Cultural Comparisons 3

Daily Life in the USA vs. GermanyPart 3

In the charts below you’ll find a simplified comparison of various customs and everyday culture in the United States and Germany (Deutschland). For more details, click on any linked topic. See the bottom of this page for a complete list of topics.

Hamburg church wedding

A wedding party at a church in Hamburg, Germany. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Cultural Differences between the USA and Germany
(5) Religion and Morality (Part 1)
The American black leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was named for Martin Luther. The German Martin Luther (1483-1546) was the founder of the Protestant Lutheran faith.
Americans have many churches and synagogues – and many people attend church or synagogue regularly. Few Germans are churchgoers. Their beautiful churches and cathedrals serve mainly as tourist attractions.
Americans have many different Protestant religious denominations, along with the Catholic, Jewish, Islamic and other faiths. Germany is roughly half Catholic and half Protestant (Lutheran, Evangelisch), with several other religious minorities (Muslim Turks, Jews). Non-Lutheran Protestant faiths are considered “sects.”
Church and state are kept separate, and the US Constitution calls for this separation. Church and state are almost inseparable. Most official German holidays are religious. One of the largest political parties is called the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
The government may neither support nor interfere with religion. Churches must fund themselves though contributions by their members. The government collects a church tax (Kirchensteuer) to fund the Catholic and Lutheran churches in Germany (but not from Jews, Muslims or non-church members). The only way to avoid paying the tax is to officially leave the church, which many Germans do.
Religion and religious symbols are generally not allowed in public schools. Religious instruction for Catholics and Lutherans is usually part of the public school curriculum. Jews, Muslims and other minorities do not have to attend these classes. A ban on the display of crucifixes in Bavarian public schools was unpopular.
Evangelicals and the religious right are a political force. Germans view “evangelicals” and the religious right with suspicion and skepticism. Few people hold such beliefs in Germany.
Openly being an atheist or even non-religious can make you socially unacceptable. A politician who admits to being an atheist would have a hard time getting elected. The percentage of people who believe in God is higher in the US than in any other modern industrialized nation. Many Germans, especially in the east, do not believe in God, and do not take the Bible literally, even if they have ever read it, which is rather unlikely. One of the few exceptions is the state of Bavaria, which is 90% Catholic and more religious than most of Germany (but church attendance is rare even in Bavaria).
Scientology and Germany: The war between the German government and the so-called Church of Scientology has a long and bitter history that dates back to 1954, when the American hack science-fiction writer Lafayette Ronald Hubbard founded his “Dianetics”-based church. Germany has seriously discussed banning Scientology, and Americans are usually surprised by the strongly negative attitude of most Germans concerning this faith. – For more, see Religion and Germany and Tom Cruise and the Scientology Controversy.
More: This topic is continued in the chart below.
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In the next section below, we continue to compare how the two cultures deal with religion and morality.

Cultural Differences between the USA and Germany
(6) Religion and Morality (Part 2)
A church wedding is legal in the eyes of the state, even though a judge or government official can also perform a marriage ceremony. A church wedding is not legal in the eyes of the state. Most couples get married at the local city hall by a government official in the Standesamt. Some may have a church wedding after the “official” wedding, but that is strictly optional.
Although a couple living together without being married is not unusual, marriage is still considered important, especially if there are children. Many German couples, even those with children, live together without getting married. The percentage of unmarried couples is much higher in Germany than in the US.
The Puritan ethic still dominates society and public discourse. No nudity or swearing is allowed on network television. Sex is considered worse than violence in movies and on TV. A film with some nudity may get an “R” rating in the US, while violent scenes usually get only a PG rating. Germans are much more tolerant of nudity, even on regular television. Violence is considered much more objectionable than sex in movies and on TV. A violent film will get the equivalent of an “R” rating in Germany, while bare breasts or frontal male nudity is considered OK for anyone over age six.
Abortion is a highly devisive, hotly debated issue. Political parties use abortion as a weapon. Abortion (Abtreibung) is not a major political issue. The German Catholic church is against abortion, but most German Catholics ignore that fact, although abortion is not that common.
Despite a higher rate of church attendance, Sunday is just another day to go shopping in most parts of the US. Even in the deep South, the old “blue laws” that kept businesses closed on Sunday have faded away. Although few Germans go to church, Sunday is truly a day of rest! It is a family day with no work, and there is no shopping unless you go to a train station or a gas station minimart. City centers are dead on Sunday.
Except in parts of Nevada, prostitution is illegal but widespread in the US. Prostitution is tolerated and there are legal, regulated red-light districts in almost any larger German city.
Homosexuality is viewed differently in different regions and by various groups. Generally, gays are more accepted in big cities than in rural communities. Homosexuality is more widely accepted, but not without some degree of opposition. There are gay communities in Berlin (which recently had an openly gay mayor) and other large German cities.
Homosexual marriage is still controversial, but in June 2015 the US Supreme Court made it legal nationwide, after many states had done so on their own. Homosexual marriage is not allowed. Homosexual partnerships are legally recognized, but do not truly offer the same benefits as marriage. In some ways there is more anti-gay legal discrimination in Germany than in the US.
Since 9/11, Muslims are increasingly viewed with suspicion, but freedom of religion is still a strong US belief. Although there is a large minority Muslim (Turkish) population in Germany, attempts to build mosques in Cologne and other German cities have met with resistance.
More: Religion in Germany and Tom Cruise and the Scientology Controversy (GW Expat Blog)
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Next | Cultural Comparisons – Part 4

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Next | Cultural Comparisons – Part 4

One thought on “Cultural Comparisons 3

  1. > Although you qualify by saying generally, I am not aware of anything that would not allow religious symbols into a public school in the U.S. This may be not an issue as many minority religions home school.
    > Marriage requirements differ by state, but most at least require a signed marriage license from the state. A “wedding” is not usually considered a legal marriage.

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