Why do Americans like to buy expensive things

Shara Tibken
Nine things Americans wonder about when they come to Germany

I can still remember my first visit to Germany very well. 14 years ago, as a college student, I wanted to visit Munich on a long weekend during my semester abroad. The city was snow-covered, cold and beautiful, but the beer bars, like the Hofbräuhaus, looked cozy and inviting. By and large, Munich was just as I had imagined Germany to be: with traditional costumes, beer and humtata.

From Shara Tibken

Hamburg - Like many other Americans, I had no idea that the rest of Germany looks completely different. I was pretty shocked when I came to Berlin about ten years later and there were craft beers and more kebab shops than pretzel stands. Some areas in Germany might look like the films, but most of them don't. And there are a lot of things in this country that Americans don't really know about. Here are a few of them.

Germany has more to offer than lederhosen, pretzels and beer

The image that the media, TV shows and films paint of Germany typically consists of blond, red-cheeked Germans in dirndls and lederhosen with a pretzel in one hand and a beer in the other. When Apple CEO Tim Cook was in Germany last month, the photo of the reserved entrepreneur swinging a mug of beer received the most likes of all the photos from this trip on Twitter.

When you go to Bavaria, you see a lot of people in traditional clothing, especially on special occasions like weddings. Some, mainly older men and women, also wear lederhosen and dirndls every day. When I was in the Alps, including Garmisch-Partenkirchen, everyone in the restaurants wore traditional clothing, not because there was a special occasion, but because they do it every day. And during the Oktoberfest in Munich you get the feeling that the whole city is out and about in dirndls and lederhosen, although many are actually drunk tourists who have bought cheap outfits near the main train station. However, when you go to Berlin, Hamburg or almost everywhere else, you hardly ever see traditional costumes.

The Oktoberfest is not (only) in October

Speaking of Oktoberfest, that doesn't take place in October either, at least not exclusively. It starts in September and ends in early October. Who would have thought? Most Americans don't. Even if only a few Americans have German ancestors, many have been to an Oktoberfest at least once in their lives. (Who likes to miss a good excuse to drink beer?). Oktoberfest parties happen all over America in the fall, but most happen in October. My office in San Francisco hosts a big Oktoberfest every year - you guessed it - in October, long after the real Oktoberfest has ended.

Nobody can imagine otherwise. There are many other things that Americans don't know about Oktoberfest, like that you can reserve tables, that families go too, and that it's not just about getting completely drunk.

Everything is closed on Sundays

In the United States, Sunday is usually the day to run errands, buy groceries, do a little shopping. Or at least that's how I do it. But not in Germany.

It was really a shock to me when I discovered during my first stay in Germany that almost everything was closed on Sundays. I had made up my mind to buy some nice leather boots that I'd been toying with for days only to find that the store had closed on my last day, a Sunday. My heart was really bleeding. But I'm probably not alone in that.

Almost nowhere can you pay by credit card

Before I came to Germany, I was pretty relaxed because I thought I could pay for everything with a credit card. There are no foreign fees charged, so I figured I would save a lot of money by not having to pay horrific ATM fees. Unfortunately it is false! The only stores that always accept credit cards are clothing and grocery stores. Almost no restaurant in the big cities and small villages I visited accepted Mastercard or Visa. You can also leave your American Express or Discover Card at home.

The latest test: will my Apple Card work anywhere? I don't have high hopes.

The trains don't run on time

The Germans are known to us Americans for their punctuality. So we naturally assume that trains are on time, that everything works perfectly and that you are never late for anything. HAHA! Not even close! It seems to be an open secret among Germans that trains don't run as reliably as we strangers believe.

This is not about Italian conditions with delays and cancellations, but we are still a long way from the reliability of the Swiss transport system. I had to experience that firsthand two years ago. I took a train from Munich to Baden-Baden without difficulty in August and decided to visit Strasbourg in France on one of the days I spent there. The problems started when I tried to book a return trip to Baden-Baden using the DB Navigator app.

I couldn't understand why every train I tried to book was canceled. Nobody could tell me what was going on. I finally managed to get back to Baden-Baden, where hundreds, if not thousands, of people were standing on the platform - and all other trains for that day had been canceled. I had no idea what was going on here. I was supposed to go to Heidelberg the next day, but it turned out that Baden-Baden was largely cut off from the rest of Germany because the Rastatt tunnel had collapsed.

Instead of the planned trip of just over an hour, I had to take several regional buses and trains until I finally got there after more than four hours. Deutsche Bahn reimbursed me for the original train ticket (how nice of them!), But this trip to Heidelberg was more than excruciating. Despite these problems, the public transport system and the rail network are far better than in most parts of the United States.

Cyclists ride on the sidewalk

This is fantastic when you're on a bike, but slightly scary when you're a newly arrived tourist. I almost got knocked over by a bike while standing on the sidewalk staring at a building on my first day in Berlin. I hadn't seen the bike coming at all and didn't realize that bike lanes aren't right next to the road like in the US.

In America it is forbidden to ride a bike on the sidewalk. A friend of mine had to pay a fine and take a traffic education class for riding a bike on the sidewalk in Brooklyn, New York. Although the German bicycle lanes have a different color or a different surface than the sidewalks, it takes a while to find out what is what. I wonder if some tourists even notice a difference or just assume that these are all sidewalks.

Air conditioning systems, light switches and windows - everything is different

There are hardly any air conditioning systems in Germany, mainly because it was never so hot in the past that you needed them. It is a shock when you arrive here in the heat and find that the hotel you have booked does not have air conditioning. In the United States, air conditioning is standard almost everywhere.

Then there are the German light switches. They are pressed the other way around than in the USA (there you press the switch up to turn the light on, down to turn it off again). It kind of confuses me every time I turn on the light. Has Germany - together with the rest of Europe - decided to do it the other way around than in the USA?

Windows are different in Germany too. And me love you. In Germany you can turn the handle to either open the window like a door or to tilt it open at the top. I just love it, even if I can't explain exactly why. In the US, windows are usually slid up and down or to the side to open them.

Eggs don't have to be refrigerated here

How? Why? How so? Don't you really have to store them in a cool place? Can you really just put them on the shelf like that? Even if I “know” that you can eat them without hesitation, I can't help but put them in the fridge right after shopping. Otherwise I'll get really nervous.

As for the eggs themselves, you can sometimes find little surprises on them - like chicken droppings and feathers. You see something like that in the US No wayunless you live on a farm. I even grew up on a farm in Iowa, and my youngest brother kept chickens for a while. I've seen eggs in their natural state, but most Americans don't. And although the eggs came fresh from the chicken coop, of course my family put them in the fridge.

Water is often not free - and sometimes toilets are not either

As soon as you take a seat in a restaurant in the USA, you will be brought a glass of tap water with lots of ice. You can have it refilled as many times as you want and it won't cost you a dime. It really comes as a shock to Americans who come to Europe when they first have to pay for their water. And you can forget about the ice cream too! Even when it's almost 40 ° C, you almost never get ice with your drinks.

You can get tap water for free in Germany, but as an American you don't really know how to ask for it. Most of the time, you end up with an expensive bottle of mineral water. In the United States, you are served still water 99 percent of the time. Even though carbonated mineral water has become somewhat more popular in America, most Americans do not know how to ask for still water or mineral water in Germany.

And then there are the toilets. In America they are free and there are no toilet staff to tip unless you are in a nightclub. I still clearly remember the first time I paid a euro to use a toilet. It was a sad evening. I would have preferred to spend the money on ice cream.
  • Print article