1. PunklichkeitPunctuality isn’t just a virtue in Germany- it’s a cult. Being late for something (especially a lecture or seminar) is a sure way to pee off a German. Wear a watch and be early or at least on time!
2. BicyclesDon’t get me wrong, cycling is awesome and great for the environment. Back in the UK, it’s my transport of choice to commute to Uni. Just don’t get in the way of a German cyclist: they will run over your body and probably reverse back over it. Cars will stop for pedestrians, cyclists won’t!
3. Small talkIn England, perhaps it’s second nature to discuss how rubbish the weather is or how little sleep you had the night before. In Germany, it’s not uncommon for small talk simply not to take place. Don’t be offended if a bus journey with your housemate is spent in silence, or if the conversation dies while you’re chilling in the communal kitchen. Having said that, some Germans are chattier than others.
4. FootballBefore heading out to Germany, it’s probably a good idea to know a little bit about the local team or about football in general. Germans are football mad, and at least once you’ll probably encounter groups of supporters loudly occupying a train or bus you might be travelling in. Luckily German football fans tend to be, for the most part, a friendly bunch.
5. LecturesIn my experience, teaching in German Universities is pretty good. There are, however a few subtle differences that might be worth knowing.
a) German lectures tend to be 2 hours long. If they say they start C.T., (cum tempore) it means it will begin 10 or 15 minutes after the proscribed time. Otherwise, be there on the dot!
b) Lecturers are respected. Always refer to them with Sie, that’s a given. No first names!
c) Don’t expect to form your own opinion. The teaching system, at least for my subject (Classics) is more about taking in vast amounts of information. Don’t underestimate how much cramming is needed for exams!
d) Knock on the table after the lecture. It’s strange, just do it.
6. EnglishFrom the plumber to the guy behind the counter at the petrol station to your housemates, everyone speaks at least some English. This is both a help and a hindrance. Try not to get flustered if you order something in German and they reply in English. Yes it’s irritating, but just do your best, carry on as if unaware, and perhaps slip in a made up word in English, like “accumbulerate”. That will surely wipe away that smug smile of theirs.
7. SmokeIf you smoke and love to be engulfed in the cigarette smokiness of others, fine. If like me you detest it and have never smoked in your life, be ready for a shock. There is no law that prevents public smoking in bars or clubs. I have come home countless times reeking like an ashtray, even from just half an hour in a club. It gets in your hair, your clothes, just YUCK!
8. DialectGood for you if you speak German fluently. Now just learn: Swäbisch, Badisch, Platt-Deutsch, Bayrisch, Kölsch and plenty of others I haven’t even heard of, and you’re set! My point is, don’t always expect to understand everything someone says. Try to be aware of the dialect in your area, and how it might be influencing your own German!
9. Müll TrennenYes, the Germans are mad about recycling. This is certainly not a negative thing, but it’s a great idea to learn what goes where and get used to it. The look of hatred on the face of native if you happen to put plastic in the Papier section is one to avoid!
10. SundaysAh, where to begin. On a Sunday in Germany, it’s as if a nuclear explosion has wiped out the local population, and a few foreign refugees are left fending for themselves. Native housemates go home, all shops close, and the world becomes a bleaker, more lifeless place. How to prepare? Buy books, DVDs, CDs, Video games or whatever makes you happy and be ready for a few hours on your own. Stock up on food on the day before- you can’t grab so much as a prezel on a Sunday. Skype home and don’t allow yourself to be out of contact for too long, unless you like that. Sunday is the apocalypse day in the German week!
I hope these few tips will prevent some frustration I have occasionally experienced abroad in Germany. Although this has covered mainly negative points, focus on the positives! Overall I love it here, and would recommend it to anyone. The only way to get the most out of your year abroad is to enjoy it.