has a pen and has to go find one.
- The cashier will inspect your signature and your card to make sure it matches.
- I’m pretty sure they can smell my Auslander everytime I whip it out.
Is Dave Ramsey German?
No retail store offers a store credit card like they would in the US. Not even the bank offered credit cards when we signed up for an account. Germany doesn’t encourage buying things with money you don’t have and Germans, as a culture, hate debt. In fact, the word for debt in German is Schuld, which translates to guilt or fault. Most places do not accept credit cards. All payments for phones, internet, etc. must be done through a bank account and cannot be paid with a credit card. We couldn’t even get phones without a German bank account.
Now, I’m not saying that Germany doesn’t have credit cards, or debt. They do. But it’s less than the average American’s $38,000. Having less debt is helped along by the fact that Germans pay no medical bills or tuition.
Since moving to Germany, we have spent less money in general. Unlike the US, Germany doesn’t put an emphasis on things. People dress for the weather, not the latest trends. Black Friday sales exist, but it’s stampede-free. People are community focused instead of commodity focused and it shows in what they value: time, leisure, family, food.
Have you been impressed by cultural differences in a country you visited? What do you think they “got right” that made you want to bring it home with you? What do you think your home country gets right? Let me know in the comments.
P.S. Are you jonesing for a Bielefeld mug? There’s still time to enter the raffle. Just pop your name in the subscription box. (Update: the raffle is now closed! I hope the winners like their mugs!)