10 super weird things about Germans that were a big culture shock when I moved here.
Moving to Germany is an exciting adventure, but it also comes with its own set of cultural challenges. As a foreigner, you’re bound to encounter some unexpected and unique customs that are considered normal in German society.
Join me as I explore 10 of the most peculiar and fascinating aspects of German culture that probably came as a shock to some of the country’s approx. 11.2 million foreign residents. Keep in mind, some of these cultural quirks may be specific to Bavaria where I live. Get ready to learn about Germany’s weird and wonderful ways!
1. Why do Germans stare so much? (a.k.a. The German Death Stare™)
One of the most noticeable and surprising cultural differences for many foreigners when moving to Germany is the tendency of Germans to stare. I guarantee all foreigners in Germany have experienced this and felt weirded out by it.
It’s uncomfortable and disconcerting behaviour for those of us who are not used to it. After all, British kids are raised not to stare.
Times I’ve experienced this:
- Driving in our UK-registered car when we first moved here (fair enough)
- Driving in our German-registered car
- Talking to my family on the phone in public in English
- Walking/Running/Cycling anywhere
- Trying my best to talk German to the lady at the bakery
- Wearing a band t-shirt
- Wearing colourful clothes
- Having bright red hair
But why do Germans stare so much?
One reason is that the Germans like to make sure everything is always in Ordnung. If you’re on the receiving end of a death stare, it could be that you’ve done something wrong. The direct gaze is their way of saying “you’re an idiot and you need to change your behaviour.”
Another reason is simply that Germans are direct and straightforward in their communication style. Something I actually find very refreshing. Unlike many cultures where we might make indirect eye contact or give a smile to indicate social cues, Germans may stare directly at someone to convey their message. This can sometimes come across as intense or even aggressive, but I think it’s often just a reflection of the German cultural preference for direct and honest communication. I could also be wrong.
How can you deal with the German death stare?
Without sounding too German about it, get used to it. Learn to stare back, or just accept that it’s a thing that happens to you. Alternatively, you can choose to take the British sarcasm route and ask if they’d like to take a photo.
2. Cake Forks & Teaspoons
Why do y’all keep a teaspoon in your coffee cup the entire time you drink it? A teaspoon is simply a tool. Use it to stir and then discard it!
Additionally, using cake forks can also be a sensitive topic in Germany. Who knew?!
We had some cake at my office and a colleague was in charge of cutting and serving it. When it was my turn, there were no cake forks left.
During a workplace cake event, a colleague was in charge of cutting and serving the cake. When it was my turn, there were no cake forks available. My colleague then sent an apprentice on a search for more. She exclaimed, “What will we use to eat cake? A spoon? Our hands? This is madness!”
Despite my insisting that a normal-sized fork or a spoon would suffice, I was met with a firm response to wait for the proper cake fork. Lesson learned.
It is generally only considered acceptable to drink before lunchtime when you’re in the airport bar, waiting to board your (inevitable) flight to Mallorca. Not in Germany (Bavaria).
When paired with a sausage and a pretzel, a pint of beer is completely acceptable to drink at 8am.
4. They’re obsessed with Scotland
If you live in another German state apart from Bavaria, please tell me if this is a national thing or just Bavarian?
Honestly, almost every single Bavarian I have spoken to – neighbours, colleagues, new friends – have been to, or desperately want to go to Scotland. And they go for a good 2-4 weeks!
Don’t get me wrong. I love Scotland. It’s a beautiful country. And I love that so many Germans don’t do that typical thing many people do when you say you’re from the UK. You know, “Oh my goddddd, I love London!” *eye roll*
But nobody can answer me exactly why they are all so obsessed with it.
5. Beer & Cola
The first time I saw this bizarre event occur, I was already a few beers deep myself and thought it was a personal preference of the person pouring the drink. Then I did a trial shift in the local Cafe and, it turns out, it’s a normal and popular drink to order.
In the UK, we are more than familiar with a Shandy – beer, or the more popular lager, with lemonade. But beer with cola? NO THANK YOU. It’s got regional names as well – Colabier, Colaweizen and Diesel being the most popular ones I’ve heard so far.
6. Giant Square Pillows & Folding the Duvet
This is the standard pillow size in the UK:
And this is the standard size of a pillow in Germany:
I joke, I joke. But the pillows are weirdly large here. We brought as much furniture as we could from the UK, and that included our bedding. But when it came to ordering new bed linen, I ordered a set online, only to find the pillowcase was double the size of my pillow!
Also, it is the norm to fold your duvet like this in Germany:
7. Crossing the Road
If you want to risk your own life and be run down by a car then that is totally up to you. But if you risk the crossing while a child is in sight, even god won’t help you. Your only hope is if you’re a fast runner. Those mothers, the elderly, people who weren’t even at the crossing. They’re coming for you. Good luck my friend.
8. Dinner for One
This is played every New Years Eve in Germany. EVERY. YEAR. It’s an English sketch, performed by English comedians/actors from the early 60s. Nobody in England has heard of it.
9. Contactless Payments
Up until very recently, paying by card in Germany was too much. In fact, many places (including the Bakeries) still only accept cash as payment. But during the pandemic, Germans had to learn to adapt because handling cash was considered less hygienic than paying by card.
They also have the ability to accept contactless and phone payments. But sweet lord if you ask to pay using this method they look at you like you’ve just asked them to perform open heart surgery.
In England, if you arrange to meet your friend at 6pm, it means 6-ish. More often than not, it means you’ll leave your house at 6pm. This is how we do timekeeping in England:
In Germany, though, if your neighbour tells you the BBQ starts at 6pm, they mean 5:45pm latest. Preferably 5:30pm so you can help. Circuit Training class starts at 7:15pm? If you’re not there by 7pm then you just need to guess what you’re doing!
So there we have it, 10 weird things about Germans. Please don’t take this personally, it’s a bit of fun. If you liked this post, be sure to check out my Culture Shock: UK vs Germany post!
The Brits are not innocent. We are also a very strange nation. Next week, I’m going to explore 10 weird things about Britain that I didn’t realise were weird until I moved abroad.
bis zum nächsten Mal / until next time,