As you can imagine, culture shock is a massive thing when you move to another country. Germany is no exception. In fact, some of the stuff that we see here is completely unique to Germany, like the German toilet. Yes, you read that right.
Today I want to talk about some of these weird-ass things, so I’m not the only ignorant one anymore.
1. The German Toilet
I thought I’d start here, because I can almost feel your anticipation after the post’s opening paragraph.
The German toilet differs from loo’s in the rest in the world because the hole and pipe through which the waste flushes is a small opening at the front of the toilet. Not so bad? No, you don’t understand. Go open the lid of your loo and have a look inside. I’ll wait.
Because the flush-hole isn’t shaped as it’s supposed to be, you get what’s called a poop-shelf. Poop. Shelf.
Whatever comes out of your body happens to be on display on this shelf. As in, it strikes a pose and pouts before you can flush it. And if you had that leg of lamb last night, the doodie may be too heavy to flush. Or worse, you might have had all the trimmings with your waffle (which has to come out) and the, uhm, pile becomes a mountain – a problem when you want to wipe your bum without getting brown smears on your hands. I’m here to help. 😀
The basic idea with this is that you can inspect your excrement, just to make sure all is well in the down-under.
I’m not kidding.
Also, since it’s generally accepted for men to sit and pee here (it’s the refined thing to do), there’s no splash back when you do the number 1. As for the number 2? Pray you don’t have runny guts.
2. Breezes are Evil
Many Germans don’t open their windows at all. Those who do, usually make sure there’s not a draft through the house, because even the slightest breeze can kill you.
OK, fine, kill is a strong word. They do believe that sitting in the way of moving air can make you ill, though. There’s even a phrase for it – es zieht. Basically, fresh air isn’t supposed to be allowed indoors, otherwise you might become ill, develop a stiff neck or even bladder infection.
Even on the hottest and most humid of days, wind must be kept out. #thisismadness
This illness-inducing behaviour also goes for walking about without shoes. Jan and I are big supporters of bare feet inside our place or on the lawn, but the natives think we’re insane. You keep your shoes on, even in the craziest heat. The end. The only places where I’ve seen folks take off their shoes, were those that involved water; the public pool, near rivers and at water-playgrounds. Even then, you can wear swimming shoes here – rubber soles with tops made of that lycra-ish fabric they use for wetsuits.
3. Public Alcohol use is Legal
Drinking in public isn’t legal in South Africa, strictly speaking. Still, folks have a beer on the beach, or around the braai (a bbq) in a park, and that’s fine. This law isn’t enforced so heavily. What you won’t see is people drinking that beer while walking to the mall, for example.
In Germany, you can have that beer wherever the hell you want – on the train, in the street or in a park.
I don’t mind this so much, because not a single drunken German has ever pestered us (and we’ve seen cartloads of drunken Germans). I’m not mad about the empty beer bottles rolling up and down on the train, though. But then, litter in general annoys me.
4. Oktoberfest is in September
On the subject of beer, Oktoberfest. You’d think that with the month October in the title of this festival, it takes place in October? Well, no.
It ENDS in October. This year, Oktoberfest will be from 17 September to 3 October. The festival spans over the 16 days to (and including) the first Sunday in October. So get your lederhosen or dirndl ready for mid-September!
5. Strange Laws and Rules
Some of the rules make at least some sense. Like if you ride a bicycle while drunk, you can lose your driver’s licence too. It’s frowned upon (though not illegal) to sing the first verse of the national anthem, because it opens old wounds from the Nazi period. You want to address a police officer in a formal manner (AKA sie and not du) or face a fine.
Then there are those rules that no-one understands. Like it’s illegal to keep a beloved’s urn at your house (ashes have to be buried), you can’t deny a chimney sweep entry into your home, and you can’t drill, mow the lawn or make any kind of related noise on a Sunday.
We were convinced the chimney sweep thing was fake, until a chimney sweep showed up at a friend’s apartment over the weekend. They left a note (he wasn’t home) and he has to pay a fine, because he didn’t let them in. O_O
You can read more about this here, here and here.
6. The Division in the Bedroom
So, in Germany, you’ll rarely find a double bed. This isn’t never, it’s just rarely. I don’t know why.
The bed will either be two singles pushed together, or a double base with two single mattresses. This will often also include a single duvet for each bed. In fact, finding a real double (or bigger) duvet and linen is complicated here. My best advice if you want it – shop online. Ikea is your friend in this department.
If you book a hotel room or other holiday accommodation, you’ll be struck by this phenomenon as well. Honeymoon-goers be warned.
You can buy a piece of sponge to insert between the beds and unify the mattresses. Aptly, this sponge is called a liebesbrücke (love bridge).
7. Only Pharmacies Sell Medicine
In South Africa, if you want aspirin, paracetamol or a variety of other basic medicines, you can go to your local grocery store. You can buy what you need for a cough, nausea and a whole lot of other ailments you can self-medicate, without having to speak to a pharmacist. And then, with Dischems everywhere (selling everything you can think of) and pharmacies inside Clicks and Checkers, you can buy pharmacist-assisted medication in the grocery stores too.
This isn’t the case in Germany (and some parts of Europe). You won’t even find aspirin in the grocery store – every kind of medication can only be bought from a pharmacy. The grocery store keeps vitamins, lozenges and eye drops, but little else.
Sure, there’s a pharmacy on almost every street corner in the city, with enough branches sprinkled throughout the residential areas, but I still find this strange. To make it even weirder, the pharmacists here tend to give you herbal medication, instead of meds containing the paracetamol, etc, except if you specifically ask for *insert medication here* (in our experience).
I could add some more to this list, like the fact that pigs are seen as a symbol of luck, or that everything is closed on a Sunday (with the exception of some shops in a train station), or that potatoes can be enjoyed even as a pudding, but I’ll stop here. Still, if you’d like to read more posts like this one, let me know and I’ll write it.
Thanks for stopping by!