Experienced travelers know just how important it is to learn about the culture of the country you're visiting. And the longer you stay in a country, the more important your travel etiquette becomes.
Germany is a fascinating country with a long history and a vibrant, multi-faceted culture. It’s a popular travel destination, to be sure. However, due to how rapidly it modernized after World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is often a misconception that it’s more similar to the United States than it really is. This is the mistake many tourists make when they make their first trip there, which can lead to some rather interesting faux pas.
So if you're planning a long-term trip to Deutschland, whether you're a student, business person, or simply a long-term vacationer, here are 4 travel etiquette tips that should guide your travel.
1. Don't Generalize
From the outside, it's easy to judge Germany as a single cultural entity of inhabitants who love Sauerkraut and beer, know how to party in October, and enjoy their Christmas markets. But as anyone who has lived or stayed in the country for a while will tell you, the reality is much more diverse.
Germany, as you probably know, was not established as a single nation until 1871. Before then, it was a loose collection of independent states, all with their own customs and cultural habits. And as it turns out, regional cultures still reflect that independence between the various states.
Northern Germans will scoff at the suggestion that Sauerkraut is a delicious meal, much like Southern Germans will raise their eyebrows at the wide variety of fish meals that are ingrained in Northern German culture.
Of course, we realize that we're falling into the generalization trap ourselves here; you will find northern Germans who like Sauerkraut, and southern Germans who love pickled herring. But as a whole, going into Germany with the assumption that you already know the local culture can lead to misunderstandings and irritation.
2. Know the Language—At Least A Bit
One great aspect of traveling to Germany is the fact that you will encounter a wide range of people who just can't wait to show off their English skills. Depending on your exact location, you can stay in the country for months without speaking a single word of English. But that doesn't mean you should.
Knowing at least a couple of polite German words and phrases—from "Danke" and "Bitte" to "Auf Wiedersehen" and "Guten Tag"—can help you endear yourself to local residents, who will appreciate your effort to learn their language.
If you stay long enough, additional knowledge of the language will come natural. Until then, learning a couple phrases while still relying on your hosts' English knowledge is an ideal combination.
3. Know Your Tipping Rules
One of the most important aspects of travel etiquette in any country is knowing how to behave in a restaurant, and that's no different in Germany. Generally accepted tipping rates are 5-10%, but you should always end the final payment in a full amount.
There is one caveat to this rule: do not tip the owner of a restaurant. Doing so is considered an insult in Germany, as the owner of any establishment is already considered in the original bill. If you have trouble establishing whether your waiter is the owner (which, especially in small restaurant, is not uncommon), don't be afraid to ask.
One final tip when it comes to restaurants: be sure to carry enough cash. Many restaurants still don't accept digital payments, and checks are long out of fashion in the country, so cash is your safest route when it comes to paying your bill.
4. Be Honest and Direct
Many foreigners, especially Americans, report being thrown off by the directness of interactions with Germans. If you ask someone how they're doing, don't be surprised if you get an honest answer that may not always be positive. When you offer someone a drink and they say no, they mean it.
Germans generally avoid "floskeln," polite small talk whose meaning can't be taken seriously. Instead, they try to make conversations count, saying what they mean with less worries about how it might be received. Once you get used to this direct honesty, it will actually be refreshing.
The longer you stay in Germany, the more important it becomes to understand and adjust to the various customs of the country. For more information about travel tips and tricks (along with a great way to get around the country and continent as a whole), subscribe to this blog!
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