You Know You’re a Real Expat in Germany When…

Rossman store hours

Öffnungszeiten. Store hours. Never on Sunday! PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

A while back, someone in our Expat Forum posted a clever “You know you’re in Germany when…” I happened to run across that list again recently and thought I’d use it as inspiration for today’s blog entry. These brief “You know you’re not in Kansas any more when…” items often can tell us more about cultural differences than an entire chapter of a book — plus they usually bring forth a chuckle or two.

Here at The German Way we also have our own Cultural Comparison Charts which compare American and German daily culture and customs. Drawing from all of these sources and personal experience, here’s our German Way version of “You know you’re in Germany when…”

You know you’re a real expat in Germany when…

  • you’re used to separating the plastic, paper and bio trash before you toss it in one of the three under-the-sink bins;
  • you know how to type the @ sign on a German QWERTZ keyboard — and you no longer type “zou” for “you”;
  • you no longer take a sunny, blue-sky day for granted – in the depths of a long, gray German winter, or even in the summer;
  • “pay to pee” is just a normal part of daily life — at gas stations/rest stops, in department stores, and sometimes even at a restaurant or bar;
  • you are no longer startled by cars passing you doing 100+ mph on the autobahn;
  • you find it perfectly normal to see nudity and soft porn while flipping through the normal German TV channels (or the local newspaper);
  • you’ve taken so many train trips in Germany and Europe, you lost count long ago (“Senk ju vor träwelling”);
  • you are finally used to the checkout clerk at your corner Drogerie (drugstore), where you shop almost daily, acting like she has never seen you before in her life, but…
  • you exchange good-byes with perfect strangers when leaving an elevator or a train compartment;
  • you have a Handy (cell phone, or two) that works on both sides of the Atlantic;
  • you’ve learned to ask for ice in your soft drink — and sometimes don’t get it even then;
  • you think nothing of having to pay 14 eurocents a minute to call a company’s “customer service” line; Germans think you’re crazy when you tell them it’s always a toll-free-call where you come from;
  • you know that a taxi driver is more likely to accept credit cards than most restaurants;
  • you now take those marvelous German Kippfenster (multi-mode tilt windows) for granted;
  • you think $6.00-per-gallon gasoline ($1.55 per liter) is normal (and your American friends don’t really believe you when you tell them that German gas prices are more than double those in the US;
  • you are almost fast enough at bagging your own groceries to beat the supermarket checker before the next person in line starts to push you out (see Grocery Shopping in Germany);
  • you know where to find cilantro (Koriander) and tortillas — and you’ve learned the German substitutes for various favorite foods (or have a stockpile from home), but…
  • you’ve also learned to like various German food and drink items that you once had never even heard of;
  • you realize there is no such thing as a truly Mexican restaurant in Germany — even if it’s named “Acapulco”;
  • you have learned to deal with German traffic signals being on the “wrong” side of an intersection, and seeing four different signals at some intersections (one each for cars, pedestrians, bikes, and trams) — not counting the tiny one for the first car waiting for the light;
  • you’re dangerously close to turning into the typical German who bumps into someone without a word of apology;
  • you have come to appreciate the German Geldüberweisung (money transfer) system (especially online) and have almost forgotten what a “check” is;
  • you no longer need to convert Celsius temperatures to Fahrenheit;
  • you can easily convert 12-hour to 24-hour time, or vice versa, in your head;
  • one of your favorite TV shows is “Tatort” — especially your “own” regional version!
  • you can now understand your Turkish or Vietnamese corner grocer, who knows you as a Stammkunde (regular customer) — and is friendlier than the German Drogerie or supermarket clerks;
  • you could operate an ATM (Geldautomat) blindfolded — and you know where the closest five are located (because the first one is often out of order);
  • you carry and use more cash in a day in Germany than you did in a month in the USA;
  • you’ve memorized the bus or tram schedule for the stop near your residence, or you have it on your bulletin board;
  • you can enjoy a good bottle of wine (German, Spanish, French, etc.) for much less than a similar California wine in the USA;
  • you have an amazing collection of voltage transformers and adapter plugs, some of which still work (see Electrical Facts);
  • you think nothing of the five Smart cars parked on your street — and one of them is yours; on the other hand, with Germany’s excellent public transport, you may have no car at all;
  • you answer the phone with your last name;
  • you’re no longer apprehensive about transacting business on the phone in German;
  • you don’t even flinch when the Toilette lady comes in to clean while you’re standing at the urinal in a public toilet (WC);
  • you know that Sunday shopping is something very unusual (and that’s only in larger cities), so you plan ahead (or go to the train station if you forgot to plan ahead); see Shopping Hours in Germany;
  • you’ve grown used to driving and walking on cobblestone streets;
  • you know better than to ask for a “booster” seat or a high chair in a restaurant, realizing that you have a better chance of getting free water than a booster (some restaurants do have them);
  • almost everyone you know has a bike — and uses it often (even the 70-year-old lady on the fourth floor);
  • you often think of the German word before the English — and find yourself forgetting English words for certain things;
  • you have your own cloth shopping bags — and bring them with you when you go to the store (we learn fast when we have to pay for bags);
  • you love the fact that flowers and plants from the corner florist shop (Blumenladen) cost far less than what they do in the States;
  • you appreciate the way the Internet and online banking make expat life so much easier than in the “old days”;
  • you no longer take a second glance at dogs in a pub, restaurant, or on the U-Bahn (metro).

Feel free to comment and/or add your own expatriate items to the list in our comments section.


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2 thoughts on “You Know You’re a Real Expat in Germany When…

  1. Hi, Hyde Flippo,
    I just greatly enjoyed your blog on the German Way expat blog. My wife and I just returned to the depressed state of Michigan after 5 years in Germany (one in Muenchen, 4 in Weimar) and are having some difficulty recovering from being an expat. You chose some wonderful examples. Of course as an expat in the former East, there are some further differences. The DDR left its mark on nearly everyone and the most interesting are those who think back fondly on those days; the others rarely speak of the DDR days. Weimar was especially traumatized at the end of the war by the Americans leaving and the Russians coming in and brutalizing the local German population. Interesting that you pick on employees of the Apoteke as especially good as acting as if you’ve never been in their shop, even in a small Dorf like Weimar; it certainly fits our experience. One young woman in the Stadtapotek who always smiled when I came in and tried to talk English with me got looks of stern disapproval when she did so. from her coworkers.

    Great blogs. Now that I know of them, I’ll go back and read more.

  2. You know you’re a real expat in Germany when…

    You receive a delivery of beautiful flowers and your first thought is “Crud! Where am I going to put the giant cardboard box it came in because my “paper” recycling can is full!”

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