I have many a time been in situations in Germany and thought to myself, this is so different from the UK, when my original perception was that it would be much the same. I have compiled a short list of areas I have picked up on, and experiences of mine to cement in my mind these sometimes-outlandish differences between the British and the Germans.
Refusing to communicate between neighbours
Living in the same building in the UK sometimes leads to borrowing milk, gardening together and even having some drinks. My experiences in Germany have been the polar opposite!
There has been many an ignored “Hallo” or “Guten Morgen” in the stairway. I have even received the worst of looks for what is a simple pleasantry between neighbours. This one I will never understand. There seems to be a strange hostility here, as if you are invading their private space.
It also didn’t help when I accidentally let the neighbour’s dog onto the street and had to chase to retrieve it…
Customer service flaws
Perhaps in keeping with the lack of neighbourly feeling is the lack of customer service. Customer service is the biggest difference between the UK and Germany.
Until living in Germany, I had not truly appreciated how nice people are in the UK. We are exceptional. Despite the horrific customer service, a tip is still usually expected here.
My friends have simply told me, “yeah, that’s normal here.”
I have read that Germans do not care for customer service, as they see it as unnecessary. However, for us Brits, it does go a long way to improving your day-to-day life and general mood.
I once asked a girl working at a cake stand in Clara-Zetkin-Park how she was before ordering, and it seemed everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at me and wonder what was going on. She was pleasantly surprised, of course. Another example, I asked a waiter in a restaurant how he was (not the first time we had seen each other), and he simply replied “Warum?” Classic.
Misinterpreted lack of humour
I have not started this article in the best of ways for the lovely Germans. However, something that is misrepresented of them in the UK is that they have no humour. This is simply not true. Believe it or not, German humour is almost equal to that of the British! Making German friends here has been a pleasure and not too dissimilar from the UK.
Earl Grey tea as English breakfast tea
An absolute travesty in Germany has been the lack of tea knowledge! This is something we British do not take lightly.
One of the worst things to have happened to me was in Berlin, when ordering a full English breakfast with a tough hangover. English breakfast tea was stated on the menu, only for Earl Grey to be served up; safe to say I was distraught. However, no one who I was with understood.
Despite the lack of tea knowledge, they do make up for it with beer.
Nudity in non-nudist places
Nudist beaches are somewhat famous in Germany, and although the British are extremely private people, we too have nudist beaches. However, one thing I have noticed since living here is the nudity at non-nudist beaches.
I once witnessed a man introduce his wife to some friends, as she stood there completely naked while they were all clothed! They all just shook hands like nothing was out of the ordinary. I couldn’t help but sit there and laugh.
Again, none of my friends see anything out of the ordinary.
Crossing the street
Germany is generally quite relaxed with most things. However, crossing the road is insanely strict! Coming from London, I am used to just simply crossing wherever and whenever I feel like it. Over here, you feel like people are shocked and agitated by you if you cross during the red man.
When my German girlfriend is in London, she loves being able to cross when she wants, almost as if it’s a luxury treat.
When competing against any of my German friends, it is always an unwritten rule that fair play trumps all. I have even dared to make jokes with regards to cheating and been sternly told, “have you not heard of fair play?”
This is in stark contrast in England, as so called banter amongst your friends when competing is part of the game. No banter seems to be allowed or even tolerated by the Germans here.
Drinking beer in the streets
The culture of having relaxed rules about drinking on the street is a major difference between Germany and the UK. In the UK, you can drink from 18 and not on the street, whereas here you can drink from 16 and it is allowed on the street.
If this were allowed in the UK, it would most likely be constant carnage, with people going wild and showing no decency.
My view is that most British drink beer simply to get drunk, and the Germans drink to enjoy the beer.
A prime example is when British fans came to Leipzig to watch Celtic play RB Leipzig in the Europa League. I walked through the city centre in the middle of the afternoon and it was like an apocalypse; there was rubbish everywhere and everyone seemed wasted.
After the game (Celtic lost), I was in Lindenau and saw some drunken fans simply lying on the floor at the side of the road. Embarrassing, really. Most of Europe does, however, unfortunately see the UK in this light.
The outdoor culture that I have experienced in Leipzig during the summers is fantastic, perhaps something we miss out on in the UK.
Many positives and negatives for both sides here; I hope I have not offended anyone! These are simply some of my observations about the British versus Germans. It’s safe to say, though, whilst living here I will not be backing down from certain Britishisms.
By Son Kemal
Son is 30 years old. He grew up in London and traveled the world before recently settling in Leipzig. He’s here battling through the language and social differences in search of his purpose.