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Expat in Germany: Canadian Habits in Germany

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Canadian Habits in Germany

I'm a big believer of the old saying "When in Rome, do as the Romans do", but there are a few Canadian habits that I just can't shake in Germany and yes, that includes thinking that red really is the best colour  for police uniforms as it is the traditional color of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (R.C.M.P) and yes that also includes spelling "colour" with an "u", the Canadian way.

Canadian Habit #1:
Saying "no thank you" (but in German of course).  Germans typically just say "no", saying "no thank you" is considered very polite and not necessary, but my mom taught me well and I can't just say "no."  To my Canadian ears it sounds so rude, even though it is perfectly acceptable in Germany.  Besides, it provides comic relief for the Germans as evidenced last night when the cashier at the supermarket asked if I wanted my receipt, I replied "no thank you" and she and the other two people standing in line couldn't help but giggle.  Glad that this Canadian habit gives some Germans a small chuckle, because it's not one I'm likely to break anytime soon and I guess it's better to be overly polite than rude.

Canadian Habit #2:
When I see someone, the first thing out of my mouth is usually "Hi, how are you?"  Believe it or not this is considered a slightly strange question in Germany.  Germans don't ask how you are, unless they REALLY want to know.  They don't see the point of the North American answer "fine thanks, and you?"  If they ask how you are, they really want to know and don't just want a one word answer.  Most of the time, they don't really want to know, so they don't ask.  This seems simple enough, and I actually like it, since most of the time in Canada when we ask "How are you?" we really don't want to know about your sick dog or how you ran out of breakfast cereal, or had a fight with your husband...We are only expecting a one word answer.  Having said, that, it's a hard Canadian habit to break.  Fortunately J.P. says that Germans understand that this is a U.S./Canadian habit and don't take offense to it, although it bewilders them of why we would ask a question and only expect a one word answer. 

Canadian Habit #3
Saying "nice to meet you" when you first meet someone.  This seems harmless enough, but is usually not done in Germany.  Ever pragmatic, the German logic goes, "I just met you, how do I know whether it's nice to meet you or not?  I need to get to know you, then decide whether it's nice to met you or not."  I love this perspective and in North America, when we say this, we don't really mean it (after all we've just met you), it's just a figure of speech.  I actually like that Germans mean the words they say, much more so than we do in North America.  I'm getting better at this one, in part because of the awkward silence that follows after saying "nice to meet you" (I swear sometimes I can hear crickets).  Instead I try to say it after spending a couple of hours with someone, when I can confirm that it was indeed nice to meet them.

Of course, I have many other Canadian habits that I just can't seem to shake either, but those are another story...What habits do you have that you can't break when traveling/living abroad?

You may also be interested in:
Food and Drink in Germany Vs. Canada



At November 3, 2010 at 11:45 AM , Anonymous Andrew said...

The one that a Canadian friend told us about is the habit to say "excuse me" when you are bumped on the street, even if someone else ran into you.
Germans seem to just keep on moving.

I do the "How are you?" thing a lot. In German.;)

At November 3, 2010 at 11:59 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

Oh yes, this is so true! It's so Canadian to apologize for everything. Glad I'm not the only one who does "Wie gehts?", it's just such a habit :)

At November 3, 2010 at 1:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And who says there's no Canadian "culture"? Great post!

At November 3, 2010 at 7:50 PM , Anonymous Ivy said...

They both seems so cute (to my Asian eyes), the Canadian and German habits!

Here in Singapore, I think we are more along the Canadian lines, so we ask 'how are you' and say 'nice to meet you' just like Canadians/Americans do.

Maybe it is some sort of an English-speaking thing? When we first learnt English (I am not a native English speaker, not a native Singaporean either), one of the first things we were taught is to say 'how are you' and 'nice to meet you'! And it is taught as something that 'you must say'.

But I really like how Germans reason! Very rational and sensible - not necessarily pleasant to everybody, but actually makes quite a lot of sense, :D

At November 4, 2010 at 1:08 AM , Anonymous inka said...

#3 of your list is particularly true. You don't say: sehr erfreut when you meet someone. It is, in fact considered as a sign of poor education. You also don't say Gesundheit, or 'bless you' when someone sneezes. You just ignore the germ spreading. I love this blog.

At November 4, 2010 at 3:20 AM , Anonymous Robin said...

Enjoyed this - my fiancee is German and I think your post is as revealing of the German mindset as it is of a Canadian one.

At November 4, 2010 at 6:45 AM , Anonymous No Vacation Required said...

Really enjoyed this post. These little differences in how we communicate are fascinating.

At November 4, 2010 at 8:53 AM , Anonymous Norbert said...

Ha... I guess Germans go straight to the point with their "people skills"... even though I'm from Puerto Rico, I also grew up doing those habits whenever I meet someone. In my mind it's always good to be polite. But in the other hand, the German reasoning is solid...

At November 4, 2010 at 11:42 AM , Anonymous adventureswithben said...

I love #3. Although, maybe the act of meeting people is nice. I really enjoy your focus on the cultural differences between Canada and Germany. Makes the blog unique.

At November 4, 2010 at 5:08 PM , Anonymous Andrea said...

Thanks for posting this! I'm headed to Germany for the first time next year and I think Americans and Aussies will probably find this list helpful too. I have to say, I'm liking the Germans way of thinking, based on a few articles I've read over the past couple of weeks. Not big on small talk, straight to the point, practical - despite growing up in a different culture where pleasantries are often exchanged without thinking, I admire these qualities.

At November 4, 2010 at 6:08 PM , Anonymous John@Copy Games said...

It's really amazing how cultures differ in every country. What is looked at as nice and courteous in one country is looked at as being pointless and unnecessary in the next. Reading your posts really inspire me to take a trip to Germany. Really liked this post.

At November 5, 2010 at 5:35 AM , Blogger Wendi said...

I'm American but as you mention, these habits tend to be very North American and not just Canadian. This post made me laugh because I've been guilty of all of these - so much so that my father-in-law (who is German) recently told me straight out that I didn't need to say Thank You so often. And every time he calls and I ask "how are you" after his introduction there is this weird pause like I've caught him off guard (again!) with the question. I just can't stop asking and he just can't get used to it!

At November 6, 2010 at 12:51 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

Thanks for all your comments everyone, I enjoy hearing everyone's perspectives!

Ivy, great to hear from someone who is Asian. I think you're right that it is an English language thing as when I taught English in S. Korea and Thailand, we taught the same thing.

Inka, thanks so much for your comments. I had no idea that it was a sign of poor education - good to know. Also love your comment about ignoring the germ spreading :)

Robin - Excellent point. I find that I never feel more Canadian than when I'm in a different culture, and that's where you start to see the differences.

Norbert, great to hear from a Latino perspective. Interesting though is that the Germans don't consider this rude, some actually see us as being "fake" since why would you say something that you really don't mean.

At November 6, 2010 at 12:57 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

adventureswithben - good point, it doesn't have to be about the actual person

Andrea - you brought up another great point regarding small talk, I do it all the time and it drives my German fiance crazy. I'm working on this one. Glad that you found it helpful.

Wendi - glad to know it's not just me and how German is it that he "corrected" your "non-German" behavior? :)

At November 7, 2010 at 5:04 AM , Anonymous giselle @ siding replacement matthews said...

I enjoyed reading this one. This is so revealing and entertaining. As someone who doesn't travel much, this has been an eye-opener for me to start traveling.

At November 7, 2010 at 11:33 PM , Anonymous natalye said...

just found your blog and as a north american about to take the plunge and move to germany too (in about six months) i found it to be refreshing and informative. look forward to more posts from you.

At November 9, 2010 at 7:14 AM , Anonymous Sandra said...

I had the same problem with the 'nice to meet you thing' in Germany. I went for a job interview and suddenly panicked when the boss came to shake my hand. I had no idea that people don't say anything here for nice to meet you but I just stood there looking like a lemon for about 10 seconds after I introduced myself. It seems so weird not saying anything! Theres a gap that should be filled.

At November 9, 2010 at 4:05 PM , Anonymous Shawna said...

Are we too polite for our own good? Well, like you said, better to be too polite than to be considered rude. I have to say that every time I say "Hi. How are you?" to someone and don't really mean it, I question why it comes out so easily. Why can't I just say "Hi!" I am going to try it from now on.

At November 10, 2010 at 9:42 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

Thanks Natalye and good luck with your move. I've actually found the transition easier than expected!
Sandra - I agree its awkward at first and I admire Germans for being comfortable with that awkwardness, I'm definitely not. Hope the rest of the job interview went well.
Shawna, good idea. I'm working on it, but old habits die hard :)

At November 16, 2010 at 6:26 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I´m from the East Coast of the U.S. living in Germany, and have the same experience with "nice to meet you" and "how are you". One thing I want to add however is that Germans (at least where I am) often greet strangers walking by and always greet everyone else when entering a waiting room, which we NEVER do where I´m from. I often realize I´m being rude when it´s just my "don´t look or talk to strangers" mentality (probably more American than Canadian). Just my 2 cents!

At November 16, 2010 at 2:16 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are some regional variations of "how are you?" in German.
One that always makes me chuckle is:
"Haaaalllooooo FritzHansWilliStefanHeikeKlausBerndUlli""
"Hallllloooo SigridThomasAnkeSteffiAnnaMatthiasLisa!"

"Hm naja, muss so!"


Maybe I should translate this:
Person 1 meeting person 2: "Hello XYZ!",
jovial, in a light mocking tone.

Person 2: "Hello ABC!", a little less enthusiastic.

Person 1: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand?", loud and insisting, plus:

Person 2: "Well, it must..."

Does that make any sense to you?

Shorthand German.
Funny and surprising.

I like this blog.

At November 17, 2010 at 7:25 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

Anonymous - Very point point, especially in the waiting rooms. I've also noticed that Germans will say "Guten Apetit" to the next table in a restaurant if the tables are close together, which we would never do in Canada either. Thanks for point this out, that in some circumstances, we are the ones appearing rude, even if it is unintentional.

At November 17, 2010 at 7:27 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

Anonymous - Very interesting, I had no idea. Thanks so much for sharing! It seems I still have so much to learn about Germany :) Thanks so much for shedding more light on this and glad you are enjoying the blog!

At November 25, 2010 at 3:30 PM , Anonymous Maria said...

Thanks for the insights into German culture, which sadly I know nothing about. The aspect of small talk I found hardest to deal with in Singapore was the Chinese greeting "have you eaten yet?" Much like the German reaction to "how are you?", I couldn't understand why anyone would ask me such a question. Especially in its longer form, "have you eaten breakfast yet?" which would sometimes be asked mid-day. Eventually, I figured out the correct response was "yes," (or "eaten" in Mandarin, which has no word for "yes") just like the correct response to "how are you?" is "fine."

It took me a while to get used to, but if I'd wanted everything to be the same as it is in my home country, I never would have left it in the first place!

At November 29, 2010 at 10:29 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

Maria - Ah yes, I love the food small talk. They do this in Thailand too, at each meal they start planning out their next meal. I loved this! Being Canadian, I am more comfortable making small talk about anything, than saying nothing.

Your last sentence is so true!

At December 6, 2010 at 5:24 AM , Anonymous mae @ conference table said...

I love #3. Sounds logical but saying "Nice to meet you" to someone you just met seems harmless and exudes warmth. It avoids awkwardness from having to converse with someone you just met.

At December 14, 2010 at 10:18 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

I like it as well, but when you say it in Germany, it usually results in awkwardness.

At December 16, 2010 at 1:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you get in touch with someone for the very first time and you feel really comfortable with this person, you tell him/her "Schön, Dich/Sie kennengelernt zu haben!" afterwards.
That valorizes this contact - compared to others that you open broad-brush with "nice to meet you", as an empty phrase.

So maybe it does not have anything to do with Germans being rude but with being honest and sincere. What do you think?

At December 16, 2010 at 2:14 AM , Blogger Expat in Germany said...

That's good to know, I didn't realize that. I don't find Germans rude, I actually like the logic behind not saying "nice to meet you", I am just uncomfortable with the silence since I'm used to it. I find that most Germans are sincere and I appreciate this.

At December 16, 2010 at 4:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand completely - and feel the same way.
Sometimes it helps to talk about the weather, the atmosphere at the party or talking about the ambience, the location - subtle compliments about an item of furniture, a painting, the kids - whatever.

It depends on how your counterpart seems to tick - and also on the region you visit.

When I was in Northern Germany once I went to a pub and was sitting there trying to make up a conversation with another female tourist.
It was REALLY uncomfortable, as if I was telling dirty jokes.

But there was no problem with the locals who are ill-reputed as buttoned and introverted.

There really ARE differences but I always find it fascinating to discover them - and myself dealing with unexpected situations.


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