29 January, 2017

I'm Turning Into a German!

When I first moved to Germany I noticed a lot of German habits, customs and mannerisms that didn't really make sense to me and that made it obvious I was in a "foreign" country. Germany, like any other place, has its own set of quirks and cultural peculiarities that make moving here from the US an interesting experience. But now that I've been living here for more than three years,  some of these things not only seem logical but I've even adopted them myself.

It's official: I'm turning into a German! In no particular order, here are some of the habits that I've adopted that put me firmly on that path to becoming a bona fide Deutsche.

I wear black socks

Before I moved to Germany, I wore almost exclusively white socks, and I had only ever owned one or two pairs of black ones in my life. So when I first got to Germany and saw that no one seemed to wear white socks, I was baffled. Black socks are the norm in Germany, and white socks are reserved for wearing with running shoes while working out (I still don't know why this is and maybe never will). I clung to my white socks for a while, determined that I was in the right when it came to foot attire, but over time I found myself gravitating towards black socks too and replacing my old white socks with black ones. When I look at all my socks now, I only see a few white pairs in a sea of black (plus a few multicolored ones that aren't German at all. I haven't assimilated completely).

I rarely pay with debit or credit cards

In the US, credit and debit cards are king. They are accepted pretty much everywhere and the majority of Americans use them for everyday purchases. (Unfortunately I don't have statistics to back this up, but in my experience this is true.) In Germany they are not accepted as widely, although this has been changing in the past years. It is now possible to pay with a card at any large business such as a supermarket, department store and at most restaurants, but it is not uncommon to come across a store or restaurant where cards are still not accepted. This could change since the EU enacted regulations at the end of 2015 limiting the amount of money banks can charge businesses for card transactions, but for now many Germans still use mostly or exclusively cash for their day-to-day purchases.

I've jumped on this bandwagon myself, and I only use my debit card once in a while for groceries when I don't have enough cash on me. I don't even have any credit cards anymore, since I cancelled both of mine when I was in the US. I stay away from cards mostly because I don't want the business to have to pay for the transaction, but, like many Germans, I also worry about the bank collecting data about my purchases and doing who-knows-what with that information.

I go for walks on the weekends

For many Germans, an indispensible part of a Sunday afternoon, along with Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake), is taking a nice leisurely stroll. When I lived in the US I usually only went on walks to walk the dog or to get somewhere in the rare case when I didn't drive there, but now you'll often find me on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon taking a walk in the crisp wintery sunshine. In fact, I did that just this afternoon!

I give people the stink eye in public

In the US many people are raised learning that staring at people is rude. Not so here in Germany. Germans will stare at someone wearing a striking jacket, someone talking particularly loudly in public, and for a ton of other reasons (sometimes just because they feel like it). While I still feel guilty and uncomfortable staring at people for no reason (old habits die hard), I've developed one aspect of the German stare: giving unruly people the stink eye. A few weeks ago when a group of kids were being noisy on the train, I pointedly turned around in my seat and glared right at them. When I work up the nerve to actually say something to go along with my glare I will know I'm well on way to becoming an ornery old German lady.

I wait for the walk signal

In the US the red and green signals at crosswalks are taken more as guidelines than hard-and-fast rules, and jaywalking is a common occurrence. Here in Germany there might as well be glue holding people's feet to the sidewalk when the light is red. I've waited at lights before where there were literally no cars anywhere in the intersection and people still dutifully waited for the walk signal to turn green. A few times I've made the mistake of walking when the walk signal was red, expecting that I would break the ice and everyone would follow me. No one except me moved a muscle, and I could feel the judgment following me as I continued on my way. (It's not always that bad, but one can never be sure.) Now I wait dutifully too, hoping to just blend in with the crowd (unless I'm really in a hurry, then all bets are off).

I notice when trains/buses are even a minute late

Despite Germany having one of the best and most comprehensive public transportation systems in the world, Germans are incredibly quick to complain when the trains and buses are late. German transportation schedules are planned down to the minute, and when a train that's scheduled for 9:00 leaves at 9:01 it's "late." I consider this an incredibly first-world problem and try to refrain from complaining, especially since in the past two years of using local and regional transportation regularly there have only been moderately serious delays or cancellations two or three times. What I have started doing, though, is noticing when a train or bus is even a minute or two late, whereas in the US I didn't really consider it late when the Amtrak train showed up around five minutes after the scheduled arrival time. I've also grown accustomed to hearing an announcement explaining exactly why the train is late (this usually occurs for delays of five minutes or more), which I found bizarre when I first experienced it.

This is just an assortment of the small ways in which I've adapted to German culture. These may seem inconsequential, but their importance shouldn't be underestimated. The cumulative effect of these small adaptations, even if they don't individually seem very remarkable, is to make me feel like I fit in here. Even after more than three years, it sometimes feels like I will never quite rid myself of the feeling of being foreign, and each time I notice one of these small ways in which I fit into my surroundings -- or better yet, don't notice until later that doing one of these things was anything other than ordinary -- it brings me one tiny step closer to feeling like I fully belong.

And if you haven't been convinced up until now I've really turned into a German, I'm drinking a beer while I write this. If that's not German I don't know what is.

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