Culture Shocks I Have Experienced in Germany So Far
Merely being unfamiliar with certain cultural norms does not render them taboo, especially when studying in a foreign country like Germany.
Addressing older ones by their first name
Although I have always known that in Western culture, it is customary to address anyone who is not a family member by their first name, as a typical African and proud Nigerian, it is quite different. In my cultural upbringing, it is expected to add a prefix such as Dr., Prof., Mr., Sir, or Mrs. to the names of those who are older or hold higher status. While it may not be a strict requirement, it is generally frowned upon if you do not include these titles. However, as I integrated into German culture, where it is acceptable to address professors by their first names, I came to understand that it is still possible to show respect to those who are senior to me in my career without using formal titles, except in very formal settings.
Less priority to greetings
Coming from a region where greeting others is a way to show respect, regardless of age or status, I initially found it challenging to accept when I greeted people and did not receive a response during the first weeks of my arrival in Germany. I felt a bit frustrated and disrespected. However, I eventually came to accept that it is a cultural norm here. Despite this experience, I still greet certain individuals to this day. The key is to quickly assess the person’s mood and determine if they will reciprocate the gesture. I understand that my perspective on greetings might be somewhat controversial, but it is based on my personal experiences so far. There is a saying that „when in Rome, do as the Romans do,“ and this is a mindset that many Africans living in Germany have adopted. I have also embraced it, although I am still selective in my greetings.
Before coming to Germany, I had a limited understanding of the concept of culture shock, but I was well aware that I would encounter people, activities, and cultural aspects that were unfamiliar to me.
Going for a swim without clothes
Have you ever experienced going to a lake with friends, only to witness them undressing completely before entering the water? Well, my German colleagues did just that. It was the first and most surprising cultural norm I encountered as an international student in Germany. The initial occurrence took place during a module in Latvia when we visited the Baltic Sea for research. After a tiring day, a few of my classmates decided to swim, and the Germans among them confidently entered the water completely naked. I was truly taken aback and struggled to comprehend what I was seeing. This situation repeated itself whenever we gathered at water bodies for relaxation. To be honest, it’s not that I dislike this practice, but it is simply something I am unaccustomed to. Later on, I discovered that German laws do not discourage this behavior as long as it takes place in streams, lakes, or beaches.
Bicycling as a predominant mode of transportation:
Having traveled to five different countries around the world, I can confidently say that the way Germans embrace cycling as a means of transportation is quite distinctive. In my home country, fewer than 10 percent of the population own bicycles, and there are several reasons for this, such as a lack of infrastructure to support biking, high costs associated with purchasing bicycles, and concerns about the risk of accidents. However, upon arriving in Germany, I was amazed to see almost everyone owning a bicycle. Even university professors would rather ride a bike than drive a car. I appreciate this idea as it not only reduces carbon emissions but also promotes a sustainable living environment.
Special treatment for pets:
In my home country, cats are not commonly kept as pets, whereas dogs are more prevalent. Typically, dogs were kept either for profit or as protective companions. However, upon arriving in Germany, I was taken aback to see a large number of people owning various pets, especially dogs. This stark difference in pet ownership was quite surprising to me. In my country, dogs were often raised in a way that made me fearful of them. However, living in Germany has completely changed my perspective on dogs and cats, and I have developed a deeper love and appreciation for them. The affection that Germans show towards their dogs left me astonished when I first arrived. I distinctly remember seeing a woman pushing two little puppies in a baby stroller, and I couldn’t help but find it fascinating.
Time is precious. Don't joke with it.
It's important for you to know this! Germans place a strong emphasis on punctuality. Initially, I believed it was mainly applicable to transportation services like trains and trams, which are known for their precise schedules. However, I soon discovered that the majority of Germans take punctuality very seriously in various aspects of life. Being even ten minutes late to a class is considered disrespectful to the lecturer, especially without prior notification via email. I had a personal experience where I arrived 15 minutes late for an appointment, and as a result, I had to reschedule for a date one month later. This experience has significantly improved my time management skills.