I have always loved to learn about cultures. Since I was a teenager I was interested in learning new languages so I could read magazines and watch tv from other countries in order to get to know fellow humans living far away. As a young adult, I continued to do so, but I had also uncovered a new way of discovering people: I wanted to travel. I wanted to see and talk to them for myself.
After many passport stamps, I decided that wasn´t enough. Too much to see…too much to absorve in just a few days. So I went on to find ways to live in different countries. These opportunities finally gave me the experience I craved so much as a never ending curious world citizen – it brought me understanding. It got me the time I needed to really delve into a culture.
So, today I´m starting in the blog a short series of “five very (nationality) things”, featuring the countries I have lived in: the USA, France, Poland, Brazil and, of course, Germany, where I have settled down…for now, lol. This is by no means an attempt to simplify a culture, which is formed by so many elements, like History, religion and politics. My idea is just to summarize a few characteristics that stood out for me as an outsider. Still, these are, of course, general impressions, since they don´t mean all people from a country will behave the same or like the same things. Consider this instead as a conversation starter!
Without further ado, here are five habits that I find to be very German!
Though this is not exclusively a German tradition, as you can find the beautiful Christmas´ markets in many different countries like Sweden, Austria and Switzerland, it is still a very German thing to do during the end of the year festivities. They normally start to inaugurate towards the end of November, and most close right before Christmas. Still, you can find some exceptions that open already beginning of November or run until early January!
The Christmas´ markets are basically wooden stalls set up in specific streets or squares where you can buy traditional seasonal food like cinnamon cookies, Stolle (a kind of gingerbread cake) and Kaiserschmarrn. The best, for me, are the drinks though, since you can always find mulled wine and a delicious selection of warm drinks like fruity punch. You will also encounter many Xmas decoration items and regional produce, which make these markets a very cultural activity.
You might think these markets are very touristy, and, well, they are too. But the truth is that Germans also love to enjoy them, and it won´t be rare that you see groups of colleagues that left work straight for a cup of mulled wine. Some companies even plan their end-of-the-year-party in these markets.
Being my favorite tradition, I would say this is the “very German” thing not to miss! If you wanna learn more about it, you can read some other articles I wrote here , here and here . Yeah, I love it so much, I did write a lot about them!
Germany is a very green country, so it really doesn´t surprise me that one of the most beloved sports here is hiking. There are about 200.000 km of trails in the whole country, and they really use it! When we travel to the south, specially, and we visit small villages where you can find many mountains, it´s a common sight to see young and older people in full hiking gears. According to the website Deutsche Welle, Germans spend about 7,4 billions (euro) in this kind of vacation per year. There are even hiking clubs you can join!
I´m not that far yet, but I did learn how to appreciate walks in the forest a lot more after experiencing the cold weather here for several months, when everybody just wants to stay inside. But then spring comes and you start seeing the hikers popping here and there, people doing picnics on the grass, playing games outside….The winter here can be quite merciless, so Germans try to enjoy the outdoors a lot once it gets warmer. My favorite combo is the hike + picnic, which we organize quite often with my in laws.
By the way, have you realized how fit the older people are in Germany? If I were you, I would start hiking now…
3.KAFFEE UND KUCHEN
I have talked about this one on Instagram. It´s probably the most characteristic thing for me when it comes to Germans, as I have experienced it in different regions, many times. As the name suggests it, “coffee and cake” is basically a time of the day (from my experience, I would say around 3-4 pm) where families gather at the table to drink…well, coffee, and eat (surprise!) cake.
Joking, it doesn´t have to be that literal! Though there will always be coffee and cake, you can also be served tea, hot chocolate, muffins, cookies….The snacks will normally be sweet and homemade.
If you are not a guest at someone´s house, you can still enjoy this tradition, since it is common to be invited for Kaffee and Kuchen at a bakery or café as well. This is something that even my expatriate friends and I say very often: “wanna go for Kaffee und (and) Kuchen?”. By the way, Germans loooove cake, especially Cheesecake (Käsekuchen), so take this opportunity and try some local delights!
First, I thought this was just another hobby of my in-laws. They have a huge garden where they plant all sorts of vegetables, and I´m not even sure the word “hobby” applies here, after all, they take their working hours in the backyard very seriously. Each summer their harvest is so generous that they could open up a stand full of vegetables and fruits in the weekly street market . Yeah, serious stuff.
With time, I realized that this wasn´t something that particular of them. All their neighbors have big gardens and spend hours gardening, either by taking care of flowers or crops. Also in our town, I started to become aware that most of our neighbors that had enough land would put a lot of their weekend hours doing work outside. And, oh my, you can see how much this is a beloved activity by the way their yards look!
This is such a common hobby that, if you don´t have the space, you can buy or rent a green piece of land where you can grow your own stuff right in the city! The first time I saw these terrains with many little houses and a lot of plants I got super confused, as this is not something I had seen before. I actually thought they were small community houses for people that maybe couldn´t afford much! But no. These are plots where you can grow anything you want (or…almost). You can use the little house as a tool and appliances´ storage to work there over the weekend or even throw a barbecue for friends and family.
I absolutely love this urban farming concept, and if I wasn´t so skilled in killing all the greens I come across, I would definitely give it a try!
5.WHITE SOCKS AND LEATHER SANDALS
Yes, the socks have to be white, but the sandals…well, I have seen leather and rubber, so take your pick! I feel the leather ones at least give some charm to what has been considered such a no-go by fashion gurus (and by normal people too actually, lol).
Before I came here, I thought this was a silly stereotype, maybe something that hasn´t been used for a long time, but somehow stuck around as a great excuse to make fun of Germans….But no, the trend is still going strong, though I think this is a more “working in the garden” or “relaxing at home” not-on-purpose style than a real embraced trend. I have rarely seen it at the streets, but I have seen it a lot at home. Yeah, my home. My husband uses sandals and socks quite often, actually, and he gets pretty mad when I accidentally photograph the cats and his feet are in the frame….and they end up in my Instagram stories. I swear I don´t do it on purpose. No, seriously! Ok, maybe once.
Inside people´s home, I have actually seen it quite a lot. I mean, let´s be honest, it may not look the best, but it solves the problem of using pretty comfortable shoes at home and protecting your feet from the cold. Completely closed house shoes can be tight and maybe not warm enough; walking around the house only in socks is very slippery and dangerous.
I hope you have realized I made my case for the combo. Have you converted yet? I gotta confess that I have. It´s not uncommon to see me walking around the house with a more Brazilian version of it – Havaianas flip flops and socks. And it´s liberating to confess it now.