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7 things Germans do that make foreigners feel awkward

1. They are very direct

Don’t expect British levels of small talk. Photo: David Goehring / Flickr

Brits are famous for our often apologetic and long-winded way of saying things. There’s no better example than ambassador of Britishness, Hugh Grant, who can’t finish a sentence without stuttering apologies and excuses: “I’m so terribly sorry… but you wouldn’t mind awfully… if I were to ask you to maybe… pass me the salt?”

Germans are quite the opposite: cut the small talk, and say it straight. “Pass the salt” will do nicely and won’t come across as rude. 

And it’s not just trivial conversation either. You can meet someone in a bar, and rather than exchanging niceties, the first question will be: “So why did you Brits vote for Brexit?”

It may take a bit of time for us stiff Brits to get used to it, but you do eventually realize it’s not impolite. In fact, when you get used to it you’ll realize it saves quite a lot of time!

2. They still have a correcting culture

Germans still sometimes take discipline into their own hands. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It is something you see in Britain, but pretty rarely these days: a kid has his shoes up on the seat on the bus, and a woman leans over and asks him to put them on the floor.

Americans and Canadians are also often struck by the reprimands they receive when they first arrive in Germany and don’t abide by societal norms.

This willingness to discipline other members of the public is particularly strong in the more traditional areas such as Bavaria. There, you may well be confronted by a local who will set you straight. In Berlin, by contrast, the correcting culture is much less apparent.

In Germany people often have no qualms about telling you you’re doing something wrong, regardless of whether you’re a young child, or a grown adult. One particular bugbear of Germans is crossing roads when there’s a red light, and they will often give you a piece of their mind if you decide to jaywalk.

3. They make you pay in cash

Germans don’t like using these much. Photo: DPA

Germany is a country famed for technology: its high-spec BMWs, Audis and Porsches, or its efficient transport system. But many foreigners will soon realize that this is in many ways a bit of a myth.

Sometimes it seems that no one is more technophobic than the Germans. The most surprising example is how rarely Germans use debit or credit cards. With contactless technology now available in almost every shop in Britain or the US, it seems pretty bizarre that many restaurants in Germany are cash only.

It can sometimes be pretty embarrassing when trying to pay for something and the staff say they don’t accept card. The result is all too often a humble apology as you ask the waiter the way to the nearest cash machine. They’ll sigh and shrug their shoulders.

4. Terrible service

Karl Garff and Eva-Maria Keller performing the iconic “Dinner for One” in Hesse, which although it’s a British sketch has become a German must-watch on New Year’s Eve. Photo: DPA

If you’re American, you probably find British restaurant service pretty dismal, but you clearly haven’t visited a Berlin restaurant recently.

To tar all with the same brush would be unfair, but there are a whole host of restaurants to choose from if you’d rather feel like a naughty child than a paying customer.

The “customer is always right” rule just doesn’t really apply here. You can’t be in a rush in many German restaurants, as the waiter will often pay you zero attention – and expect them to argue back if they get your order wrong.

You won’t believe the reactions you get when you ask for a glass of tap water. The Local has received a range of responses in Berlin from “We don’t have any here” to “You can get some warm water from the bathroom”. 

5. They waste no time in sending threatening, Kafkaesque letters

Don’t panic if you get a letter from a German bureaucrat threatening the absolute worst. Germans love making everything official by what many foreigners may consider to be an outdated system – postal mail – and they love even more writing terrifying letters.

So if you miss part of a rental payment, don’t be surprised when instead of a knock at your door or kind phone call, your German landlord decides to deal with the situation by sending a letter threatening immediate eviction without warning.

And if you’re a bit behind on paying your German public broadcaster fee, they’ll soon start threatening to seize your car – even if you don’t in fact own one.

A simple phone call or – of course – letter explaining that you’ve already made the payment online will always diffuse the situation, perhaps much to your surprise after receiving such startling threats.

6. They smoke indoors, but do everything else outdoors

A man smokes in a pub in Bremen. Photo: DPA

This is another one that will affect people in Berlin most, but Germany’s smoking ban is much more relaxed than most other western countries.

Germany still does not have a federal smoking law, so each of its 16 states have different rules about puffing in public. Apart from in Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Saarland, it is still possible to smoke in some restaurants, bars and clubs depending on the state regulations.

So for non-smoking Brits or Americans, the often very public smoking seems completely alien. After sitting in a smoke-filled bar you may well return home at night to find your clothes reek.

Even on train station platforms, Germans are often happy to light up, and once they’ve had a couple of drinks, the underground stations can become smoking zones too. They just don’t seem to take the ban as seriously as we do.

But it’s equally strange to us that they also love being outside. Maybe it’s their tolerance for colder weather, but even when it’s freezing you’ll see families at the playground and children running around in sub-zero temperatures.

7. Political incorrectness

Perhaps because the US and Britain have such long histories of inward migration, the words Germans use can seem outdated to us. 

For example, German citizens whose parents or even grandparents came from Turkey are still often referred to simply as “Turks” rather than Germans.

And Americans who find costumes like “Red Indian” and blackface offensive may also be surprised to find these readily available in dress-up shops in Germany, where people might not understand the cultural significance.

But then the fact that our countries are busily finding ways of pushing immigrants back out the door, while Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees, might make us think that language isn’t so important after all.

Article source: http://www.thelocal.de/20161122/seven-things-about-germans-that-make-us-brits-uncomfortable