5 Rules Not to Break in Germany

german flag

[xyno] / [iStock] / Thinkstock

Germany was my adopted country for one year while I was studying in college. Why I went to Germany instead of say, Costa Rica, is beyond me. Apparently I felt the need to experience snow and sauerkraut and lots of it. Whatever my reasons for going, I had an amazing time while there and came to love Germany and all of its idiosyncrasies. However, there were a few unspoken rules that I had to learn the hard way. The good news is that Germans don’t hesitate to let you know when you’ve broken a rule. The bad news is that, well, they don’t hesitate to let you know you’ve broken a rule. When you cross that line, you’ll know. Either you’ll receive a look that makes you want to crawl under a rock or if you’re really lucky an 80 year-old woman will yell at you in public, which, I have to say, works like a charm.

Don’t walk in the bike path
You’ll get run over. No, really. You’ll be walking nonchalantly alongside a river or lake and suddenly someone will ring a bell and bellow “Pass auf!” approximately two seconds before they’re about to run into you and you have no choice but to dive out of the way. I learned this lesson the hard way during my first week in Germany. While standing in the middle of a bike path like an oblivious tourist, an old lady yelled “Hier ist kein Fußgängerzone!” (This isn’t the pedestrian path) as she barreled past me on a dainty bike laden with groceries. I was so ashamed I nearly went back home right then and there.

No Jaywalking
It doesn’t matter if it’s two in the morning and there are no cars in sight. You stand on the corner and you wait for the little green man to flash. Under no circumstances should you ever cross when you don’t have the right of way. If you have the nerve to undertake this in broad daylight in front of other people, make sure there are no children in sight. If there are kids, you will definitely get told off by one of your fellow pedestrians. If a police officer catches you, you’ll get a nice fine.

Use Appropriate Bins for Recycling and Trash
The Germans have the most efficient waste disposal system known to mankind. It’s also the most complicated. The first morning I went to take the trash out, I stood in front of the varying blue and yellow bins for a full five minutes trying to figure out which bag went where before finally giving up and just throwing it in the closest one so that I could run and catch my bus to class. I came home to find the bag sitting in front of one of the dumpsters with a note on it explaining the system. Brown bin = biological waste. Yellow bin = plastic. Gray bin = household waste. Blue bin = paper. Glass is sorted by color into green, brown, and white bins. Still confused? Yeah, I hear you. Read up on the details here.

Prost When You Toast
No, not that kind of toast. When you’re raising your mug of beer, make sure to look each individual in the eye as you clink glasses and say “Prost.” It’s very rude not to make eye contact. It’s also rude to become a drunken, disheveled mess in public so if you can’t hold your liquor, pace yourself. Also, before digging into your Schnitzel, make sure to wait till your host or those at your table have said “Guten Appetit.”

To Go or Not to Go?
It wasn’t so long ago that asking for your coffee in a to go cup would result in the German stare. A coffee? To go? Why would you do such a thing? However, this rule is rapidly losing fashion and it’s becoming more and more acceptable to order your kaffee zum mitnehmen. While it’s becoming far more acceptable to ask for a “doggie bag” (far more acceptable than in France, for example), it’s still considered a little odd so try and finish what’s on your plate.

By Nikki Hodgson