Pretty much exactly six years ago, I left my native country to go and study in Munich (Germany). This light-hearted little post is for all the fellow expats amongst you, who – after a prolonged period abroad – might experience a similar mixture of feeling-at-home and foreignness both in regards to your country of origin and your adoptive country.
Even though my native country (Luxembourg) and Germany are very similar in culture and I certainly did not experience anything close to a culture shock, I have noticed a few little habits that I had not been familiar with before moving to Germany. On we go for a chatty balance of concepts that I either immediately adapted – or that I will never be able to get used to 😀 And I’m not even talking about Oktoberfest!
Disclaimer: Please do not take this post too seriously: This is just my way of celebrating 6 years abroad, and of inviting you to share your expat experiences 🙂 I am only talking from my personal experience and not trying to make generalized statements: You can replace every “German” by “German I know” and “Luxembourger” by “Luxembourger I know”.
- Discovery #1: “Please, come in, but…”
The first time I really noticed a difference in expectations between Luxembourg and Germany was when I (tried to) set foot in a German household. I mean this quite literally: From my experience, it should be your bare foot or your sock that touches your host’s floor first, not your shoe! Whereas in Luxembourg, it would be considered very, very impolite and inappropriate to ask your guests to take their shoes off, Germans seem to expect a guest to take off his shoes out of his own initiative: Even at night-time! Who cares that you might have spend a solid half an hour considering which pair of shoes to wear with your outfit?! The lemon green, one-size-fits-all felt guest slippers will certainly match your dress just as well! I can totally see the point from the host’s point of view, and I now expect close friends and family to take of their shoes as well when they casually pop in. As far as more formal occasions are concerned, however, I am still on the fence: Why not limit the felt slipper action to daytime and cosy nights in, but let your guests – who might even have bothered to dress up – spend their dinner or cocktail party in dignity: i. e. in heels or actual shoes? 🙂
- Discovery #2: It’s either bib or nothing
One thing that I will never, ever understand is why on earth Germans don’t use napkins at home! It seems that after you’ve outgrown bibs, you lose your right to wipe your mouth at the table (unless you are at a restaurant). In Luxemburg on the other hand, where paper napkins are part of every family table ready laid, I had been taught to wipe my mouth before every sip I take: Image the conflict I found myself in when I first took place at a German lunch or dinner table 😀
- Discovery #3: Pommes what?
On the same note of things that only seem to exist in restaurants: Deep fryers! Maybe it’s because of the closeness to the Belgian boarder, but chips (or French fries) are considered a more indulgent, yet totally normal side dish in Luxembourg. In Germany however, I’ve been to quite a few households, and only one out of of them all was equipped with a deep fryer! I am planning to get the best of both worlds for my new apartment by purchasing one of those amazing airfryers: All the chip deliciousness without the guilt 🙂
- Discovery #4: Free hugs and awkward silences
One of the things I am still utterly confused about is the German art of greeting. In Luxembourg, we simply don’t do any special gestures when welcoming somebody or saying good bye. Most of the time, we just nod, start talking or walk off; maybe a shake-hands or three kisses on the cheeks when it’s a more formal or festive occasion. I realized things work differently over here in Germany when, on my very first day at uni, I met a bunch of girls and was hugged by all of them after we’d known each other for just a few hours. Hugs??? They are virtually unheard-of in Luxembourg as a greeting ritual! So little old me took note that Germans like hugs, and stuck to it … Let me just say that it worked out fine most of the time. But then, I might also have been in a few situations (even recently …) where I felt like I force-hugged somebody #awkward.
So let me try to recap what I’ve understood, and where I’m still struggling: 1) Hugs are for friends or potential friends. 2) Shake-hands are for formal occasions. 3) For acquaintances on the other hand … Well, I’m lost! How do I greet people whom I know well, but not really closely? Shaking hands would be utterly weird; the French option (three (!! not two) hinted kisses on the cheeks) on the other hand is not common enough and – more often than not – ends up in the most embarrassing silence after the first “kiss” because your acquaintance thinks you’ve just actually tried to kiss them on the cheek. I swear, this has happened to me last week only when I tried to congratulate a college on his birthday! So please, German readers out there, help me out, or else I will resort to waving hello and good-bye like a blimin’ Disney Princess for the rest of forever!
- Discovery #5: Roads are there for parking
In theory, the distribution of vehicles and pedestrians is pretty clear: roads are for driving, sidewalks are … who’d have guessed: for walking! But since most roads in Europe are old and therefore too narrow for the width of nowadays’ cars, Luxembourgers seem to have silently agreed to park at least half of their car on the sidewalk if roadside parking is the only option. Germans however stick to the rules and would never even dare to touch a sidewalk with their tires! They just leave their car standing in (what I consider to be) the middle of the road, thus blocking an entire lane of traffic. And since more often than not, there are only two lanes, German-style roadside parking makes roads look like awfully stretched parking lots and road trips feel like ooooone long moose test 😀 Thank God parking is forbidden on the Autobahn!
I could go on and on, but I’d rather like to hear your opinions on a few of the concepts and habits I’ve mentioned! What about the napkin and greeting situation in your country? Or are you living abroad and noticing things that just strike you as odd, coming from another country? I’m really looking forward to hearing your experiences 🙂