Welcome to Deutschland, the land of beer and sausages, historic castles, and more than 80 million Germans. Situated in the middle of Europe, the country is surrounded by Austria, France, the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary – and Italy and Belgium are just a few hours away. Expats to this fine country will find that plenty of new opportunities and adventures await them. They’ll also have the opportunity to meet people from many other countries. Following is a short tour of Germany, including its language, driving habits, housing, and schools, as well as some helpful tips for your expatriates.
Sprechen sie Deutsch?
Although English is a language spoken almost everywhere, it will do your expats wonders if they learn a few key words of German before departing on assignment. Language schools are also available in most cities, so they can continue their lessons once they are in the country.
Getting down to business
When it comes to business style, the Germans are more formal than their American counterparts, in both style and attitude, so manners and proper etiquette are important. In the German language, there is a distinction between “you” (du) informal, and “you” (Sie) formal. Expats who address a superior as “du” are sure to make an enemy of that person. They’ll also want to avoid addressing co-workers by their first names, unless invited to do so in advance. German protocol dictates that even those who’ve worked together for a long time still address each other as Mr. Bonn or Mrs. Donner.
Germans also have a penchant for punctuality, so it’s important to be on time for work and meetings. And when it comes to humor, they do not share the American viewpoint; jokes of any kind are simply not appropriate in the workplace.
A wild ride around the country
Driving, according to Webster’s New College Dictionary, means a trip in a carriage or automobile. But in Germany, it takes on a whole new meaning, something more akin to an F-16 jet fighter about to nail a missile site. Expats will need courage to drive on German streets. Unlike the US, there are no strict speed limits, so it’s not unusual for cars to travel at speeds up to 100 m.p.h. It is also possible, however, that expats who exceed the speed limit will have their picture taken while driving. Shortly thereafter, they’ll find a ticket in the mail.
Expats who venture onto German highways should keep to the right hand lane most of the time, except if they need to pass someone. When changing lanes, they should always use a signal and be certain the lane is clear before they move. Driver’s licenses are mandatory, so they should have them on their person at all times. Last but not least, they may want to consider driving a new Volvo, preferably the one with the side impact protection system!
Fundamental differences in housing
In general, German and European houses are not as spacious as those in America, so expats should bring only the essentials in their household goods shipment. On the other hand, however, they shouldn’t be surprised to find houses without closets, refrigerators or stoves; it’s expected that they will bring those with them.
Locating housing can be a long process, especially if expats don’t speak the language. It’s advisable to use the services of a local relocation agency, which can help expats negotiate rental prices and complete the necessary registrations. Typical rental deposits run up to three months, and leases can run up to five years in length. Since the average German doesn’t move often, even a two- or three-year commitment is considered “short-term.”
An abundance of schools
A main priority for many expats is finding schooling for their children. There are many international schools in Germany, where the primary language is English. For a more enriching cultural experience, however, expats can enroll their children in a German school if they desire.
The differences a doctor makes
When expats see a doctor in Europe, they go directly to a specialist rather than a general practitioner as they may do first in the US. Another difference is that it’s customary for doctors to have patients remove all of their clothing, even if they just have a sore throat. And, unlike in the US, johnnies may or may not be available.
Food for thought
Expats longing for the “comforts and conveniences” of home will find that there are more than 500 McDonald’s restaurants as well as several hundred Burger Kings in Germany. Those who prefer to try something different, however, will find a wide range of options to choose from. Sausages come in all sizes, shapes and colors, and of course, there’s always plenty of beer. There are also an abundance of foreign restaurants to be found.
One last word of advice
As is true when entering any new country, expats should try not to judge Germans by their own standards. Instead, they should learn to accept and understand them for who they are. Expatriates who are able to do so will find they will learn much from their German counterparts. They’ll also find they have a great deal to offer in return.