Living like a local in Germany

Living like a local in Germany

by Genevieve Northup
Stripes Europe

You may notice many cultural differences between American and German living. Adjusting to these differences and learning how to live like a local will improve your European experience and help you feel at home. 

Home, sweet home

While moving in, here are some important things to know: 

Maintaining property – You must keep your section of sidewalk and street gutter free of debris. You are also required by law to shovel snow from the section of sidewalk surrounding your home; this should be done early in the morning before children start walking to school. Though not a legal requirement, depending on your neighborhood and landlord, you may receive sideways glances or scornful looks if you do not maintain a manicured lawn and clean windows. 

Quiet hours – Operating loud machinery and other disruptions should be avoided between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and again from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m., and don’t mow the lawn after 8 p.m. Sundays and German holidays are meant for quiet activities; refrain from loud chores, such as mowing, that could disturb neighbors. It may take a while to adjust, but quiet time gives you a great excuse to relax and spend time with your family. 

Recycling – It’s time to be environmentally conscious and recycle — it’s the law. Failure to recycle can result in fines ranging from 25 euros to more than 600 euros. Confused about recycling? We've got answers

Saavy shopping

Your home refrigerator is likely to be small because the Germans don’t stockpile groceries; instead, they shop several days a week, buying fresh only what they need for the next few meals. Look at this as an opportunity to eat fresher foods and waste less, a healthier and more wallet-friendly habit. Don’t be afraid to shop on the economy for fresh produce and local favorites to liven up your meals. 


  • Stores are closed on Sundays – Credit cards may not be accepted, so carry euros and get an EC card (see the Euro Banking article). Keep change handy because shopping carts may require a deposit, usually a €1 coin, which you will receive back when the cart is returned. Most markets charge for grocery bags, so bring cloth sacks or re-use plastic bags. 
  • Hypermarkets – Similar to Super Wal-Mart or Super Target, these huge stores are great for stocking up on household items. They offer groceries, electronics, clothing and housewares. Some even have furniture, gym equipment, bicycles and camping gear. Real, Kaufland and Globus are common in Germany. Don’t forget to bring a VAT form, so you can stock up and save big! 
  • Supermarkets and discounters – You’ll be surprised at how many of your favorite products are at your local supermarkets. And if you can’t find your favorite, try something new. You’ll find a plethora of cereals, breads, packaged foods, chocolate, yogurt and ice cream to choose from. Discounters, including Netto, Penny Markt, Lidl and Aldi, also offer great prices and a good variety. 
  • Drink markets (Getränkemarkt) – You’ll find extensive drink selections and can purchase crates of beer, juice or sodas. Prices include deposits, which you receive back when you return the crates and bottles. You’ll usually find automated machines just inside the store for returns (returning deposit bottles is known as Pfandrückgabe). A ticket will print with your refund amount, which you can take to the nearest register. Some markets will arrange delivery (Lieferservice) to your home. 
  • Local markets – Check out bakeries, butchers and ethnic food stores. Farmers’ markets are also popular; large markets take place in Kaiserslautern’s Stiftsplatz, Stuttgart’s Markthalle and Frankfurt’s Konstablerwache. Arrive early for the best selection, and make it a family outing so that you have extra hands for carrying. 

Dining out

Don’t be intimidated by the language barrier. Many restaurants near installations have English menu cards, but even if they don’t, familiar words can provide clues. Bring along a dictionary or your smartphone to translate, or be adventurous and just pick something. The most important tip for eating out is to relax and appreciate the experience! 

Germans enjoy leisurely meals, and everything is prepared fresh, so dining out will take longer than what you may be used to. Servers will stop by your table infrequently to avoid interrupting you and your dining companions. To signal that you are ready to order, close your menus, and if you need something, make eye contact with the server. 

Some restaurants maximize seating by placing separate parties at the same table. If you’re shy, just smile and enjoy your meal. 

Paying the bill – You will usually need to ask for the check by saying, “Bezahlen, bitte.” And don’t forget euros! 

Tipping – A good rule of thumb for tipping in Germany is to add 1 euro for every 20 euros, given directly to the server. 

Learning the language

While you’re in Germany, remember that you represent the United States. Have fun, soak in the culture and make a great impression!

Learning a little German will improve your everyday experiences. Available resources include programs at your military library and lessons through support organizations, such as community centers, force support squadrons, Army Community Service (ACS), universities and the United Service Organizations (USO). 

You can also take classes at German community colleges (Volkshochschulen) or international language institutes, such as Inlingua or Berlitz International.

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