5 Misconceptions About Germany
5 Misconceptions About Germany
Germany is somewhat of a mystical place to Americans. Before I spent a lot of time in Germany if you would have asked me to give a few words that came to mind when someone said Germany I probably would have said sausage, beer, autobahn, Hitler, rude. I don’t think the obligatory history classes I took in school really gave me an accurate perspective on what exactly Germany is about or like. The image my mind conjures up is one a lederhosen-wearing German man who drives his BMW 190 mph on the autobahn who likes to drink beer and eat sausage every day. 🙂
This is simply not true. Germans are very kind, friendly, warm, people. They have a sense of humor (yes they actually laugh) and I have always felt very welcomed there. When I am visiting my friend Christiane her mother goes out of her way to make sure I am well fed and attended to. So much so that my own mother’s jokes that I should not expect the same treatment when I return home and that I am being spoiled.
I think the difference is that Germans are very literal and Americans are not…at all. Germans do not beat around the bush about anything. If you don’t want an honest opinion about your outfit don’t ask your German friend. They will give you an honest, objective opinion whether good or bad and not think anything about it. If they don’t like it they will say so. If I asked an American friend if they liked my outfit they would probably either just say yes or say something like “yeah I do. I mean…it’s nice. I mean I really like the top but maybe you should try those other pants on. I’m not saying I don’t like these on you, they look good too but maybe, yeah, try on the other ones so we can compare.”
In German culture, it is not considered rude, to be honest and straight to the point, whereas Americans like to talk with lots of fluff. One example is that in Germany people in passing don’t exchange the pleasantry of asking one another “how are you” unless you are really, truly, interested in how this person is. You know how it is in the US EVERYONE asks “how are you” from the Starbucks barista, to your boss, to the lady at the bank but no one expects a real answer. It goes like this:
“how are you?”
“how are you?”
and then you go on your way. This is totally and completely normal and happens multiple times a day. Not so in Germany; in fact, it’s considered strange and odd behavior. If you ask someone how their day is or how they are doing it is because you’re really interested and you really want an in-depth answer; it is not a pleasantry.
So it’s not that Germans are rude or unfriendly, quite the opposite. They are just literal and straight forward.
This is the top misconception really. That Germans dress in dirndls and lederhosen, live in half-timbered houses, drink enormously huge mugs of beer in enormously huge beer halls, and eat insane amounts of sausage (wurst) and sauerkraut. This is the stereotypical image that Americans have of Germany but it couldn’t be more incorrect.
Most tourists don’t realize that this image that’s been burned into our minds of Germany by watching such wonderful movies as “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” is really laughable and only represents a small state in Germany called Bavaria or Bayern. There are actually 16 different federal states in Germany all with their own customs, cultures, food, history, and accents. To put this into perspective it would be like expecting every American to be a cowboy boot wearing, pistol toting, horse riding, southern drawl having, Texan. And just as this Wild West imagery of Texans is not realistic in modern-day neither is the dirndl-wearing, beer stein drinking German.
Now, don’t get me wrong, you can find plenty of shops selling Lederhosen and Dirndls in Munich but these are mostly for tourists. Germans also do love their wurst and sauerkraut but the typical German dishes are much more varied. See my post on German cuisine.
Outside of Bavaria, Germany is so vast and each region is so different from the next. This was one of the most surprising things about Germany to me. Cologne is so different from Berlin is so different from Munich is so different from Frankfurt. Even though Germany seems relatively small in comparison to the US there is so much to see and experience and each region are worth exploring. The biggest, most well-known German cities couldn’t be more different from each other. Berlin has such a hip, artsy, metropolitan vibe to it. Munich, while it does have the stereotypical Bavarian atmosphere, always comes across to me as very posh and aristocratic with lots of castles and history. Cologne’s very integrated with many cultures and a laid-back, yet culturally rich atmosphere. While Hamburg has a very Nordic, industrial feel to it. That’s not even mentioning all the all the areas in between.
There are a few countries that I have visited where I would really recommend just hitting the well-known cities and moving on (think Poland or Luxembourg) but Germany really needs to be enjoyed as a whole if your budget and time permits.
False! I am always blown away by how well most Germans speak English. In fact, I feel really, really guilty how awful my German still is. English is a mandatory subject now in German schools so most of the younger generations are either fluent or can speak/understand English very well. However I also really want to give credit to all Germans because I have met so many older Germans who speak rather great English. In fact, even though I always have my own personal German translator with me, Christiane, I have never ran into a huge language barrier in Germany.
Now in the smaller villages not having Christiane with me would be difficult but if you know a bit of German they most likely know a bit of English and things get accomplished. If all else fails hand gestures work wonderfully but I am always surprised how many people know English. Do yourself a favor and learn some basic German words before you visit. There is a lot of English speaking Germans but it is still polite to at least try to use the local language, but this is true for any foreign country you visit.
First let me say that Germans do not call it sausage, it is wurst. So yes, you will find a lot of wurst in Germany. In fact, each region has it own specialty wurst and most are quite delicious. Pretzels are abundant also but are usually only eaten at breakfast. You won’t find an Auntie Anne’s pretzel shops in the malls but you will find a lot of chocolate and meringue pretzels at the Christmas markets.
Typical German food is varied. I have had some really wonderful fish dishes, some amazing veggie dishes, the best Indian food I have ever eaten, and of course the Turkish Doner Kebap which is synonymous with Germany.
It’s a bit like saying Americans mostly eat hamburgers and fried chicken. We do eat these things but it is not all we eat. Of course, you will find all the typical German dishes served in most touristy restaurants or pubs in Germany but you would really be doing yourself a disservice to not step out of the box a bit and try different things. Some of my favorite foods to eat in Germany are Flammkuchen, a sort of German inspired pizza, and German goulash stew with dumplings (I call them balls).
If you want to experience traditional German food try to stay away from the restaurants in the most popular sections of the city that mainly cater to tourists. You will get traditional German food but at an outrage cost and it is usually mass-produced and lower quality. Try the side streets or ask the locals where they eat. One exception to this might be the Hofbrauhaus in Munich because, well, all tourists must stop there when in Munich. Seriously, isn’t that a law??
As for beer…well, Germans do love their beer.
This might be the most amusing misconception to me because everyone in America has heard of the famous autobahn. There is no speed limit and you can drive as fast as you want, crazy Germans, right? Ummm not really. First of all the Autobahn is just the name for Germany’s interstate system, think US I-5 or I-80. There are many different parts or sections of interstate just as there are many different interstates in the US. I am not sure why, when Americans think of the “autobahn”, we envision this notorious stretch of highway, which is located in some specific place in Germany, that you merge onto and drive 250 miles per hour and then get off with a rush of adrenaline having driven SO fast as if you just went bungee jumping or sky diving. I remember my first time on the autobahn and exclaiming “oh my gosh we are ON the autobahn” with a giggle as if it was the coolest thing ever.
The autobahn is simply the German interstate system and it most certainly does have speed limits. There are parts, very small parts, of the autobahn system that do not have a speed limit but the majority does and you would be wise to pay attention to it too so you don’t get caught by the speed camera and fined. As a tourist, in the parts of the autobahn that do not have a speed limit, stay to the right unless you plan on driving fast. Germans are very proud of their German autos like Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Audi and when they can they like to drive them fast, really fast. So fast that I have heard cars zip past my left shoulder and couldn’t make out what kind of car it was before it disappeared out of sight.