Culture Shock in Germany

Expats from elsewhere in Europe or North America have little trouble adjusting to their new surroundings, but there are a few things that expats will need to get used to.

Taking some time to learn about local cultural norms and having a basic knowledge of German will help expats overcome culture shock in Germany.

Language barrier in Germany

Many expats find that getting to grips with German is their biggest cultural hurdle. Although many Germans speak English as a second language, there's no guarantee that everyone expats meet will be able to speak it fluently.

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 value order, privacy and punctuality. Careful planning and preparation helps 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're seen as letting 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 keep their work and personal lives separate. At work, they focus on the task at hand rather than making small talk, and they avoid talking extensively about their work at social occasions.

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 their being hard-working but rather that they didn't plan their day well.

Punctuality is important too, 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 very meat-based so vegans and vegetarians may struggle at first. However, it shouldn't take too long for new arrivals to familiarise themselves with traditional foods and find something that meets their dietary requirements. Furthermore, 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 compliment 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. Furthermore, locals 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.

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