Living in Germany

7 German Habits that I Cannot Understand

This list pretty much wrote itself while I was working on my list of 7 habits for 7 years in Germany. For every thing that I had come to learn and accept I could think of another that I just could not understand. Well OK, some of them I can understand but I am finding it difficult to accept them or to do as the Germans do.

My top 7 of peculiar German habits

Giant pastries

It is often the little things that strike you as odd when moving to a different country. My big surprise was the size of pastries at the bakeries. For something called “feingebäck” (literally: fine or delicate pastry) they are huge. To this day I cut up my pastries before eating them, sorry but something the size of both of my palms is not a good snack to accompany a mug of tea.


And since we’re talking food, eating raw minced pork for breakfast is another habit that still strikes me as odd. As much as I love German breakfasts, this is one part that I skip. I have nothing against raw meat per se but please do not offer it to me first thing in the morning!

The love of Jack Wolfskin

Do you know the easiest way of recognising German tourist groups abroad? And no, the correct answer has nothing to do with socks and sandals. It is the prevalence of outdoorsy Jack Wolfskin clothing. Yes I know that the weather is unreliable, that it can be rainy, and windy, and cold, but do you really need to dress for hiking when going for a short stroll on the shopping street?

Aversion to card payments

Coming from a county where paying by card and online banking are widely used and generally preferred over dealing with cash, Germany was quite an adjustment. Suddenly I could not pay for my grocery shopping with a credit card and had to drop by my bank on a monthly basis to print out my account statements. The situation has improved in the last years but many Germans still prefer keeping their spending habits untraceable and use cash.

The problem with patriotism

I am a child of the nationalist revival that brought an end to the Soviet Union and for me the ability to openly sing the national anthem or to fly the national flag are something that should never be taken for granted. I can understand why so many Germans are still regarding any demonstrations of national pride or patriotism as root of all evil, but it has been 70 years since the end of WW2.

The popularity of nudism

The acceptability of nudity in public places varies from country to country but most would probably look prude next to the Germans. In the most common form the love of being au naturel manifests itself in public saunas and beaches, in its most dedicated form it can extend to nudist camping places and hotels where you leave your clothes at the entrance.

Temporary graves

This is most likely not true for all graveyards in this country, but I was quite shocked to discover that the land for a grave is only leased for a period of time, most commonly 20 years. I can still not wrap my head around the fact that a person’s grave is not forever. Sorry grandpa, the lease is over, time to move!? Just FYI, I do not want to be buried in this country.

7 German habits that I cannot understand, from giant pastries to temporary graves

That’s my list of peculiar German habits. Have you ever encountered local customs that you found strange or could not accept while being abroad?

  1. Great post! Although I have to say that coming from the US, I do not find the pastries to be gigantic at all. 😉 I’ve never heard of the graveyard leases though. Interesting. I have, however, admired the fact that each separate gravestone has its own little garden to be tended to — rather than in the US, where there might be a space to leave some flowers you bought at a shop, but not much else.

    • I guess differences we notice tell us much about our own cultural background as about the country we’re comparing to 🙂 E.g. the Latvian graveyards look very similar to the German ones with the big difference that they don’t run out. I actually checked up on that and the pricing tables for Hamburg’s big graveyards really foresee only 15-20 year periods.

  2. I agree with most of it.
    About the graves: you can extend the contract after that time and rent it for as long as neede. But since there are plenty of graves, that are not taken care of, I think it is a fair thing to give them away again after a certain time of dignity, which the relatives can decide upon.
    The most interesting thing is always the discussion about patrotism and nationalism, especially in those years with big soccer events.
    Especially the left media is very critical about the public demonstration for two reasons:
    One is the often mentioned history and the awareness of what it can lead to, Here we have a cultural sensitivity, because patriotism and nationalism in Germany are closely related. There is rarely patriotism in Germany that is not exclusiv, which makes it nationalism. I believe that nationalistic behaviour and patriotism are important phases any culture goes through for creating identity and souvereinity. So especially young cultures/nations have an urge to express this, since they were compromised before.
    Germans had their chance and failed it extremely. Now its time to change the focus and focus on similarities instead of defining our identiy through differences.
    Which leads to the second point: The idea of transnationalism. I don’t feel German, I don’t wanna be recognized as only German. I grew up in a multiculteral environment, I love living abroad and I don’t think that we need our borders to secure our culture/nation. We have our borders to protect our wealth, to be exclusive. How can I be proud of that? I am happy I had the chance to enjoy our benefits, but my country sells tanks and weapons to conflict regions, we are in the top 5 of world wide weapon sellers. We have a growing gap of wealth and exclude less priviledged from taking part in our wealth. Our politicians teach austerity to others while growing our wealth. We do not give enough asylum to people in need of it. (Refugees, Snowden, etc.). All this is represented by our flag.
    So why should I wave the flag, sing the antheme?
    The antheme is a song used in the 3rd Reich, we just switched the verse. It talks about brotherly standing together, but the only time this happens is during a world cup final, other times the people are divided.
    I see a point before our reunion, but nowadays it is a huge fail.
    That is why I will not wave a German flag nor feel any pride of being German. There is no “best” country or nation, there are just people and cultures. And I am happy that the public debate is rising and people start to understand it is not about any guilt from 70 years ago but about taking the next step.
    Sorry for that 🙂

    • You are making a really good point, especially about focusing on similarities instead of defining identity through differences – couldn’t agree more! And yes, in so many cases nationalism can manifest itself in building higher fences and seeing one’s own nation as “better” than the others. At the same time, on a personal level I have no problem with identifying myself as Latvian as well as European, recognizing that there are great things and serious faults with both, and neither of these identities stands in the way of my beliefs about liberating asylum and immigration policies.
      P.S. Nothing to say sorry about, was a great read 😉

    • Thank you for articulating this. My husband is German and I never understood what’s so bad about waving your flag and singing a song. But I’d like to pose a different way to look at it. What I don’t understand is why do so many people think patriotism is about feeling superior to others? I am very patriotic. I love my country, I sing and get emotional when our national anthem is played. I proudly wave my flag. Yet, I don’t consider my country better than anyone else. True, I do feel that we have certain rights, as normal citizens, that no other country has. But that again doesn’t make me feel superior, just different. And I do not believe that there is anything wrong with feeling different, as long as there is also a feeling of respect and tolerance for those that are different from me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with protecting borders to protect what you have worked your whole life to build up. Why should anyone just accept this crazy notion that “spreading the wealth” is charitable? It is not. It is robbery, thievery.
      Think of it in this story of two men. They each work the same hours and earn the same wages. The first man uses his wages first, to build a secure fence around his property. He feeds his family and gives them what they need. When he has accomplished this, he takes another portion of his wages and he sees the needs of others. He gives of his wealth freely to those in need. And because of this, he is blessed. His neighbors loved him. He was known as the kindest man, giving and helpful to all in need.
      The second man tried to come home from work with the same wages as the first. However, on his way home, his government stopped him. They took so much of his wages away, he brought home very little. Soon the neighborhood health watch came. They said he must pay to make sure his neighbors were vaccinated and healthy. Then, the neighborhood unemployment group came. They said too many people didn’t have jobs like him. So he must pay them so these other people could eat. By the end of the day, this second man could barely feed his family and couldn’t ensure their health and protection. He decided the next day to go for a walk. On this walk, he saw these people who weren’t working, out on the streets drinking, partying, buying expensive clothes, jewelry, electronics….all the things he could not afford to give his own family. He felt as if these people had stolen from him. Stolen everything he had worked so hard to attain.

      What kind of society is the second one? Not something I’d be proud of either.

      • Well, sort of a late reply.
        You make two important mistakes in your story:
        The first is to consider the background of the man and his neighbours, who you call “thieves”. Did they have equal opportunities? Or did the man’s ancestors based their wealth on their neighbours resources? Did they have the same access to education? Which leads us to the question: does injustice become justice, if only a certain ammount of time (10 years? 5 generations? who gets to decide?) passes or a majority of a certain group (50% +1? Two thrids? Again: Who decides?) agrees? Or should we find a universal solution? Can you blame the man taking welfare or even stealing to feed the kids if society (yes, even, and especially in a global perspective we are one society!) leaves them behind?

        What kind of society is this one? Not something I’d be proud of either.

        The second mistake: What if his wife has an accident, or his kids have special needs? He leaves his family for someone else or loses his job? Oh right, then his family appreciates the welfare system, even if they never worked hard or anything. A social system is not made for those being lucky. In the best scenario it is never needed. Can I ask you if you fasten your seatbelt when driving a car? Do you intend to have an accident? Would you tell the crew on a ship to throw out the life wests and boats to save gas and make it cheaper? Probably not. And you wouldn’t accuse them for stealing your money to keep you save in a worst case scenario. If you do, just becuase you are able to swim and others aren’t I can only quote you:

        What kind of society is this one? Not something I’d be proud of either.

        I suppose your country is older than you are, so it was not you who built up that country. So what are you proud of? Certainly not the community, if you don’t even want to share your wealth witrh your neighbours in need. The rights you have and others don’t? If these rights are so great, how can you not fight for others to achieve them?

        What kind of society is this one? Not something I’d be proud of either.

        While you say you do not put yourself above others by being patriotic, you called them “thieves”, offer an egocentric understanding of society and demand respect and tolerance for that. I don’t mind people waving flags and singing there anthem, if it is for identity, fun, or celebrating traditions. If it is for claiming a status, stating your own distinction from the rest or for a political intention, I believe it is outdated protectorism and a bad thing.

  3. Ah! I totally agree with your list! I didn’t know about the graveyards but I will have to look into it. And as for the CASH… don’t let me start! I see we have really many things in common!

    • Thanks! Are you still considering to make a list about your German experiences so far?

  4. adrianakroeller

    I’m laughing like crazy!! Awesome!!

  5. re 5:
    It has been 70 years, but patriotism and nationalism are a global evil, aiming at excluding humanity. It’s against human nature.
    Germany just learned its lesson from its horrible past while others haven’t. Oh wait, am I being patriotic now? Well then… 🙂

    Besides, Tobi mostly hit it.

    • I should have known better than argue with Germans about this 🙂 Germany has a way to go though if it wants to leave nationalism behind for good, if it had been achieved, AfD would not continue receiving more and more votes.

  6. Agreed on the Jack Wolfskin! I was horrified on my dad’s last visit as he eyed their coats with appreciation…as he wore an American version that looked just like it.

    And I had no idea about the graves. Odd.

  7. Ha ha! Spot on! I just have one more thing to add… ‘Abendbrot’!

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