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Commuting on the Autobahn

Commuting on the Autobahn

I have already written a post about driving in Germany, and in it, I mentioned that I could probably dedicate a whole post to the Autobahn. Well, here is that post! Though, I’m not debunking myths as much as telling you how to drive without getting run over by an angry driver in a BMW (it’s always the BMWs).  Now I commute on the Autobahn daily, so I feel like I actually have some of the experience necessary to talk about driving.

 

The left lane is for passing

I touched on this in the general driving post, but it’s one of the most important things to keep in mind when driving on the Autobahn. It’s essential for maintaining a good flow of traffic. You can’t just hang out in the left lane. By keeping slower traffic to the right, and having a dedicated lane for passing, Autobahn traffic is able to move more smoothly, and with fewer in-and-out weaving that causes jams and accidents.

A corollary to this is, only pass in the left lane. Drivers are not accustomed to regular passing on the right, so they are less likely to watch out for it. This can cause problems on highways with three lanes. For example, if a truck is driving in the middle lane, and a car is passing them on the left, they are not going to expect a car to also be passing on the right – which could cause an accident if they both try to merge into the middle lane in front of the truck.

Passing
This doesn’t look very safe.
Source: xenostral

The exception to this is at on-ramps and off-ramps, but in places where passing on the right is allowed, the lane markers are thicker, so drivers are reminded to expect passers on the right.

 

There are speed limits

This was also mentioned, but it’s the greatest misconception that the Autobahn is a complete free-for-all. C’mon, people, it’s in Germany – the land of Ordnung. Of course there are limits. There are sections with marked speed limits, primarily in heavier trafficked areas and major interchanges. And in the sections with no marked limit, there is an advised limit of 130 km/h (81 mph). You are allowed to drive faster, but if you get in an accident while going above this advised speed, it will count against you with insurance and determining liability. You are also expected to drive slower in the case of adverse road conditions, such as rain or snow, but again, the penalties will only come if there is an accident (unless speed limit signs had been posted for the weather).

Source: Michael Pereckas, Cropped by me
Source: Michael Pereckas, Cropped by me

 

There are speed cameras

I mentioned this in my previous driving post, but it does bear repeating. There are speed cameras on the Autobahn. These are much more common than American-style speed traps where cops hang out on the side of the road in conspicuous police cars. No, here they hid cameras under bridges all sneaky-like. The radio station I listen to when I forget to download podcasts actually announces where speed cameras (or Blitzer) have been spotted every half hour or so. I have no idea if this is a normal thing, or if I listen to a shady station.

 

You are never the fastest

So you understand the rules about passing on the left, but you figure that in your fancy-pants BMW (sorry, BMW owners, but you’re usually the worst offenders 😉 ) that you’ll be faster than everyone else, so you never need to leave the left lane. Hold on, buddy, is that a Porsche you see in your rearview mirror? You better get over, because you’re cramping their style.

Seriously, though. You are never the fastest person driving. There is always someone who will pop up behind you and jostle you to get over. The best thing to do is to just always get into the right if there is enough space for you to drive there for a bit, if only to give the speediest of speed racers a chance to pass. The German driving test I took has an actually time recommendation for this, but I can’t remember it now.

Fast Cars to the Left
This driver wants you to go faster or get out of the left lane!
Source: jo.sau, Cropped by me

 

It’s illegal to run out of gas

The Germans are really big on keeping things running efficiently – that means absolutely no stopping on the Autobahn unless necessary. You know what’s not necessary? Running out of gas. This is not a joke. You are expected to have sufficient amount of gas in your car at all times, and it’s considered your fault if you did not plan properly.

You really shouldn’t run out of gas though. If you are on the proper Autobahn, there is a maximum distance allowed between gas stations, and each stop with a gas station has a sign that tells you how far away the next one is. No excuses, keep your tank full!

Fun fact, I complained to Mr. Faultier about my “idiot light” turning on, and asking him about how far the car could go with that much gas – and he told me that he doesn’t think he’s ever let it get that low!

 

Source: Sauerlaender
Hopefully they didn’t run out of gas!
Source: Sauerlaender

Not all highways are the Autobahn

While Autobahn may be used colloquially to mean any German highway, the Autobahn system does not cover all highways in Germany. It’s similar to how, in the US, there is an Interstate highway system, as well as smaller state highways. From Wikipedia:

Various other controlled-access highways exist on the federal (Bundesstraße), state(Landesstraße), district, and municipal level but are not part of the Autobahn network and are officially referred to as Kraftfahrstraße

You can tell what type of highway you’re on by how it’s named. A # is an official Autobahn, B # is a Bundesstraße, L # is a Landesstraße – very logical, very German. Bundesstraßen in particular are very similar to Autobahnen, but they generally smaller,  more likely to have speed limits, and may not have a hard shoulder. Landesstraßen are generally even smaller, and remind me of itty-bitty country highways.

For a road to be classified as an Autobahn, it has to meet some very particular construction standards regarding central barriers, shoulders, curves, and so on. If you want an overview, the Wikipedia article is pretty solid. It has 96 references, if you also desire deeper reading.

 

Trucks have different speed limits

Larger vehicles, as well as cars pulling trailers, have different speed limits, indicated by stickers on the back of the vehicles. This is the most noticeable with semi-trucks, which have a speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph). This usually keeps them in the right lane and easy to pass.  Until one going 81 km/h tries to pass another going 79 km/h and you have elephant racing (Elefantenrennen). If there are more than two lanes, everyone angrily gets over to the far left, which slows down the speedsters. If there are only two lanes, break lights flash and everyone starts swearing.

Elephant Race
Source: Tino Rossini, Cropped by me

 

There will be construction somewhere along your route

Always.

Construction
Source: WikimediaImages

 

Source for header: Sauerlaender

Book Review: German Men Sit Down To Pee

Book Review: German Men Sit Down To Pee

Disclaimer: I was sent a free review copy by one of the authors, however, I was not compensated in any other way for this review. Opinions are completely my own.

What’s it about?

German Men Sit Down To Pee & Other Insights Into German Culture is a humorous take on German culture by a German (Niklas Frank) and an Irishman living in Germany (James Cave).  I feel that Cave must have had many experiences like mine, because I felt this book covered all the aspects of German culture that I find baffling.

The title provides a clue that this is not a serious dissertation on German cultural practices, but a lighthearted and fond look at the country’s eccentricities. While I’m sure many stereotypes formed a basis for these observations, I think Frank and Cave were careful to provide a little more depth where needed. They broke down stereotypes where they didn’t match with real life, and brought some insightful cultural context to other sections. I learned a few historical tidbits that I hadn’t known about in my two years living here.

There are also a few spot-on illustrations throughout the book, and I laughed several times while reading.  As I read through the table of contents, I would stop at certain chapters and laugh a bit to myself because I could relate so well already. Mr. Faultier and I are in the middle of stocking up on insurance policies. This might be the most German thing I have ever done, according to the rules of this book. The humor is spot-on.I think pokes a bit of fun without being mean or rude. A true German might be able to give a better view on this than me, but I feel the jokes are more of the laughing-with variety than laughing-at. This can be a hard balance to maintain, but I think it was done quite well.

Who is this book for?

I think this would make a wonderful gift for a friend or family member who is planning on moving to Germany or has even lived there for a little while already. Or for a German friend who doesn’t quite realize how strange their culture is – assuming they have an appreciation for self-deprecating humor (most Germans I know do).

Or just buy it for yourself if you’re a fan of German culture, even though it doesn’t always make sense to you.

Just be aware that there are a few “adult” chapters. It’s nothing to really blush about, but it might be worth skipping if you’re sharing the book with young or sensitive readers. Perhaps this is just a very American opinion, though.

You can buy it here!

Ten Tips for Surviving in Germany

Ten Tips for Surviving in Germany

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

Crossing Signal
Photo: pixcarraldo

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!

Helpful Phrases

EnglishGerman
PleaseBitte
Thank YouDanke (schön)
You're WelcomeBitte (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

Photo: Snufkin
Photo: Snufkin

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

Photo: afrndz
Photo: afrndz

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!

More Public Transportation Tips

More Public Transportation Tips

I’ve talked a bit about using public transportation here in Germany and some tips on public transportation etiquette, but now I have some more tips! These are primarily based on my personal experience and things that annoy me. I try to follow my own advice, and I think that if everyone kept some of these tips in mind, travel on trains, trams, and buses would be much more pleasant.

Wear Headphones and Keep Music at a Reasonable Volume

While I appreciate the people who have the self-awareness to not carry around Bluetooth speakers and treat the whole train to their private techno party, when you turn up your headphones all the way, you have a similar effect. Please turn down your music. Your fellow passengers and your eardrums thank you.

This is not how headphones are meant to be used. (Photo by Foundry)
This is not how headphones are meant to be used. (Photo by Foundry)

Please Keep Your Arms and Legs in Your Area

You may not be on a roller coaster, but it is considerate to keep your limbs out of the aisle so people can pass without tripping. If you must spread out, it would be really appreciated if you kept and eye on the aisle to move out of the way when people need to pass. This also applies to bags or luggage. The aisle isn’t your storage space. It’s for people to move around.

Look at these considerate people keeping the aisle clear. (Photo by cegoh)
Look at these considerate people keeping the aisle clear. (Photo by cegoh)

Be Careful With Food and Drink

Commutes can be long and you often require sustenance, but try not to make a mess. And if you do, try to clean up after yourself to the best of your ability. If you spill coffee all over your seat on the bus, please put something on top of it, like a piece of paper or napkin if you have one, so people have some sort of warning before they get your latte all over their butt when they try to sit down. This last example is specific for a reason. Advice for the rule-abidMing, always check your seat before sitting down.

Indoor Voices

I assume you don’t want everyone to know your business, and most people don’t even want to know your business, but if you talk quite loudly, you’ll be hard to ignore. It’s like bringing on the aforementioned Bluetooth speaker, but instead of a techno dance party, everyone knows that you woke up in a strange apartment and was surprised to see the Alps when you looked out the window. This example is also specific for a reason. I can only assume that man’s experience was rather disconcerting..

"I woke up and I saw the Alps!" - apparently a sign of a crazy night. (Photo by klausdie)
“I woke up and I saw the Alps!” – apparently a sign of a crazy night. (Photo by klausdie)

For the Love of God, Let People OFF the Train First

I mentioned this in my other etiquette post, but I think I cannot say it enough. The train will not leave with the doors open. You will not miss the train somehow if patiently let the people off first. In fact, when you stand in their way, they can’t leave and you can’t get on – which holds everything up. This also applies to buses, trams, and subways. Keep it orderly. Off then on.

Now this is not an exhaustive list of tips, but something I’ve noticed is that a bit of self-awareness goes a long way. Think of how you would feel if someone else was doing what you are, and if that would bother you, don’t do it yourself.

 

Photo used in header by WikiImages

Perfect Man and Woman – Lessons from Tedi

Perfect Man and Woman – Lessons from Tedi

I missed my first train home today, because I got too distracted in Rossmann. But I think it was good, because I learned a lot. In the pranks/gag gift section of Tedi, where I always go to kill time, I found these blow up dolls (the PG kind) of the “Perfect Woman” and the “Perfect Man”. Of course, these are full of sexist stereotypes, but it was a bit fun to see where those stereotypes overlapped with American culture and where they differed.

PerfectManandWoman

The Perfect Woman

PerfectWoman

  • Fragt nie, ob ihr HIntern zu fett ist! – Never asks if her butt is too fat! (Why is this a stereotype?)
  • Merkert nie! – Never complains!
  • Holt ohne Wiederworte Bier! – Gets beer without arguing!
  • Kann gut kochen! – Can cook well!
  • Geht nicht gerne shoppen! – Doesn’t enjoy going shopping!
  • Braucht keine Aufmerksamkeit! – Doesn’t need attention!

So, according to Tedi, the perfect woman just silently cooks all day and retrieves beer. I’m pretty sure you can get a robot to do that.

 

The Perfect Man

PerfectMan

  • Ist ein guter Liebhaber. – Is a good lover.
  • Verdient gut! – Earns a lot of money!
  • Liest dir jeden Wunsch von den Augen ab. – Reads all of your wishes from your eyes. (Which is good, because apparently the perfect woman never talks…)
  • Mag ihre beste Freundin! – Likes her best friend! (I don’t know who “her” is here…)
  • Hiflt dir immer im Haushalt! – Helps you always around the house!
  • Pinkelt im Sitzen! – Pees while sitting!

The Perfect Man is a bit more “German” – I had to ask Mr Faultier about the wishes in the eyes think and I know that peeing while sitting is a thing here as well.

I have trouble imagining the Perfect Woman and the Perfect Man being a couple. The house would just be silent with the woman always in the kitchen and the man just buying her things she tells him she wants telepathically. I just imagine the woman as a robot and the man as an Amazon gift card.

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