- Download our Moving to Germany Guide (PDF)
Expats from elsewhere in Europe or North America have little trouble adjusting to their new surroundings in Germany, but there are a few things in German culture that may take some getting used to.
We recommend taking the time to learn about local cultural norms and having a basic knowledge of German, which will certainly go some way in helping expats overcome culture shock in Germany.
Language barrier in Germany
Many expats find that getting to grips with the German language is their biggest cultural hurdle. Although many Germans speak English as a second language, there's no guarantee that everyone an expat comes across will be able to speak it fluently or even basically.
It's a good idea for expats to take some German lessons before they move. Being able to speak a few basic phrases is advantageous in a working environment and will make socialising with locals easier.
Germans usually appreciate it when foreigners try to communicate in their language and are often willing to help new arrivals improve their language skills.
Cultural etiquette in Germany
New arrivals soon find that Germans generally value order, privacy and punctuality. Careful planning and preparation help many people maintain a sense of security both in their business and personal lives.
People in Germany tend to adhere to rules quite strictly, and they'll often let people know what's expected of them. Expats shouldn't be offended if someone corrects their behaviour, for instance telling them that they have parked incorrectly – keeping each other in check is seen as a social duty and just part of cultural etiquette in Germany.
Germans generally believe there is a proper time for every activity, and many choose to keep their work and personal lives separate.
Efficiency is also important in the workplace. When the work day ends at around 4pm or 5pm, people are expected to leave. If someone stays after normal business hours, it usually isn't seen as a sign of extra effort but rather that they didn't plan their day well.
Punctuality is important in business and social arrangements, and being late for a meeting is seen as disrespectful. Expats should make every effort to arrive on time and let their associates know if they're running a little late.
Food in Germany
While expats will certainly find a wide range of international cuisine as well as various health foods in the main urban centres of Germany, it may take a while to get used to traditional German food.
German cuisine is highly meat-based, so vegans and vegetarians may struggle at first. But it shouldn't take too long for new arrivals to familiarise themselves with traditional foods and find something that meets their dietary requirements. Traditional German food tends to be very hearty and rich. Portions tend to be on the larger side as well.
Communication in Germany
Germans may seem unfriendly and unemotional at first. But this is often because they respect each other's privacy. Similarly, being loud or angry in public is seen as a sign of weakness.
Expats should be careful about complimenting people and do so sparingly – too many can come across as false and embarrass a person rather than flatter them.
While they are generally polite, Germans tend to communicate directly. This type of honesty may cause offence in other cultures, but it's appreciated and expected here. Locals also enjoy their personal space and avoid touching people while speaking unless they're family or close friends. It's best to keep an arm’s length of space when talking to acquaintances.
►For information on managing your finances, see Cost of Living in Germany
"Germans are very honest. Most of the time I don’t have a problem with it, but there are people who are very tactless about telling the truth. Where I come from in the States, people are polite to a fault and sometimes avoid the truth as a result."
For more on Marisa's experiences as an American expat in Germany, read our interview with her.
Are you an expat living in Germany?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Germany. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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