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USA vs. Germany - Differences We've Noticed

Attitude Beer Built To Last Calling people by last name Cars Coffee Dates Door Knobs Doors Driving Eating with utensils Electricity Environmental Food service Food shopping Gasoline Getting change at the cash register Heating systems Language Metric Money Moon shoes No Ice in drinks Paper Parking on sidewalks Paths, Foot and bike Pedestrians Phones Plumbing Prices Purple hair Quiet Restaurants Shopping carts Stores Time Tipping Toilets Traffic Signals and Signs Transportation TV Sets Washers and Dryers Water Wedding Rings Windows and shutters





We've found everyone at work to be very friendly although more formal than we're used to. But, don't expect anyone on the street to acknowledge you or smile. To the casual observer, this makes Germans seem unfriendly or unhappy.


We haven't had a bad beer yet. Although not everyone in the group drinks, those of us that do have experienced 3 varieties: Pilsner (or pils), Weissen (wheat), and a dark beer phonetically called donkless. There seem to be as many brands of beer as there are towns. It's funny because our ordinary American beers are exports here and more expensive (and they are shamefully inadequate compared to German beer!).

Built To Last

From houses to cars to sidewalks to software, everything in Germany is built for the long haul. Germans are known for their engineering skills and it really shows.

Calling people by last name

This is a customary formality. I think we've broken that down a little at work. As Americans we're used to calling everyone by their first name. In our group, the team leader decreed that everyone should use first names.


The majority of car makes are Mercedes, BMW, VW, and Audi. Surprising to us was to see as many Opel's as any other car. I guess they quit exporting to the US years ago, but are still going strong over here. Also surprising was to see some Ford models we've never seen before. Many times we'll see some very TINY cars and we've categorized them all as 'Shriner' cars because they look like the go-karts that Shriners drive in Thanksgiving and Christmas parades. At night sometimes we would see cars with one taillight and headlight lit up on just one side of the car. We thought this was a strange coincidence to see lights burnt out front and back on the same side. Then one of the smart ones of the group figured out how to make our cars do this. You can turn the headlight switch a certain way to make one side or the other's lights come on. I guess this is so when you're parked on the side of the street at night, you can warn other drivers so they don't wipe you out.


The only way I've found coffee to go is out of a machine at the gas station. And then it's a small cup. Somebody needs to open up some Starbucks franchises over here. I would appreciate it and they might go over well. Everywhere you go they serve coffee in small cups that you can't take with you. Also, I can't find a travel mug to bring coffee in the car from home. I DO like the coffee maker in the apartment though. It brews right into a carafe that will keep it warm without having to sit on the coffeemaker hot plate and acquire that burnt taste. What I've been doing on the weekends is taking the whole carafe with me in the car to make sure I get my full caffeine allotment.


The date format they use is day.month.year. So December 25, 1998 would be 25.12.1998. Hard to get used to when you're used to seeing 12/25/1998.

Door Knobs

There are none. They're all handles.


In general the doors are all the same, being a 2-3 tier panel.


Of course we've been on the autobahn where there is no speed limit. Our record so far is about 190 kph (118 mph) going downhill with a tailwind. We won't do much better than that with our rental station wagons. The 'autobahn' is not just one road - it's every major highway. So you can drive fast all over Germany!

Eating with utensils

Germans seem to eat pizza with a knife and fork. That's OK when it's too hot, but you have to use your hands after a while. Also, they usually hold the fork in their left hand.


The electrical outlets over here are 220 volts and ours in the US are 120 volts. Also, the electrical outlets have a different plug. So you need at a minimum several plug adapters to plug in stuff from the US. You also need a power converter to convert from 220 to 120. You have to be careful about what you plan to use it for (electronics vs other appliances and wattage requirements) and make sure the adapter you buy will handle it. If you don't get what you need before coming over, usually a store at the airport will have converters and adapters. That's the ONLY place we found this stuff.

All the light switches are kind of like big rocker panels rather than the lever type we're used to.


They are much more conscious about waste and recycling than we are. We are so much a throw-away culture. There seems to be much more recycling here. For instance, at the grocery store, if you want bags you have to pay for them. This makes you save and re-use your bags real quickly.

Food service

If you go out to eat, don't get in a hurry. Service is slow and they expect you to stay a while. Many times the food comes out in waves (2 or 3 plates at a time) and the rest of your party just has to wait.

Food shopping

We see many folks buying smaller quantities than we're accustomed to. The grocery stores close at 8PM during the week and around 1:30 or 2PM on Saturday. They are closed on Sunday.


Is very expensive! It's priced by the liter. Currently it's between 1.50 and 1.60 DM per liter for regular. That works out to about $3.95 per gallon. You don't see many gas-guzzlers here.

Getting change at the cash register

It's usually put in a tray beside the register. Don't know why.

Heating systems

We've seen only radiators. They work very well.


Of course the official language is German, but many people know some or more English. We should be required to take another language beginning early in school. We've been able to get along quite well without knowing much German. Figuring out menus is the hardest part. We find ourselves just slaughtering the language (except for Steve Espeland) with our Southern interpretations, bad pronunciation, and made-up words.


One of the biggest differences for Americans is the metric system. None of the measurements we use in the US are found in Europe. The temperature is in celsius, gas is in liters, speed limits are in kilometers per hour, distances are in meters or kilometers, weights are in grams or kilograms. Drinks are measured in mililiters or fractions of liters. You find yourself constantly doing conversions in your head trying to figure out how far something is or how much bananas in the market are compared to what we pay in the US.


The currency here is Deutsch Marks (DM). Currently 1 DM is about $.61. We use more coins here because there are no paper bills for 1's and 5's - they're coins. What we call a cent is a pfenning (pf). For coinage, there is a 5 DM, 2 DM, 1 DM, 50 pf, 10 pf, 2 pf, and 1 pf. For billage, we've seen a 10, 20, 50, 100.

Moon shoes

We've seen a definite fad (maybe it's more widespread) in thick-soled shoes of all kinds.

No Ice in drinks

Only McDonalds will give you ice in your soft drink. And only if you ask for it.


No 8 1/2 x 11 size paper. It's called A4 and it's just a little longer and a little thinner.

Parking on sidewalks

It's a good thing. You can park lots of places where you would normally get towed in the US. Some of the sidewalks in the cities are so wide that people regularly park on them, sometimes 2 wide. It's strange to see a car come driving down the sidewalk trying to find an opening to get on the street. Most places you can park for free except for touristic (new word) areas.

Paths, Foot and bike

They are all over the place. Many roads have bike lanes. Maps show all kinds of paths running everywhere. It's great. A runner, hiker, walker, or biker's dream.


..are important. Cars actually watch out for pedestrians here. But that doesn't mean that you don't have to pay attention. You're pretty safe if you stick to the designated crosswalks and watch the traffic signals.


The dial tone is different over here. It's a higher-pitched sound. The phone jack that plugs into the wall is totally different. Although the plug that goes to the phone looks the same as ours, I think it's wired differently. If you need to use a computer to dial out, be sure and get an adapter. Their phone number scheme is different over here also. To dial my apartment from within Germany, the number is 061 95 901748. There's one more digit than the US has and it's formatted differently. I think Siemens make most of the phones.


See toilets.


Better on Swiss Army knives, mag-lites, wine and beer, pizza (only individual size). Seem to be higher on most things (see gasoline).

Purple hair

Another fad we've noticed is that many women have their hair dyed this reddish color that almost looks purple.


Things seem to be much quieter here. In my apartment it is so quiet you can hear your heartbeat while lying in bed. Back home we're used to having something running all the time like a heat pump or dishwasher.


Most of the menus are in German, so you HAVE to learn the names of foods so you have an idea of what to order.

,Shopping carts

There's a deposit of 1 DM to use a shopping cart (Einkaufwagen). You put the coin in and it releases the 'chain' that holds the cart to the next one. When you're done with the cart, you put it back, reattach the 'chain', and get your money back. This is a good thing because it keeps the parking lot from getting cluttered with carts.


Virtually none are open on Sunday, except for bakeries. During the week the hours are usually 9 to 1 and 3 to 6:30 or 8. On Saturday usually from 9 to 2. In cities there is no noontime break in hours.


There's no am or pm. They use military time. So 11PM is 23:00. Frankfurt is 6 hours ahead of Charlotte, NC.


When eating in a restaurant, the tip is included with the bill and you sometimes round up the bill to the nearest DM.


There seem to be many different types of toilets and they're all not what we're used to. The flush mechanism is a panel on the wall above the toilet or a panel on top of the tank. In public restrooms it usually costs 50 pf to go.

Traffic Signals and Signs

Traffic lights are mostly on the side of the street and never on wires hanging across. They are pretty much the same as ours except that they turn yellow before green.

There are signs for everything. The only ones easily recognizable are stop and yield.


The roads have no North, South, East, or West indications. You just have to know the towns or cities that are in the direction you want to go and follow the signs for them. The signs are great.

Everywhere there is public transportation - buses and trains. Air travel within Europe is expensive because of the lack of competition. More later after we've taken some train trips.

TV Sets

They use a different signal standard than what we have in the US and are more expensive.

Washers and Dryers

Are much more efficient than most in the US. Most are front-loading and take a long time to wash and dry clothes.


Drinking water. It's not free. You don't get free water in restaurants. There are no water fountains. The bottled water is as expensive as beer. It's usually carbonated (mit gasse).

Wedding Rings

Are generally worn on the right hand.

Windows and shutters

All of the windows and glass doors we've seen look and work the same way. They have a handle on one side. When the handle is pointing down the window is closed and locked. When the handle is pointing up, the window will tilt slightly open at the top. When the handle is pointing towards the middle of the window, the window will swing all the way open on hinges on the opposite side from the handle.

Most buildings and houses have a metal shutter system built into each window frame where the shutter can be rolled down from the top to completely shut off the window with what looks like an armor shield. This makes the building look like a fortress, but is very functional.