Little Differences (TGC)

We’ve been playing house in Germany for almost two years, but friends and loved ones still ask how living here differs from living in South Africa. The first ‘differences’ post was uploaded within the first two months since we moved to Germany, then I told you about some of the strange differences, like the German toilet, and the recent what I love post rounded off the selection of posts on the topic.

Or so I thought.

Turns out, people still want to know more. I thought I’d oblige by chatting about some of the little things that differ. We’ve gotten so used to everything here that we basically stopped noticing them. The Groenewalds pointed them out again when they visited. 🙂

Light Switches and Door Handles

The switches work in the opposite direction than those in SA do, while the door handles are much lower. That doesn’t sound like an issue, but it’s weird at first.

When we went on holiday to SA last year, I remember a lot of frowny-pauses when the lights didn’t go on as planned, and the ‘oh, right’ moment afterwards. This confusion lasted for the first week or so, before I was used to the different switches again. Strangely, back in Germany I didn’t have the same problem.

The door handles in South Africa are located probably around a third from the top of the door, while in Germany, they’re halfway down – something toddlers adore. Jan and I only remembered how we struggled to keep Kayla contained in the beginning when the Groenewalds arrived and Gemma had a field day with all the doors. Finally able to reach the handle, Gemma opened and closed every door in the apartment at every opportunity she got. 🙂


Another building-difference is in our windows. Not only are they double-paned, but the windows open in two different ways. Here’s a short video that explains it better than I could.

Pretty neat. 🙂

In South Africa, the windows tend to be single-paned, with small parts on the sides that can open. The largest part in the centre isn’t movable, however. Also, burglar bars. Germans don’t have a clue what burglar bars are, but the bars decorate most South African windows. 🙂


Statistically, more than 30% of adults in Germany smoke – more than most other places in the world. Smoking in public spaces is illegal, but not always enforced (at least not where I live). For example, smoking on most train platforms isn’t allowed, but people do it anyway. Last weekend, some folks actually vaped and smoked on the train, without any repercussions. You’ll never see someone light a cigarette in a mall, however.

It doesn’t bother me when people smoke, really. As long as they’re not standing on top of my kid when lighting up. Unfortunately, in Germany this is an issue. Since so many people smoke, you often see folks holding their babies while taking a drag.

Since smoking inside the mall is impossible, most smokers stand right outside the doors. When entering or leaving the mall, you’ll have to pass at least ten smokers and go through a cloud of smoke first (that’s not an exaggeration).

This is totally different than in SA, where there are often designated areas for smokers, even outside. Smoking sections in restaurants are also usually cordoned off, while outside means ‘smoke here’ in Germany, even in restaurants and cafes.


Most malls and restaurants in SA don’t allow pets, except service animals. Some restaurants won’t admit service animals either.

In Germany, people are allowed to bring their pets with them, no matter where they go. For the most part, the animals are leashed, but I’m not sure if it’s a requirement or not.

As animal-people, this doesn’t bother us. In fact, some of the pooches have allowed us to pet them and satiate our need to be in touch with animals. If you visit Germany, though, always ask the owner of the pet before you touch the animal (this is a good practice no matter where you are).

The one thing I hate is that not everybody cleans up after their dogs have pooped. OK, that’s an understatement. BARELY anybody cleans up their pet crap. In the warmer seasons, the poo tends to dry fast, even if the baking sun extracts more of the reek. In the rainy seasons, the poop turns liquid and becomes almost impossible to avoid. I’ve learned to walk like a zombie, always facing groundwards.

Schools and Kindergartens

I’ve told you about our kindergarten woes before, but never gave you an update. Kayla didn’t get onto a waiting list and we struggled until mid-May before we got an answer from the Jungendampt. We’ve stopped fighting now, but more on this in another post.

In our province, the school year (for both kindergartens and grade schools) starts in August. Kids who have their birthdays in the first half of the year are typically sent to school before their second-half friends. So, a six-year-old who has his birthday in June will go to school a year before his cousin who turns six in November, despite having been born in the same year.

Then, the options for schools are numerous. Technical schools, academic schools, trade schools, gymnasiums and I don’t even know what else. A friend who is a teacher tried to explain the differences to me, but I’m honest when I say I was lost within the first few sentences.

In South Africa, getting your child into a kindergarten or nursery school is simple and enrolment can take place at any time of the year. From there into primary school is a no-brainer. The South-African school year starts in January and everybody born in the same year starts at the same time, no matter when their birthday is.

There’s no distinction between technical, trade or academic at primary school level, this only comes when kids go to high school.

Most high schools in SA are academic, though there’s at least one technical school in every city. The trade-part tends to combine with either an academic or technical school. In other words, you’ll be taught to cook and manage a hotel as subjects at an academic or technical school, but pure trade schools are rare.

Also, parents pay school fees in South Africa, while that’s not the case in Germany. Schooling is free here, though parents must pay for textbooks and stationary. In SA, some schools require payment for the textbooks and stationary too, but this isn’t the case everywhere.

South African scholars wear uniforms to schools, except in rare cases, while the opposite is true in Germany. As far as I understand, a few private schools do have uniforms here, but everywhere else, pupils wear what they want.

The long school holiday falls in the summer both in Germany and SA, but that’s obviously during different times of the year. I still laugh whenever those Germans we know screw up their faces in concentration when they try to figure out why the long holiday in SA falls in December.

And… That’s all I can think of right now. 🙂

Thanks for reading! Have a good one.




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