GRAFENWOEHR, Germany – Willkommen at US Army Garrison Bavaria! Moving abroad can be incredibly stressful, so here is some helpful information regarding the most important cultural differences newcomers experience when permanently changing stations to Germany from America.
1. Cash is king
While credit cards are a universally accepted method of payment across America, they are not accepted everywhere in Germany. While some German businesses only accept certain credit cards or only accept card payment for a certain amount of expenses, other establishments may not accept credit cards at all, such as bakeries. To be on the safe side, make sure you have spare Euros in your wallet when shopping.
2. The price tag always shows taxes
In Germany, the price on the label already includes value added tax, which is usually 19% or a reduced rate of 7%. In general – no matter where in Germany and no matter the product – the price indicated on the price tag is the price paid at the checkout. Additionally, Department of Defense personnel stationed or temporarily assigned to Europe may be eligible to use the US Forces Tax Relief Program to avoid paying VAT on their personal purchases.
3. Different units of measurement
Germans use the metric system for most measurements, use Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, and even label clothing sizes differently than Americans. While most international companies print the different sizes used in several countries, some stores only display the German size on their products. Also, German size charts – like S, M and L – differ from US size charts. In fact, they may even differ from other European size charts. Don’t be discouraged as most stores and store clerks have conversion tables to help customers find the best fit.
4. Bring a reusable shopping bag
Often customers bring their own shopping bags to German stores. This is accepted and encouraged to prevent customers from purchasing new single-use bags, thereby reducing the amount of waste produced. If customers require a bag, it can be purchased at checkout for a nominal fee. In addition, once at the checkout, customers must quickly pack their own groceries. Cashiers are encouraged to scan products as quickly as possible to avoid customer traffic, so customers need to pack groceries into shopping bags just as quickly. Bagger positions generally do not exist in Germany.
5. Reduced opening hours of shops, gas stations and restaurants
In general, most – if not all – Bavarian shops are closed on Sundays. Exceptions include bakeries, petrol stations and supermarkets at stations. In addition, department stores, grocery stores and banks must close entirely on public holidays. Restaurants generally stay open on public holidays and on Sundays, but they tend to have one day off per week, mainly Mondays. When shopping for the economy, it’s best to check opening hours in advance.
6. Different regions recognize different holidays
While federal holidays are celebrated throughout Germany, it can be difficult to determine at a glance which regions celebrate religious holidays. While Protestant holidays are generally celebrated throughout Germany, Catholic holidays are only celebrated in Catholic regions displayed. This means that depending on the religious denomination of the area, holiday closures may or may not be implemented. This determination may vary from city to city. So, to avoid the disappointment of standing in front of closed doors, it is best to research important areas of religious affiliation beforehand.
7. Dogs allowed in restaurants
In Germany, dogs are generally allowed to accompany owners in restaurants. However, supermarkets and butchers do not allow furry friends inside. The general rule is that dogs are not allowed in businesses that sell unprocessed food. But since each establishment can decide its own pet policy, it’s safest to ask or look for signs indicating a no-dog policy.
8. Restaurant water and refills are not free
Compared to American restaurants, water is usually not free. The expectation is to order and pay for bottled water, as restaurant menus do not mention tap water or ‘Leitungswasser’. Additionally, Germans tend to drink sparkling water as a refreshment, so specifying the type of water – still or sparkling – is essential when ordering from a menu. Finally, keep in mind that each order is an individual purchase. Refills are not free.
9. Reduced legal drinking age
While many countries have a legal drinking age of 21, Americans might be surprised to learn that this age is much lower in Germany. Beer and wine can be purchased and consumed at age 16, and other alcoholic beverages at age 18. Although this brings more freedom, members of the community should drink responsibly at all times. Drivers beware, if charged with a DUI in Germany, the repercussions are immense.
10. Recycling is serious business
In Germany, if someone is caught throwing away recyclables or not sorting waste properly, it can lead to critical stares or even fines. Waste should be disposed of in different bins depending on the material and divided by color. For example, paper goes in a blue trash can, while plastic waste goes in a single yellow trash bag. Some bottles and cans have a small charge called a “Pfand,” or deposit, and they can be returned to a store for a refund. Meanwhile, other Pfand-free bottles and cans should be sorted at community recycling centers.
11. Common misconceptions about speed regulations
Contrary to popular belief, Germany has speed regulations. In town, the maximum speed limit is 50 km/h, unless otherwise stated. On the Bundesstrasse, or federal highway, the maximum speed limit is 100 km/h, unless otherwise indicated. And while some sections of the autobahn, or freeway, are marked off, the recommended speed limit is 130 km/h. When speed limits are posted on the highway, traffic must follow the rules.
12. Popular cycling culture
Many Germans use bicycles for commuting to work, school, or simply as an outdoor activity. In Germany, large cities have elaborate cycling infrastructure, but older German cities may have unclear junction situations. While the number of bicycle users increases in good weather, cyclists are still encountered in bad weather, including rain and snow; therefore, motorists should always be aware on the streets.
13. Quiet hours and noise control
Quiet hours are mandatory times when noise, such as loud music or loud chores, must be regulated and kept to a minimum in neighborhoods. At night, the official silent hours last from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. During the day, silent hours may vary depending on the landlord’s lease agreement, but generally they are from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Additionally, on weekdays, Sundays, and some public holidays, quiet hour regulations apply throughout the day. In the worst case, non-compliance can be sanctioned by evictions by the owner or fines by the police.