Living in a foreign country can be fun, but every country has its own social rules. You can land in very embarrassing situations if you don't know them; something I realised after a few months of misunderstandings here in Germany.
Do’s and Don’ts in Germany
Two months before leaving my country and starting my studies in Germany, I decided to start learning the language to facilitate my integration and impress my host family. The language was… hmm, well, I don't want to spoil it for you, but I am sure that you will have that wow reaction. Duolingo, a smartphone app, and Deutsche Welle, were the tools that I used. After a while, my host accepted to be my tandem partner in exchange for French and English, so we had some online sessions until my arrival. I landed safely at the airport and went to the central train station to take a connecting train. However, my bladder was not that patient while waiting, so I went to the restroom where I had my first "Giovanni Trapattoni German talk". Apparently, as someone else explained to me, I had to pay one euro to pee, and the guy there didn't have change. My advice to you, dear new international student, is to use the free of charge restroom at the airport or just bring some change with you. On the plus side, bathrooms are very clean and more hygienic than public toilettes.
Finally, I took the train going to my destination, a beautiful neighborhood with impressive natural views. My host's house was a 5-minute walk away. "Dring, dring" ringing bells behind me. Oops! I was walking on the bikes part of the sidewalk. I finally reached the house, so happy to be on time as Germans do, and to bring a bottle of wine for Thomas and flowers for Anna as my experienced friend had recommended.
A cute five-year-old girl was playing in the yard. Her name is Sarah, Thomas and Anna’s daughter. After kissing her on the head, I confidently said, “Hallo Sarah, ich bin angekommen. Wo sind deine Mama und dein Papa.” And there they came with big smiles on their faces. Thomas approached me, gave me his hand to shake; in turn, I wanted to give him the two kisses on the cheeks like north Africans greet each other.
"Woah, woah, easy boy, what are you doing?" he said, while Anna was crying of laughter. "Just want to greet you the way I greeted Sarah already," I stupidly said. He was shocked for a few seconds until Anna interfered and explained to him that it is part of my culture. She also revealed that a handshake will do the thing and what consequences it could have if I give a strange kid a kiss.
Anyway, the welcome part has ended, and so did the embarrassing part. Well not really, this was actually just the beginning. We then had dinner, in which I practiced the "Guten Appetit” and the “Danke, gleichfalls" rule. I was first to finish and thought: “so, what to do now? hmm let's go to sleep." Anna gave me a skeptical look and asked me in a humorous tone not to leave the table until everyone had finished eating. Although I had no idea about this part of the German culture, I pretended to know it. We had some drinks that night; after that, I realised that I was talking too loud, and it is not the way things work here, at least for a small group conversation.
In that same conversation, the couple told me about other aspects of German culture and lifestyle. Germany is considered cold for people coming from sunny countries. Therefore, it is recommended to wear warm clothes during the cold period, mostly from November until April. I also recommend having an umbrella with you all the time as the weather changes fast, and summer is not that dry a season. Don't freak out if someone sits behind you in a bar, just be ready for an in-depth conversation about the aim of existence, politics (PS: don't bring the weird-mustache-guy topic into the conversation). There is also a belief ∂when it comes to birthdays, it brings bad luck for Germans if you wish them a happy birthday in advance.
The Bavarian Culture
After one year in Munich, I moved to Pfarrkirchen to start my master's degree at the European Campus. The city, as all Bavarian towns, is characterised by its landscape, architecture, and people. In Pfarrkirchen, I finally saw the picture that I had in mind of Germany, a strong culture where seeing the "Dirndl," and the "Lederhose" on a daily basis is normal.
The Dirndl: This is how one calls the traditional Bavarian and Austrian dress for girls and women. The dirndl is mainly worn on cultural and social occasions. Nowadays there are more modern versions of the traditional Dirndl. These are often more tight fitting and revealing and one should avoid staring at the revealed parts. Otherwise, you might get slapped as it is considered rude. Well, it is rude in all cultures, I guess.
The Lederhose: It is the male counterpart to the dirndl. "Lederhosen" are also worn on special occasions and are growing popular, even among non-Bavarians. For this reason, the identification of a local has become relatively difficult using "Lederhosen."
The language: The Bavarian language is often difficult to understand for non-Bavarians. Often the same words have different meanings due to different emphasis. In addition, the dialect and the accent sometimes differ from one village to another. The open-minded Bavarians will generally try to speak understandably if you politely ask them to do so.
The festivals: In Bavaria, you always find a reason to celebrate. From March to October, there are many small and large folk festivals or traditional events. They primarily serve to cultivate customs, a cozy get-together, but also to promote international understanding. Usually, people celebrate in large tents, and the beer is drunk from "Maß’n" (giant jugs with a liter capacity).
Mia San Mia: is a famous Bavarian saying, but it is by no means to be understood arrogantly. It basically only says that the Bavarian are what they are - with all their peculiar properties.
This has been my journey in Bavaria so far. Feel free to ask your questions and share your experiences while enjoying this magnificent Bavarian song 😉
Hattab is an international student based in Bavaria; full of contradictions, he enjoys going out as well as being a couch potato, sports and overeating, meeting with friends and having the morning coffee alone. Through his blog posts, Hattab is sharing his thoughts about different topics with the big family of DIT. Hattab hopes that you all enjoy his writings, and he is looking forward to reading your thoughts too.