Being Erasmus abroad brings social and cultural differences to the surface. Being drenched into northern German culture for more than three months bring necessarily to notice some characteristics. This article collect them in a short list, helping new Erasmus students to grasp the essence of the local society. Putting all these features together results funny, words turn into mirrors and mirrors show portraits. Here, you may find your current or future neighbours, a stereotype or even yourself. A funny list only for laughing. Not for criticising.
If you come from southern European countries and you try to cycle in Germany, you may find yourself instantly covered with a continuous sense of guilt that slowly erodes your civic consciousness. You never know if what you are doing is right. It feels like an infinite amount of rules are surrounding you. Making you feel like you’ve never drove a bike before.
First of all, as a biker, you must travel with the flow of traffic. In other words, on the right side of the street. Even if bike lanes are on the side walks, far way from the cars, you should stay on the right side.
Secondly, bike riders must obey all traffic lights. Inconceivable in other southern countries.
Finally, it is illegal to talk on a mobile phone while riding your bike. Good luck!
From a pedestrian point of view, you are just nothing for cyclists. Normally you are not considered. It means that if you get caught by a cyclist walking on the bike lane, he/she will most likely take aim, speed up and run over you, with or without ringing the bell. Bike lanes are terrifically off limits for pedestrians.
Sundays are not holidays
In some countries, like Spain or Italy, Sundays sound like holidays, rest, relax or travel. In Schleswig-Holstein, Sundays can also be hard work. Most bakeries are open until noon and university courses can be held Friday till Sunday, full day.
Favourite hobby after work is … work!
Right after 7.5 hours of “home office” you could hear your entire neighbourhood heading for the garden and do something. It doesn’t matter what, but do something, possibly hard and loud.
Beer and bread are important
In England they chat about the weather, in Italy about wine.
Here, in Germany, about beer and bread! (Or also about beer and beer).
Conquer the heart of a stranger only talking about these two vital things. It doesn’t matter from which part of Germany you are in or from. These topics are so deeply rooted into German culture that you can always try to start a conversation. Approach a stranger and ask about bread. Then, try to slowly drift the conversation towards beer. At the end, show off your regional knowledge mentioning some little anecdotes on Fischbrötchen.
Spin off: Fishbrotchen & Wurst
The most interesting thing about German typical food is that it is not connected to time. Lunch can happen in a wide range of different hours of the day, spanning over half a day and gradually becoming a lunch-dinner. Because of this, also typical food is not drastically connected to either lunch, brunch, dinner or snack time. “Brotzeit” and Fischbrötchen-time can happen at every hour of the day. Or of the night. As well as Wurst barbecuing. Normally every typical German family is equipped with a gas Wurst griller which gets at 300°C in 3.4 seconds. Moreover, German families are equipped with sausages and Wurst’s supplies potentially lasting for decades. Not having Wurst at home is worse than not having running water. By the way, fun fact: a kind of meat is called “Piraten Steak“.
Breakfast is important too
Apparently, for some unknown reasons, breakfast is the main meal in Germany. Lunch and dinner may happen as well but, if breakfast is not well organized then it is a big mess. Breakfast includes the typical Käsebrot in all its variants, with (fresh) cheese, butter, cucumber and jam. Maybe all of them together. It is energetic and it embodies the perfect start of the day. Trying a typical German breakfast is one cheap, but nice, reason for finding German friends.
Don’t throw away your empty bottles!
If you break a Flensburger beer bottle, you automatically become the Public Enemy Number One. Remember that the Flensburger beer brewery recycles its own bottles. Fun fact: Flensburger beer has patented the typical sound of its beers. So, don’t break them! If you do, you also break northern German values and culture. Moreover, to encourage the recycling of reusable materials, the German government offers a deposit (Pfand) of 15-50 cents on most bottles, including glass and plastic. This means that you can return your used bottles in grocery’s shops and shopping malls.
Regional Bahn (RB) and Regional Express (RE)
If you plan a trip by train, with your semester ticket, be aware that you can only use RE and RB trains. Be, also, aware that they stop many times and that they may not restart. Right, regional trains break often. They may just stay exactly where they want, when they want, just like donkeys. In this case, while waiting for the next train, take the opportunity to visit a village you didn’t planned to. Starting from Kiel get ready to get stuck in villages like Neumünster or Rendsburg. Some villages which are worth a visit are Schleswig and Plön.
Payment by card or cash
You don’t have cash but you decide to order something at the wooden old counter anyway. The barman ask you to pay. Your shining international bank card waves in the air, while the whole saloon falls into silence. You have fear for your life. The whole bar stopped and it is just nodding a clear and continuous “NO” back at you. Well welcome to Germany. Have a nice little cash with you. Always.
Pay the broadcast tax
Germans have a radio and television broadcasting monthly fee of approximately 17€. They pay it because the radio and television are bureaucratically detached from the government. For safety reasons.
Pay this tax if, as an Erasmus student, for few months, you want to feel more German. Especially if you don’t own or use any radio or television.
Pay the church tax
Pay it if you are Christian and you need to pray in Churches. You may pay it also if you are not Christian. You never know what you pay for in Germany.
The Wacken Open Air heavy metal music festival is the largest in the world of its kind. It rages the middle region of Schleswig Holstein since 1990. Come back from your Erasmus with new cute tunes.
Don’t buy plastic bags
Don’t forget your backpack or a cloth bag for going grocery shopping. If you use plastic bags for collecting vegetables or fruits, you get thrown out of the shopping mall. But actually, it’s another good habit for the environment.
Organic food normally tastes of nothing at all, just like the other average kinds of foods but: is it, maybe, a responsible habit? Oat milk is the new trend. Your porridge in the morning or your afternoon cappuccinos will never be the same. The attractive packaging shows off sensible topics, like sustainability denouncing the food industry. Many seem to be deeply aware to have sustainable habits at their grocery’s shops behind the corner. But when it comes to travel there are no limits to pollution. Don’t forget the “Barista” option to make the cappuccino foam at home.
Theatres are giant in small villages
The smaller the city gets the bigger the local opera theatres are. Try to notice that.
Yellow bin = plastic
In some countries the yellow bins are dedicated to the collection and the recycling of paper. Keep in mind that in Germany yellow means plastic. Blue/green means paper.
Nordsee and Ostsee are always warm
People jump into the sea at every time of the year. It takes courage but as an Erasmus student you can try it. In Schleswig-Holstein many water sports can be tried like: sailing, windsurf, sup and many more.
18°C = Summer
When the sun is out, Germans are out as well. Departing from 15.5°C on and from May till October, T-shirts and Birkenstocks are on a wide spread usage. Socks and sweaters are forgotten.
This dish has the status of a German National entrée amongst students. It is a recent trend and it is delicious. Erasmus students will be surprised to have German friends cooking like Indians.
It is an interesting, practical and common habit to leave notes for everything and everyone in every situation. If you find notes around, on doors, shelves or drawers, don’t panic, they should be friendly reminders. Hopefully.
Be on time
Everyone knows that timing is important in Germany. In other countries, if you manage to arrive on time, they shake your hand with compliments. In Germany arriving at the right time is not a big achievement. It’s just normal. 5 minutes delay is not. Respect German habits and you will be included in society. Otherwise, not even a governmental integration plan will be able to save you from oblivion.
Finally, it is important to say that not everyone can be described as above. This list is a broad generalization of what Germany and people in Schleswig-Holstein really are. Maybe, the next incoming international students may find these characteristics different, interesting and funny. But, for sure, they will remember their exchange experience, in the most north and beautiful German region, also through these details.