My parents and younger sister are landing in Germany tomorrow, and in honor of their visit, and a bit too late to be of any real use to them, I have compiled a list of my top tips for surviving a trip to Germany – presented in no particular order.
1. Prepare for Grocery Shopping
Getting to the cashier in a German grocery store is a high-stress situation. They are speedy and everyone in line with you has high expectations for efficiency – they are German, of course. I prefer shopping with Mr. Faultier so we can team up and bag the groceries together. It also helps to place your items on the belt in the order you want to bag them. Then you don’t have to worry about organization while a grandma with two dozen liters of discount milk is staring you down.
If you truly are not ready for this, just get a cart, toss your stuff in after it’s rung up, and sort it at your leisure once you’re out of the line.
2. Review the Driving Rules
I’ve already written about driving in Germany, which will go into some more detail about some of the difference between driving in America and driving in Germany.
Germans are as impatient on the road as they are in the grocery store. Make sure you know the rules and keep in the right lane on the Autobahn, otherwise you’ll see an angry BMW in your rearview mirror.
3. Avoid Jaywalking
Germans are pretty big on order (Ordnung) and that applies to crossing the street properly. Crossing a street with no crosswalk is sometimes permissible depending on traffic and how close the nearest crossing is, but crossing at an intersection when the signal is red is highly frowned upon. You can maybe, possibly cross if the street is completely empty, but only if there are no children around. Setting a good example for the children is key. We must maintain the illusion of peace and order, for the sake of the kids.
4. Learn a Few Pleasantries
A little German goes a long way. Most Germans don’t have much of a problem using English if they know it, though they will be overly self-conscious about their skill level. But when you know how to ask for help and say thank you in German, others are much happier to help. And, hey, you’re in their country!
|Thank You||Danke (schön)|
|You're Welcome||Bitte (schön)|
|Do you speak English?||Sprechen Sie Englisch?|
|Can you help me?||Können Sie mir helfen?|
“Schön” in these phrases can be used to mean “very much”, so break it out for extra politeness if needed.
A phrasebook or booklet is going to be a lot more helpful than a full dictionary, especially if you’re only visiting. I have a dream of creating my own, but that hasn’t happened yet.
5. Ask for the Check at Restaurants
In America, waiters rush you out the door in order to turn over your table more quickly, however, eating out is one area where the Germans are less efficient. Europeans like their leisurely meals. A check will not show up at your table right after the dishes are cleared. If you are ready to leave, you have to tell the waiter that you would like to pay (“Ich möchte bezahlen.”) But if you want to linger a bit and chat with your dinner companions, go ahead! Unless you are the last ones in the restaurant, then you may want to consider leaving.
Added note: No need to get crazy with your math for the tip. Round up a euro or two, and you’re probably fine. Tips are called “Trinkgeld” – drinking money, they’re for the waiter to buy themselves a drink or two, not a main part of their income.
6. Request Still Water
If you don’t like sparkling water, the phrase “Stilles Wasser” is your best friend. Sparkling water is the default, so you have to specifically ask for still. If you order with an American accent or in English, the waiter may ask – using a variety of translations, my favorite being “without gas” – but no need to take any chances.
This method will still get you possibly pricey bottled water. If you really want tap water, you have to ask for “Leitungswasser”.
7. Remember that Eis is Not Ice
If a German asks you, “Do you want an ice (spelled “Eis” in German)?” they are not asking you if you want an ice cube. They’re offering you ice cream. Putting ice in drinks is not common, which is very odd to Americans who are used to more ice than beverage. If you want ice for a drink, you may want to ask for “Eiswürfeln” (ice cubes) instead of simply “ice” to avoid confusion.
8. Check Public Transportation Options
Public transportation is often better than driving. Gas is expensive, roads are often narrow and not originally designed for cars, and parking is scarce. Thankfully, buses, trains, and trams can get you almost everywhere. If you are planning a trip, check out the public transportation options. If you’re traveling around a city, especially, it may be much more practical than dealing with a car. If you choose that route, I’ve also written a few times about public transportation in Germany.
9. Get Ready for No Air Conditioning
If you are traveling in the summer, be prepared for scarcity of air conditioning. Most people don’t have it in their homes, and many businesses don’t bother. Major culture shock if you’re a wimpy American like me. Last summer, I compiled a list of tips for dealing with the German heat, which I will be reading over again as the temperature starts to climb.
Definitely pack layers for summer trips, because it doesn’t take long for the weather to go from pleasant and cool in the mornings and evenings to horrifically hot.
10. Forget Stereotypes
Germans are not mean. Most of the ones I’ve met are quite nice, even if they are a bit reserved and masters of the bitchy resting face. Here, “niceness” is more about actions than appearance. People don’t walk around smiling, but they’re usually happy to help, especially if you try asking for it in German.
Let me know in the comments if you have other tips to add! Or if you are visiting Germany soon and have any questions, feel free to ask!