There is no such thing as a soft yes
Regardless of what your facial expression may be saying, as soon as you utter “yes, yeah, sure, ok, alright, uh-huh, yup, mmhmm,” you are committed. Germans take any affirmative, even hesitant or reluctant ones, to mean you are 110 per cent on board, reliable and will be there on time or ten minutes early.
Forget smiling at people on the street
If you make awkward eye contact with someone as you walk down the street, do not smile. Avert your eyes, look down and better yet grimace a little bit. This will trick the Germans into thinking you are one of them. Some people think this unfriendliness, or whatever you’d call it, is special to Berlin, but I have experienced this in several cities, including Leipzig, Frankfurt, Fulda and Munich.
Invest in fabric softener
In my experience, it is rare to find the eco-conscious Germans using a clothes dryer. Most everyone I know, whether they live in a small apartment or not, hangs their laundry on a clothes line. Unfortunately air drying can leave towels and shirts super stiff, so investing a few euros in fabric softener is well worth it. It won’t warm your garments but it will leave them dryer soft.
DO NOT go into the office sick
Really don’t do it. Odds are you’ll be told to go home and be passive aggressively chastised for potentially infecting everyone. And if you are sick, get the doctor’s note and stay home until there is absolutely no risk of you spreading the germs. Sick days are taken seriously in Germany.
Cash really is king
Everyone tells you that you need cash to get around Germany, but it doesn’t really sink in until you are trying to buy condoms late at night from a späti and they don’t take credit cards. Seriously, walking around Germany without cash makes no sense unless you really get your kicks by not being able to do anything. Despite ATMs and banks spread out all over the country’s big cities, like Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, the country has a cash first mentality. My theory is that this is a cultural thing that links back to the German people’s hesitancy to create virtual paper trails.
Beware the “Circle of Death”
German bureaucracy is a well-oiled machine, but getting integrated into this machine can be absolutely INFURIATING. Expats affectionately refer to the difficulty of making progress in the first few months after moving to the country as the “Circle of Death.” Here is a perfect example: In order to get a cell-phone, you need a bank account and proof of registration (with an address)… but in order to get your proof of registration you need a cell-phone to make an appointment. And before you can get an apartment you need to have a bank account and to get a bank account you need proof of registration. Be prepared to bang your head against the wall a few times.
Ask a question three times
The first time you ask a German a question, I swear up and down the default answer is no and you will hear a really long, company-approved explanation to justify their answer (even if you didn’t ask for it). If you ask a second time they will tell you no again and likely repeat their really long explanation with sufficiently more detail to make sure you understood the logic behind the no. Ask a third time and they’ll shrug their shoulders and say something like, “I’ll see what I can do.” In a matter of minutes your problem will be solved.
Resign yourself to a lazy Sunday
Forget running errands, any kind of shopping (grocery shopping included) or reaching anyone on a Sunday. For non-Germans, it feels like the entire city shuts down. Most cafes, restaurants and theaters stay open, but make sure to double check before bolting out the door. And remember that buses, subways and trains run less frequently.
Expect brutal honesty
Do not expect Germans to beat around the bush. Gained a little weight? You can expect someone to point it out. Did you oversalt a soup? Get ready to hear about it and how you can prevent it next time. Wearing makeup for the first time in weeks? Expect comments, good and bad ones.
Give up on finding spicy food
Spicy food is basically non-existent. Germans have such a sensitive palate that even dishes seasoned with sriracha, salsa and jalapenos are incredibly mild. When going into any Indian, Mexican, Chinese restaurant, you can always joke with the waiter and ask if when he says spicy, he really means “German spicy.”
Wastefulness is unacceptable
Food is never to be thrown away, water is turned off when showering (except when rinsing), plastic, paper, glass will all be sorted and recycled, lights are turned off when you leave a room, water from old water bottles will be used to water the plants and the heater is turned off if no one is in the room. And forget about air conditioning. Luckily you’ll only be ridiculously sweaty during Germany’s three warm months.
Bag your groceries quickly
One of the easiest ways to irritate the Germans is to be unprepared when standing in the grocery store checkout line. Have your wallet out, pay cash (it’s faster, duh!) and immediately bag your groceries before the person behind you has the chance to sigh, groan or roll their eyes when it takes more than thirty seconds. And if you forgot to bring your own shopping bag, be prepared to pay 10 cents for a plastic one.
Stares of disapproval when jay walking
The street might be completely empty, but prepare to face harsh looks from disapproving Germans if you cross the street without a green light. You might even be scolded and told to “think of the children and set a good example.”