Photo of the old Heidelberg bridge. The bridge is made of red brick and you can see the river under it. It has a white statue detail. In the background there is a hill with buildings and a a forest.

Are the stereotypes about Germany true?

While I’ve been living in Germany for only less than two months and working in a mostly international environment, I feel like I’ve had the occasion to observe quite a bit of the German culture. Throughout my life I’ve heard many stereotypes about Germans, from how they work to what they enjoy in their free time. But did these stereotypes prove to be true? Below I’ve listed a few of the stereotypes I’ve heard of and whether or not they proved to be true.

1. Following the rules

A simple yet very broad stereotype that proved to be more true than I expected. I started noticing it even before I arrived here when I had to send a surprising amount of supporting documentation to the lab in order to have everything set by the time I start. And then it kept going! The order of the lab is set- from the recycling bins, the organization of my lab book and the time people start working. But I was most surprised to see that the stereotype about crossing the street on the red light is incredibly true. While in the busy city of Stockholm you can often see people jaywalking, here it is a rather rare sight. One night, when going home from a party, I nonchalantly looked right and left on the crosswalk and started walking. The road was empty as it was late in the night so I didn’t even give it a second thought, but as I reach the other side of the road my German friend I was with catches up with me and with a shocked expression on her face confesses that was the first time she ever jaywalked. I couldn’t believe it! Of course, jaywalking is unsafe and should be avoided, but the thought of never having done it before was unimaginable to me!

2. Sparkling water, bread and beer

Luckily, this stereotype also proved to be true! Germans love good beer and they sure love good bread and I was delighted to discover that here I fit right in with my love for sparkling water. Bakeries are everywhere and the bread they offer is always the right balance between crispy outside and heartwarming middle. I was also encouraged to try the local beers rather than the kinds I usually drink and was pleasantly surprised. But, I am yet to try the local ”fortune telling” beer that has either ”yes”, ”no” or ”unsure” on the inside of the cap. Before you open it, you ask a question, but you must be very careful as the cap always tells the truth. Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to!

3. The work culture

I’d say that this is a rather unfortunate discovery, but it is true that Germans work quite a lot. Except for Sunday, when all shops and supermarkets are (inconveniently) closed. I might be wrong about this one, as I have only gotten to see the work culture within my research group but working late hours has proved to be more common than I thought. And although being passionate about your work in the field of research is a common thing worldwide, it seems almost as if the Germans have it in their blood to respect the minimal amount of work hours and go beyond that as often as possible. This habit seems to have rubbed off on the internationals in the lab too. I was surprised when someone asked me, in a surprised tone, ”oh, you’re done for the day?” when I was packing up to leave at 5 p.m..

4. No stale air allowed

This is quite a funny one as it is such a small detail, but it is very true. Opening the window wide to let fresh air in, no matter the temperature outside, must happen every day, maybe even multiple times a day. I have grown to like this one and have actually adopted it into my daily routine.

5. Unfriendly and cold people

To finish off the list, I decided to talk about the one stereotype I am very glad is not true. Or at least, it hasn’t been the case for me! This is one of the stereotypes I’ve heard most often and was warned of before coming here. It might be my luck, it might be the fact that Heidelberg is not one of the bigger cities or it might just be untrue! All the Germans I’ve met so far have been very welcoming and helpful people. My flat mates, all German, are very inclusive and have no problem answering all my questions about life in Germany. The Germans in my lab are also very chatty and make sure to include me in conversation and invite me to fun outings. And lastly, something that I really wasn’t expecting, but strangers always smile! It’s quite funny to say but I had to learn to walk around ready to smile every time anyone is in sight because I can be sure that even the shortest glimpse of eye contact will result in a smile to smile response. 🙂

Overall, the rumors are true but maybe we should reassess the social skills of the Germans. Are there any stereotypes that you’ve heard of and I didn’t include? Do you agree with my opinions?

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Brought a smile to my face :) Glad you're enjoying Germany!

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