Life and Customs: Germany versus Sweden

Expats living in Europe have a unique opportunity to travel and visit interesting places in many countries. Traveling from Berlin to Stockholm, for instance, is only a 75-minute jet flight – about the same time as flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the USA. If you’re an expat who hasn’t been taking advantage of this, it’s time to start!

Recently, I had a chance to compare some of the customs and practices in Germany and Sweden. I was surprised by some of the differences, but I have written about similar differences before in “Comparing Germany and France and…” Here are a few interesting and practical cultural comparisons between Germany and Sweden.

Living as an expat in Germany or Austria, it can be easy to forget that the EU does not equal the euro. Most of the time it does, but as soon as you venture off to Scandinavia, the UK or eastern Europe, you are reminded that there are still ten European Union member nations (out of 28) that do not use the euro.[1] You are transported back to a time when travelers in Europe had to exchange money at the border when entering another country – back to the days of French francs, Spanish pesetas, Italian lira, and German marks. (Prior to the Schengen Agreement of 1995, travelers also had to get their passports checked and stamped.) Traveling from Germany to Denmark, for instance, means exchanging euros for Danish kroner (DKK, 1 krone = €0.13 or $0.14). If you head to Switzerland (not an EU member), you’ll need to use Swiss francs (CHF).

Stockholm harbor

Stockholm’s busy harbor is also a scenic tourist attraction. PHOTO: H. Flippo

Much of today’s money exchange problem is solved by another recent development: the wide use of credit cards, especially in Scandinavia. Need to pay for a taxi? The driver grabs his portable credit card reader and wirelessly processes your card. Any shop, grocery store or restaurant will gladly accept your credit card for payment.[2] Continue reading

10 Things Expats Miss After They Leave Germany

From Driving to Doors and Windows: Things Expats Miss

Reverse culture shock can be disconcerting, even scary. While driving in my hometown the other day, I had a flashback to my time in Germany when I noticed a few things that Americans do that contrast with normal practice in Germany and Europe. Some of them are funny, but more often they’re scary. Whether you agree with them or not, Americans and Germans (Europeans) tend to do things very differently. Not all of them have to do with driving, but I’ll start with that. Most of these ten items also apply to Austria and German-speaking Switzerland.

German door and windows

German doors and windows are among the things that expats miss when they leave Germany. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Part 2a)

Today I’m continuing my list of expat likes (the good), dislikes (the bad) and major gripes (the ugly) – all related to living in Germany. In Part 1 I began with “the bad,” but my “good” list has turned out to be even longer! So long in fact, that I need to split my “good” list in two. You can read the second half of the list in my next installment.

To reiterate: Germany is no more monolithic than the USA. Conservative Munich is not really anything like free-wheeling Berlin. But I have tried to list things that generally apply, and note those things that may be more regional in nature. Everyone’s good and bad list will be unique, but there are many cultural things that all expats in Germany can relate to. And, as I pointed out in my first section, I could make a similar list for life in the US. In fact, this German list is also a commentary in reverse on life in the US.

If you want a more neutral comparison of US and German culture, see our six German Way cultural comparison charts, starting with Driving.

My list is not prioritized! Since my “good” list has now grown to over 20 items, it would be even more difficult to rank them. For that reason, items in the list are not numbered. Okay, here we go, this time with the good… Continue reading

Germany’s Colonial Past

Today is the German national holiday, known as German Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit). October 3 only became a holiday in 1990 after German reunification following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Before that, East Germans celebrated their national day on October 7, the date of the founding of the German Democratic Republic in 1949. Few West Germans could have told you the date of the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany (May 23, 1949), and there was no West German equivalent of the American Fourth of July. Even the October 3 observance is pretty tame compared to Independence Day in the US. Nationalistic flag-waving is not really a German thing (except at soccer matches).

So it comes as a bit of a surprise, even to most Germans, to learn of Germany’s colonial past. Unlike Britain, Spain, Portugal and other European powers, Germany (Prussia) came late to the colonial game. Nevertheless, the German Empire (Deutsches Reich) extended its reach to territories located in Africa, the South Pacific and even China. Continue reading

Swabian Delights

Because most of my experience in Germany has been in the Southern half of the country, I often believe that all German food is as delicious as it is here in the region of Swabia. Occasionally, we venture North on vacation and I realize with disappointment that this isn’t true. Perhaps it’s a general European rule: the farther South you travel, the better the food. One dish that consistently gets the longest lines in every corporate cafeteria is the classic Swabian Linsen mit Spätzle (Lentils with Noodles). I have tried making this at home a number of times in the last ten years, but never with the amount of success I had this week. Here for you to recreate in your own kitchen is an admittedly imprecise recipe for this German favorite. I suspect that imprecision was the trick to perfection. Continue reading

An Oversimplified (Personal) History of Pilsner Beers

Like most Americans, my first exposure to German beer was to one of those mass produced brews designed for good shelf life and consistency… not necessarily for flavor or quality. Being lucky enough to have been living in San Francisco at the time, I was exposed to a variety of better beers than that.

Microbreweries were (and still are) everywhere. A world of bocks, porters and stouts was where I lived predominantly. From time to time, however, I ventured into the lighter side of things… pilsners.

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