In recent years, the global workspace has opened up and travel has become more accessible. As a result, many people have chosen to become expats. Relocating to a new country is exciting but without the right guide to help you cultivate relationships with people in the new environment, it can quickly become stressful because the culture is different. However, difficult as it may be, you can learn to live and work successfully in a different country.
Admittedly, every expat has a different experience when you get into the specifics but there are a few things that they’ve all experienced some things at one point or another. When you examine all their stories, patterns begin to emerge. In this article, we look at five realities of being a new expat in Germany.
You won’t use your credit cards that often
Even though Germany is among the most tech-savvy countries, accepting credit cards is not a part of the economic culture as it is in other Western countries, especially in the US. Interestingly, even the businesses that do accept credit cards do not typically accept credit cards issued by German banks. In fact, it might be easier to pay for products or services with Bitcoin than using credit cards in some areas in Berlin.
The reason that many Germans are averse to the use of credit has to do with privacy and the permanent trauma that historical inflation left on the culture. In Germany, up to 80 percent of the transactions are done through cash. The average German typically carries about $120 in their pockets at any one time, which is about twice the amount the average Australian or American carries.
Small talk is uncommon
Small talk is natural and common in places like the US and Canada as a way of breaking the ice at a business meeting, for example. Germans, however, are not fond of these types of light-hearted chats. They prefer to have discussions about world matters and politics. Many view small talk as superficial and unsatisfying so trying to get into it will not win you a positive response. That is not to say that your workmates are not interested in creating building a rapport with you. It is simply a reflection of the fact that, in German culture, talking about yourself with colleagues especially is seen as getting too personal, which leads us to our next point…
People like to keep their personal and professional lives separate
As mentioned in the previous point, it is common for people in Germany to strictly adhere to the principle of keeping their professional lives separate from their personal ones. Unlike in the UK, for example, where it is not uncommon to see colleagues heading out for a beer together after work, it would be unusual to see colleagues in, say, Mittelstand do this because they generally would rather spend the evening with friends and family. In simple, work is work and friends are made elsewhere.
Compared to other Western cultures, Germans are known for being direct, be it inside or outside the workplace, whether dealing with cashiers in supermarkets or bank employees. If you’re new to the culture, you might misinterpret some cases of people being direct as rudeness. For example, when someone declines an invitation in English, they might usually say, „No, thank you.“
In contrast, Germans will typically simply respond with nein (no), which doesn’t usually carry a negative connotation in German, as a foreigner might mistakenly assume. When you encounter such directness, it is better to develop a thick skin and keeping in mind that it is not personal.
Speaking English only is not enough to get by
Sure, in some big cities and towns in Germany, you might run into some Germans that want to show you how good they are at speaking English. In fact, one politician in the country recently complained about the fact of German being given second-tier status in Berlin.
That is, however, not the full story. Speaking only English is not enough to get buy in Germany. So if you’re planning to become an expat in Germany, make a point of learning the language before you arrive. Being able to speak German will help you easily navigate social and professional relationships, so sign up for German classes at Wortland right away.
In the end, as you come across these and other aspects of German culture, the best way to deal with them is to put yourself in the shoes of the locals. Rather than judging these things in terms of right or wrong, try and look at them as simply different, and remember that German speaker in English-speaking nations might be having a difficult time learning how to engage in small talk.