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Culture Shock in Germany... or Not

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Expat in Germany: Culture Shock in Germany... or Not

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Culture Shock in Germany... or Not

Before I left Canada, I was warned about the culture shock in Germany I would experience. Perhaps it's because I've lived abroad before (in S. Korea and Thailand) that culture shock in Germany hasn't seemed so obvious.  I was discussing culture shock in Germany with an American who has been here almost two years and he lamented that the only culture shock in Germany he had experienced was the lack of culture shock in Germany and in many ways I agree.    Yes, there are differences.  Canadians and Americans (I can't speak for other nationalities) shouldn't expect to move to Germany and think that everything will be the same here.  Yet despite the obvious differences:  language, different traffic rules, stores being closed on Sundays and Germans being more reserved when they first meet you, for example, I believe there are far more similarities.  Once Germans get to know you they are warm and friendly,  Germans enjoy spending time with their friends, enjoy watching movies, going out for dinner, meeting friends for a drink, watching or playing sports and traveling.  Germans also value hard work and family.  Does any of this sound familiar?  To me a lot of this sounds very familiar, so perhaps that's why I've only experienced very mild culture shock in Germany. 
 The culture shock in Germany that I have experienced for the most part has been very pleasant.  For example, more days than not, I pass by a castle (two on my way to school each day), which did not happen in Canada, but again this isn't exactly shocking, although it is very lovely.

By far the most culture shock in Germany that I experience is every day in my Intensive German class where there are 20 students from 15 different nationalities!  Now that's culture shock!

In summary, people moving to Germany from Canada and the U.S. shouldn't expect everything to be exactly like it is at home, since it isn't, but assuming you have traveled even a little bit, you also shouldn't be worried about experiencing extreme culture shock in Germany either - unless you count seeing castles on a daily basis as culture shock.

I would love to hear about your experiences of culture shock in Germany, or any other country!



At October 17, 2010 at 12:57 PM , Anonymous Justin said...

I agree, there is no culture shock in Germany. Your blog is pretty good, keep it up.

At October 17, 2010 at 4:29 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I come from Spain and had no culture shock either. I felt at home there :).

At October 18, 2010 at 12:08 AM , Anonymous Andrew said...

The culture shock here (in Germany) is from my experience not in the surface level. On the surface level, what you see in the first few months traveling, there is not very much different. Well not enough to be that frightening "culture shock" experience that is always talked about in every Study Abroad Prep lecture.
The culture shock for me here is the day to day differences that pile up after a while; and the very deep differences underneath the surface.
You mention hard working. Yeah that is certainly a shared trait, but the obsession of hard work is far different here. When I can't get someone to replace my windows for months because they take the entire month of August off. When the pharmacist takes 5 minutes to talk to me about the trip she took to America when she hears my accent and noone in the fairly long line complains. So some of the changes are pleasant and some are annoying. Any time I have to deal with beaucracy I feel the culture differences as well. How about the silly odd signs saying you may only recycle your bottles on weekdays from 9am until 7pm. So if I have a job, I have a window of 15 minutes to run home and grab my bottles.

Don't get me wrong, I feel at home here too. But there are differences and cultural things that will grate after a while; at least they do me. The nice thing though is that I only feel these things after some time. I have no problem having visitors come for weeks. They feel fine; but then they don't have to worry about signing up to get your own trashcan.

At October 18, 2010 at 4:32 AM , Anonymous Jen said...

I agree with Andrew - for me, the culture shock is the little day-to-day tasks and things that are deeper beneath the surface. It took awhile for me to feel the culture shock but it eventually started to come. I would even consider right now to be my toughest time in Germany. But it's different for everybody.

At October 18, 2010 at 3:59 PM , Anonymous nuk bottles said...

i think it would really just depend on how open you are to changes and how you adapt to where you are currently in... just my 2 cents.

At October 18, 2010 at 8:05 PM , Anonymous Zoe said...

What an interesting post! Someone I know here in Canada is from Germany and has been living here for a few years. She talks about how hard it is for her to this day to understand those underlying unspoken relationship rules we all take for granted because we grew up here. She says that she is used to expressing her opinions in a very direct way and here people take offense to that.
I know that, as Jen says, everybody is different. I find it a fresh perspective for me, though, to hear from someone who is not from here how they perceive the culture I take for granted.
Thanks for the post that is generating such great discussion!

At October 19, 2010 at 8:12 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

Thanks everyone for your comments and creating such an interesting discussion. Andrew and Jen, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I can see how it's the stuff just below the surface and the day/day things that can get to you after awhile. I'm buffered from this a bit having a German fiance who understands the rules, i.e. like when you are allowed to recycle glass bottles, but when I've been here longer, I may find also feel similar to both of you.

Zoe, thanks so much for sharing what it's like for a German in Canada. I can see how it would be difficult when you are used to speaking directly, and are no longer able to do so without offending people.

Great discussion, thank you and please keep your comments coming!

At October 19, 2010 at 6:58 PM , Anonymous Amy Thibodeau said...

Great post! When I moved to the UK from Canada, I definitely suffered from culture shock. I think if I'd moved to Japan or somewhere really different I would have assumed things would be different and I would have better prepared myself. But I wrongly assumed the UK would be exactly like home, only people would have an accent. As a result, for the first few months, I really recoiled against inconveniences and things that were different and unfamiliar. Little things like mustard (they use a different kind over there) would occasionally bring me to melt down stage. Now that I've got some distance from it, I realize that it wasn't about mustard, but about the fact that I wasn't coping with my culture shock. It's so nice to read about other people who've gone through similar experiences.

At October 22, 2010 at 7:18 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

Thanks for sharing your experience Amy. I also would have thought that the UK would have been similar. I know what you mean about the melt downs about the little things, I had one in S.Korea over Hamburger Helper of all things. I think I'm doing OK here since I expected more differences, so the differences I am experiencing don't seem that big, that and I keep comparing it to living in S. Korea and Thailand where I did have culture shock.

At October 25, 2010 at 2:30 AM , Anonymous Asian Girl said...

Interesting topic! While I have not lived in Germany for an extensive period of time (only stayed for a couple of months), I think I can still talk about this topic with a little bit of new perspective.

It is probably true that culture shock only comes after a longer stay and it is deeper than the superficial things, but it could also be that like you, I am expecting a much bigger difference and hence whatever I had experienced doesn't seem so bad.

My country of residence is an Asian country that is known for its efficiency, so given that, I had always expected to be a little more inconvenienced when I got to Europe, where everybody values vacations and leisure much much more. I can list all the concrete differences I had when I was there:

All the government institutes only opening in the morning; everything's close on Sunday; applying for student train tickets is so troublesome, etc.

But the strange thing was, I didn't really feel aggravated by all those at all. I think I was probably expecting a lot worse, and hence whatever it is, I can cope with it rather well. So in the end, I think one of the best preparation you can give yourself for culture shock is, to expect a culture shock.

At October 28, 2010 at 6:53 AM , Anonymous Ayngelina said...

Interesting post as you often hear about culture shock in Asia or Latin America but we forget that Europe is also different, albeit a bit more subtle.

At October 29, 2010 at 11:23 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

Asian Girl, thanks so much for sharing your experience. It's interesting that even though your country is much different than Germany, you haven't experienced much culture shock, even though you've noted the differences. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

Ayngelina, so true, even people moving within Europe from different countries could experience culture shock.


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