Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Germany is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your German language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, if you’re going to travel through Germany, then make sure you’re aware of how to get around to ensure you stay safe while traveling through the country.
It takes some time to learn a new culture, and some people unknowingly do or say the wrong thing, causing offense and awkwardness. Proceeding with caution and respecting everyone’s space and privacy will go a long way. When you come upon a German home, you will notice everything bordering the home, like fences, are well maintained and kept in good working order.
There’s also a psychological component in that the fence or other border separates and protects everyone inside the area and provides a clear boundary. British homes are similar to German homes in that regard, moreso than American homes. The interior of the home is also set up with boundaries, with many areas closed off, in contrast to the wide-open spaces in most American homes. The entry way to the average home in Germany is long and narrow, and the door to any bedroom you may happen to pass will be closed. They also keep doors closed because rooms usually have individual heating. Unless you’ve developed a relationship and are invited, don’t expect to get a tour of someone’s home, and you shouldn’t ask for one.
If your host goes into the kitchen for a beverage, you should wait for their return instead of attempting to follow them. In an American home, that would be considered acceptable behavior, but in Germany it is frowned upon and considered presumptuous. That’s not to say the setting won’t be relaxed and pleasant; even if you’re just trying to be friendly or helpful, Germany is a bit more formal. A German won’t open up their entire home to a visitor straight away. You will make friends much easier and in less time if you learn the boundaries and respect for everyone’s privacy.
Here’s what it’s like using the Autobahn: You’re cruising at 70 miles an hour, enjoying the scenery and trying to convert MPH to KPH in your head. You glance in the rearview mirror once and there’s nothing. You hear a noise from behind, glance again, and there’s a Mercedes in the mirror for a split second before it whips by you at 200 KPH.
You can go pretty damn fast on the Autobahn if you’re in one of the places that has no speed limit, as long as you stick to the proper lane. (Different lanes have different speed limits.) But when you crash on the Autobahn, you crash hard. And your driver’s license crashes as well: having an accident on the Autobahn means you might lose your driver’s license even if the crash isn’t your fault.
One thing you are sure to find in a German city is a tourist office. They can and will actively promote places to go and things to do. Besides the great German festivals mentioned here, every town or village has its own annual festival, well worth seeking out. Also worth seeking out are the large forests surrounding the cities, if you’re into hiking, walking, cycling, or the smell of barbecue. The local councils rent out huts to families looking to hold barbecues or parties in the countryside. It lets the people of the city breathe.
If you do not like the smell of the sweet green earth, and prefer something that smells more like cheap fair food, there are a number of theme parks in Germany. Take the time to look into visiting Phantasialand near Cologne, Warner Brother’s Movie ParkGermany near Essen, or Playmobil FunPark near Zirndorf if you prefer entertainment to nature.
Wherever you go, you will likely find clean and functioning accommodation, from fancy hotels to caravans tohostels. The first hostel in the world was opened in Altenia castle in Germany in 1912. They’ve become much less Spartan since the old days, so if you’re on a small budget you might try one of them.
There are two tickets that must be bought in and outside Germany: the German rail pass, which facilitates unlimited travel for four to ten days, and the Eurail pass, which allows unlimited travel within seventeen countries in Europe. More information on this can be obtained from your local travel agent. Door-to-door service is also available for baggage, and this can be checked out at your local station.
Most German towns have a streetcar (“Straßenbahn”) or a bus service, or occasionally both. There are extensive networks of rural and regional bus services, which connect the train network to various villages. In the big cities, subway systems (“U-Bahn” meaning “Untergrundbahn”) are available. Tickets for these are always purchased from machines. Depending on the city, all instructions may be provided in German, making it necessary to ask for help whenever the need arises.
You might come across bus drivers who accept onboard payment but note that you are expected to have purchased your ticket before boarding the bus. You then need to punch the ticket into a machine on the streetcar or bus for journey validation. Germans are trusted to have validated their tickets but expect a sizable fine if an inspector comes on board and discovers that you have absconded validating your ticket. Night bus services are usually available and where they are not, check for first and last bus times.
Banks in Germany are typically open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., although some will stay open until 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays, and some smaller banks may close for lunch between 1:00 and 2:30 p.m. As a rule, most banks in Germany are not open on Saturdays.
Germany is part of the Eurozone, and, as a result, the old currency (the “D-Mark”) was replaced by the Euro in 1999. Nevertheless, German financial habits have remained unchanged, and Germany itself remains a primarily cash-driven society, to the extent that some restaurants and stores may not accept credit cards as payment.
Germans, like most people around the world, have a “Girokonto” (a current or checking account) and a “Sparkonto” (a savings account). Bills are paid from the “Girokonto”, and people who provide cleaning, delivery, or repair services may provide their Giro number with the bill and ask for a direct transfer into their account as payment.
Standing orders (“Daueraufträge”) are used for regular payments, direct debits (“Lastschriftverfahren”) for utilities, and transfers (“Überweisungen”) for one-time payments, with a relatively recent increase in online banking keeping Germany current with the modern world.
The average German prefers to pay cash over plastic or personal checks, or on a debit card if necessary. As a result, “Geldautomaten” (ATMs) are readily accessible in most cities across the country.
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