The One Exception to the German Punctuality Rule

Have you ever heard about German punctuality? You surely have. Swiss people may have the best watches, but it´s the Germans who are recognized worldwide for always being extremely on time.

As a newcomer, one of the first things you’ll get told by anyone who tries helping you blending in is to get yourself a planner, a large wall calendar or at least  to master how to use your smartphone’s notes function. Here paper and pen still hold a special place, and almost everyone still has handwriting that puts your ordinary scribbles to shame. Seriously, you will feel less cool while taking notes at a meeting or handing a napkin with your number to someone.) But why would you need all this? Simple, because Germans plan ahead, the serious kind of ahead. It is completely normal to make an appointment three weeks in advance to go to the movies with someone. If that doesn’t come as enough of a shock to you, I recently attended a culture-related seminar where I found out, on average, Germans’ furthest scheduled social event (this is confirmed and written down in the planner) goes as far ahead as 150 days. Meanwhile, the rest of us don´t even know what we will have for dinner tonight.

Of course all this is just “average”, “common”, “normal” and all those nice terms that work great when we are trying to forget diversity exists, that pretty much every individual is as complex as the universe and that, more often than not, it is the exception what makes the rule. Speaking of which, there is this thing in Germany that epitomizes the greatest exception to the German punctuality legend: Deutsche Bahn (DB).

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Summer holidays: a postcard from England

By David Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13731677

As every summer, we are holidaying in the north of England, where compared to Berlin the days are cooler and the evenings longer. I should be used to it because this is where I grew up and it has the unpredictable (or all too predictable) summer climate of my childhood. But after seven years in Berlin and before that seven years in the warmer south of England, I repeatedly pack the wrong clothes. So my light summer skirts stay folded in the suitcase and I wear the same inadequate jumper and cotton trousers day after day. This place feels so deeply like home but the years away mean that I look at it with different eyes.

The first point – which always strikes me on the plane – is obvious but true. Everyone is speaking in English with an accent close enough to my home town. For all the English spoken in Berlin’s cosmopolitan Prenzlauerberg, I rarely hear a Northern English voice. The children notice it too. “It’s strange to hear only English,” they say. In Berlin, English feels like a language just for us (though everyone must understand it), here it is a language for everyone. Continue reading

Taking Your Kids to the Beach Like a German

For the third year in a row, I have just returned from a fabulous beach vacation. Greece, Italy…we are apparently becoming European jetsetters (still fairly poor ones). Being in Europe allows you to make affordable vacation choices to unbelievable destinations.

Photo: Erin Porter

Despite our excitement, there were some reservations. Were we crazy to take a toddler on a beach holiday? Toddlers are the antithesis of a relaxing vacay. And how would we properly protect our girl against full-throttle elements when we routinely get the side eye from Germans in Germany on how we dress our kid? Here are the rules (as I understand them) about taking your kids to the beach like a German. Continue reading

German Toilets

Disclaimer: This post – as indicated in the title – is about toilets. Though there are no stories detailing dirty business, it is implied. If you prefer more heart-warming topics, why not consider my posts about my favorite Berliner and having a baby in Germany.

Behold! A German Toilet Photo: Erin Porter

The mysterious German Toilet
Photo: Erin Porter

Why are toilets feminine?  The toilet is “die Toilette auf Deutsch. One of the many pronouns that make no sense, I have time to contemplate this oddity of German as I use one every day and have sampled facilities across Germany. I would consider myself an expert.

And I think German toilets may be superior. Hear me out…

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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.

Money
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

A Prussian in Hawaii: Heinrich Berger and the Royal Hawaiian Band


The story of Heinrich (later Henry or Henri) Berger has fascinated me ever since I first learned about the Prussian military musician. Berger traveled all the way from Berlin to Honolulu in 1872 – no simple journey in that day and age. Prussian Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm I had sent Berger to Hawaii at the request of King Kamehameha V on what was originally supposed to be a four-year assignment to lead and improve King Kamehameha’s Royal Hawaiian Band. Except for two visits to his homeland and several band tours on the mainland, Berger would remain in Hawaii until he died in 1929. He would head the king’s brass band from 1872 until 1915.

I first wrote about Berger here in our blog in 2010, following a visit to Honolulu that year. During a return trip in June 2012, I learned more about Berger and his band. He arrived in Honolulu Harbor on June 2, 1872, following an arduous journey involving ships and trains. And it is his journey – and his life – that I want to discuss here. Continue reading

A Tramp Abroad: Observations of a Former Expat and Frequent Traveler in German-speaking Europe


As I find myself rediscovering many aspects of daily life in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, I can’t help but think of Mark Twain, who wrote so masterfully about his travels in Germany and Europe in A Tramp Abroad (1880, translated into German as “Bummel durch Europa,” including his essay on “The Awful German Language”). As I was zooming along the autobahn in my leased Peugeot the other day, the same thoughts entered my mind that occur to me when I motor across the vast deserts of the American West: How did people do this before there were cars, trains, planes, and the Internet?

Mark Twain’s mode of travel was certainly much slower, giving him a lot of time to contemplate the culture and sights he was experiencing. Mr. Clemens wrote with paper and pen. I’m writing on my laptop. He exaggerated and invented things at times. I may also exaggerate for effect, but I’ll try not to invent. Like me, Twain in A Tramp Abroad is no longer seeing Europe for the first time. “[A Tramp Abroad] has not the fresh frolicsomeness of the Innocents Abroad; it is Europe revisited, and seen through eyes saddened by much experience of tables d’hôte, old masters, and traveling Americans…” – William Dean Howells in The Atlantic.

That said, here are some of my own observations and rediscoveries, colored by long experience. Continue reading

How to Prep Your German Home for Long-Term Vacation

Lon-term Travel

Day 1 of parental leave Photo: Erin Porter

I am nearing 30-days away on my latest vacation. Well, Elternzeit (parental leave) is more accurate. We have almost 2 full months re-connecting with family in the big ‘ole US of A.

My American counterparts are in awe that people in Germany can take so much time off for simply having a child. Elternzeit can be taken by both parents for a total of 3 years up until the child’s 8th birthday for 64% of your regular pay (for the 1st year). It is a luxury and I am taking full advantage by spending time in my hometown, admiring the fabulous Americana. From the many, many old-school burger joints to the cheerfully advertised conceal and carry fanny packs I saw at the county fair tonight (Oh, America), I am enjoying.

But it is not just squeezing every precious ounce of time we have in America I needed to worry about. I also had a lot of prep on the Berlin home front to ensure we were able to enjoy our time away. Here are a few of the steps you should take to prep your German home for long-term vacation.
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