Culture Shock in Germany

Germany is largely similar to other Western cultures and the majority of expats from elsewhere in Europe or North America have little trouble adjusting to expat life in the country. However, there are a number of customs that are rather unique to the Germans and a few things that expats will need to adjust to during their time in Germany.

New arrivals will find that taking some time to learn about the local cultural norms and having a basic knowledge of the local language will help them overcome culture shock in Germany.

Language barrier in Germany

Expats moving to Germany will probably find that getting to grips with the local language is their biggest cultural hurdle. Although expats will find that in business circles many Germans speak English as a second language, it is important to note that a large number of people that expats meet on a day-to-day basis will not be able to speak fluent English.

Regardless of an expat's reasons for moving to Germany, it is wise to take some German lessons prior to relocation. Not only will being able to speak a few basic phrases be advantageous in a working environment, it will also help new arrivals communicate and socialise with the locals more easily.

Expats will often find that Germans appreciate it when foreigners try to communicate in German and are willing to help new arrivals improve their language skills.

Cultural etiquette in Germany

New arrivals in Germany soon find that the Germans value order, privacy and punctuality. Germans love to plan and know what they are doing at a specific time on a specific day. For many people in Germany, it is through careful planning and preparation that they can maintain a sense of security both in their business and personal lives.

Rules and regulations are valued in Germany and people tend to adhere to rules quite strictly. Germans see regulations as necessary in allowing people to know what is expected on them. Expats should not be offended if someone corrects their behaviour, for instance telling them that they have parked incorrectly. Policing one another is seen as a social duty in Germany.

It is common to find that Germans divide their work and personal lives quite rigidly. At work, Germans prefer to focus on the task at hand rather than being sociable and making small talk. Likewise, people avoid talking extensively about their work at social occasions.

Efficiency is also regarded as important in the workplace. The Germans believe there is a proper time for every activity. When the work day ends at around 4pm or 5pm, people are expected to leave the office. If workers remain at work after normal business hours, this is not viewed as a sign of a person being hardworking but rather as an indication that the person was unable to plan their day well.

Punctuality is very important in Germany, both in terms of business meetings and social arrangements. Make every effort to arrive on time for an appointment. If  running a little late contact the person and inform them of this. Arriving late for a meeting is seen as disrespectful.

Communication in Germany

Expats may find Germans unfriendly at first. However, this is often because they are reserved and want to maintain a degree of privacy. Germans are very reserved and do not show emotions publically. Getting loud or angry in public is seen as a sign of weakness.

Be careful about complimenting people too much and do so sparingly – in Germany too many compliments can come across as false and embarrass a person rather than compliment them.

While they are generally polite, Germans tend to be quite direct in the way they communicate. This type of honesty may cause offence in other cultures, but in Germany it is appreciated and expected.

Furthermore, Germans, in general, enjoy their personal space when conversing.  It is best to keep an arm’s length of space when talking to a German social acquaintance. Germans avoid touching people while speaking, unless they are close family or friends, as this is seen as an invasion of privacy. 

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