Over at Black Forest Tours we have a related post that seems to be very popular called “German Attitudes and Culture“. That post will give you a nice well-rounded introduction to some things that may surprise you (and some are very funny too) upon your first visit to Germany. But there is so much more to know if you want to have a pleasant trip.
#6 in that post is “Germans like their rules”. We want to explore this a bit further because “the rules” are not necessarily explicit – they are often not written down. So as a tourist, you will, absolutely, one day, find yourself is a jam because you didn’t know “the rule” for something. We’ll explain some of those here, but before we do, let us encourage you to buy our tours. They will save you much frustration, time, and.$.money. With each tour you receive excruciatingly detailed explanations about things you need to know that make all the difference on your trip here in Germany. You may miss your train or get on the wrong train simply because you didn’t know! You will not get served dinner, because you didn’t know! (Going to bed hungry is no fun)
Food, Dinner, Grocery stores
What surprises especially Americans (who live in a 24/7 culture), nothing in Germany is open on Sundays. Only restaurants and biergartens may be open. In big cities you won’t notice this so much, but in small villages, you are out of luck – nothing will be open. In certain towns that are popular with tourists, like our town of Freiburg, you won’t get a seat until late in the evening if at all because the locals will already have made reservations at their favorite restaurant. In our tour guides we always explain these things, depending where you are, so that you will always enjoy a meal in a nice place at a reasonable hour.
Language, not just German
Keep in mind that Germany has very different regional cultures. Since we are located in the south-western corner of Germany in the state of Baden-Württemberg (two older states that were merged after World War II), even Baden (south) is culturally different from Württemberg (north). The Black Forest is mostly located in Baden. Standard German, or High-German as it is called, is spoken in the area of Hanover. It might surprise you to know that people from our area, who speak Badish, do not understand Germans from the southeast corner of Germany (Munich), who speak Bavarian. That’s right! The dialects are really that different. Its not at all similar to English, where Americans understand Australians and British without too much difficulty. So even if you have your little Rick Steves phrase book, you may not understand one word spoken to you in their local tongue. Be prepared. Buy our tour guides!
But you should at least try to speak German! It will pay off. Nothing will get you on the wrong side of a German faster than rattling off a question in your English slang “wat kinda beers you guys got?”. Im not making that one up. (and be sure say it really fast so that your server is twice as irritated) I’ve heard this spoken and I’ve seen the reaction. Yes your server may “get” what just came out of your mouth, but they are almost sure to offer you something you won’t like or don’t want – and they won’t take it back – and you’ll be lucky if they return to your table in the next hour no matter what kind of crazy hand signals you employ. That’s the price of being insensitive and unprepared on your travels. Our guides will often explain the best way to ask for things you would like and therefore produce the desired outcome.
#10 from our other post bears repeating here; German Service
German servers are not prompt. Eating and drinking are done in slow-motion here. Its just how it is in Germany. 99% of the time you imagine its because they know you are a foreigner. Now you may sit down in a gasthaus and never get service, but that is for a reason. You can avoid unpleasantries by waiting to be seated. Biergartens are the exception – anything goes in a biergarten. But otherwise if you have to take a seat without a server guiding you to one, always-always sit at a table with tablecloth and utensils. The table without these is not to be used or its a table reserved for locals; called a Stammtisch (it may have a lamp above it decorated with hunting paraphernalia). Sitting at the Stammtisch (table) will brand you as a dumb tourist and the server will not likely serve you.
Now if you are the masochistic type, you should visit Koln (Cologne), and have a Kolsch beer there (which is a famous beer only made in Koln). The servers in Koln are notoriously unfriendly. Its almost like a competition to see who can be the worst server – until they get drunk and then they are the nicest people you can meet. Which is to say, Germans are actually warm and fun-loving people. Just get to know the rules and you’ll experience this first-hand. Buy our tour guides! They are cheap insurance against getting on the wrong side of things.