GRAFENWOEHR, Germany – Willkommen to U.S Army Garrison Bavaria! Moving internationally can be incredibly stressful, so here is some useful information concerning the most significant cultural differences newcomers experience a permanent change of station to Germany from America.
1. Cash is king
While credit cards are a universally accepted payment method across America, they are not accepted everywhere in Germany. While some German businesses only accept certain credit cards or only accept card payment over a certain spending amount, other facilities may not accept credit cards at all, such as bakeries. To be safe, ensure you have spare euro in your wallet when you go shopping.
2. Price tag always lists tax
In Germany, the listed price on the tag already includes the valued-added tax, which is typically either 19% or a reduced rate of 7%. In general – no matter where in Germany and no matter what product – the price seen on the price tag is the price paid at the cash register. Additionally, Department of Defense personnel stationed in, or temporarily assigned to, Europe may be eligible to use the U.S. Forces Tax-Relief Program to avoid paying the VAT for their personal purchases.
3. Different units of measurement
Germans use the metric system for most measurements, use Celsius instead of Fahrenheit and even label clothing sizes differently than Americans. While most international companies print the different sizes used across multiple countries, some stores only display the German size on their products. Additionally, German size charts – like S, M and L – vary from American charts. In fact, they can even vary from other European size charts. Do not be discouraged because most stores and store clerks have converting tables to help customers find the best fit.
4. Bring reusable shopping bag
Often times, customers will bring their own shopping bags into German stores. This is accepted and encouraged to keep customers from buying new single-use bags, thus reducing the amount of trash produced. If customers are in need of a bag, they can be purchased at the register for a small fee. Additionally, once at the register customers are expected to quickly pack their own groceries. Cashiers are encouraged to scan products as fast as possible to avoid customer traffic, so customers are expected to pack the groceries into the shopping bags equally fast. Bagger positions typically do not exist in Germany.
5. Reduced operational hours of stores, gas stations and restaurants
In general, most – if not all – Bavarian shops are closed on Sundays. Exceptions include bakeries, gas stations and supermarkets within train stations. Moreover, department stores, grocery stores and banks must close entirely on public holidays. Restaurants usually remain open on holidays and Sundays, but they tend to have one rest day per week – mostly Mondays. When shopping on the economy, it is best to look up hours of operation beforehand.
6. Different areas acknowledge different holidays
While federal holidays are celebrated across Germany, it can be tricky to determine which areas celebrate religious holidays at a glance. While Protestant holidays are generally celebrated all over Germany, Catholic holidays are only celebrated in Catholic displayed regions. This means that depending on the religious faith of the area, holiday closures may, or may not be, implemented. This determination can change from city to city. So to avoid the disappointment of standing before closed doors, it is best to research the areas prominent religious affiliation beforehand.
7. Dogs allowed in restaurants
In Germany dogs are typically allowed to accompany owners to restaurants. However, supermarkets and butchers do not allow furry friends inside. The rule of thumb is that dogs are not allowed at businesses that sell unprocessed food. But since each facility can decide on their policy regarding pets, it is safest to ask or look for signs that indicate a no dog policy.
8. Restaurant water and refills are not free
Compared to American restaurants, water is not typically complimentary. The expectation is to order and pay for bottled water, because restaurant menus do not list tap water or “Leitungswasser.” Additionally, Germans tend to drink sparkling water as a refreshment, so it is essential to specify the type of water – still or sparkling – when ordering from a menu. Lastly, keep in mind that every order is an individual purchase. Refills are not free.
9. Reduced legal drinking age
While many countries enforce a legal drinking age of 21-years-old, Americans may be surprised to learn that this age is much lower in Germany. Beer and wine can be purchased and consumed at the age of 16, along with other alcoholic beverages at the age of 18. While this brings more freedom, community members are to drink responsibly at all times. Drivers beware, if charged with a DUI in Germany the repercussions are immense.
10. Recycling is serious business
In Germany, if a person is caught throwing away recyclable goods or not separating trash correctly, it may result in judgmental looks or even fines. Trash has to be discarded into different trash cans depending on the material and divided by color. For instance, paper goes into a blue bin, while plastic waste goes into a unique yellow trash bag. Some bottles and cans have an additional small fee called “Pfand,” or deposit, and they can be returned to a store for money back. Meanwhile, other bottles and cans without the Pfand should be sorted at community recycling centers.
11. Common misconceptions about speed regulations
Contrary to popular belief, Germany has speed regulations. Within town, the maximum speed limit is 50km/h unless stated otherwise. On the Bundesstrasse, or federal highway, the maximum speed limit is 100km/h unless otherwise indicated. And while some stretches of the Autobahn, or interstate, are derestricted, the recommended speed regulation is 130 km/h. When speed limitations are posted on the Autobahn, traffic must abide by the rules.
12. Popular cycling culture
Many Germans use bicycles to commute to and from work, school, or just as an outdoor activity. In Germany larger cities have elaborate bike infrastructure, but older German towns may have unclear cross-road situations. While the number of bicycle users increases during good weather, cyclist are still encountered during bad weather, including rain and snow; therefore, motorists should always be aware on the streets.
13. Silent hours and noise control
Silent hours are mandated periods where noise, such as loud music or loud chores, must be regulated and kept to a minimum within neighborhoods. At night, official silent hours last from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. During the day, quiet hours can vary depending on the lease contract of the landlord, but generally they last from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Additionally, during workdays, Sundays and certain holidays, silent hour regulations are enforced all day. In the worst case scenario, noncompliance can be punished with evictions through the landlord or fines by the police.