Germany Vs. USA: 10 Cultural Differences – Food

We thought we would start a new series on Goethe Does Atlanta, all about the cultural differences between our homeland, Germany and our host country, America. We decided to start with a topic that we all love: Food!

Germany Vs America - Food

Everyone loves to eat, right? Well, it appears both countries not only have their own delicious cuisines, but they also have their own traditions and approaches to food. We thought we’d help you out by highlighting the most common differences – if you’re heading on a trip to Germany this summer or if you’re a German heading to America, these might just come in useful!

1. Water in Restaurants

When you sit down at a restaurant in the U.S. water is immediately brought to your table for free and replenished throughout your meal – great! Whatever you do though, don’t expect this in Germany! There, the only water you will get on the table is the water you ask and pay for. Tap water is practically unheard of in restaurants. Germans are big fans of sparkling water – this is what you’ll get if you ask for a bottle of water with your meal. If you want still water, you need to stipulate this when you are ordering.

2. For Germans, lunch is the biggest meal of the day

You won’t see many Germans picking up a salad or sandwich for a quick snack for lunch like you do here in the U.S. For Germans, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. They’ll sit down to a large, hot meal that we would essentially eat for dinner, usually including meat, potatoes and vegetables. Then, in the evening when we’re heading to a restaurant or cooking up a storm in the kitchen after work, they’ll have ‘Abendbrot’ or evening bread which typically means a couple of slices of bread topped with meat or cheese. Because of this, most workplaces have a full canteen serving hot meals for workers to tuck into during their lunch hour.

3. Germans don’t eat with their hands

Eating with your hands is commonplace here in America. Pizza, burgers, sandwiches, fried pickles, BBQ ribs and anything else that can be consumed using your fingers – Americans are doing it, usually with a stack of napkins nearby! Germans however, shy away from using their hands to eat as much as possible, especially in restaurants, even pizza is eaten with a knife and fork! However, if you’re in a relaxed atmosphere, like at a BBQ, many Germans will eat their burgers and bratwurst with their hands.

4. Americans eat more fast food

In America, fast food is king. There’s a plethora of choices on every single corner, whether it’s McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Chipotle or Five Guys, wherever you go, there’s a fast food joint within yards of you. If you’re hungry when you’re in the car, you’ll soon come across a drive thru to satisfy your hunger cravings. In Germany, that’s a completely different story. Fast food outlets are few and far between, you’ll spot the odd McDonald’s or Burger King drive thru here and there but that’s about it. Sometimes, you can be an hour’s drive from the closest fast food chain! Germans also like to take their time when they’re eating, the check isn’t rushed to your table before you’ve finished your food and meals in restaurants can take up to 3 hours to complete.

5. No refills

You may be used to that bottomless supply of soda, or the ice tea that magically refills itself before you’ve reached the bottom or even noticed you’re heading in that direction here in the U.S. but over in Germany it’s a completely different story. If you order 3 Coke’s, you will pay for 3 Coke’s, if you order 3 Sprite’s, you’ll pay for 3 Sprite’s. Basically, expect a big bill if you’re really thirsty! German’s don’t do refills, end of story. They also don’t do massive amounts of ice in their drinks either, if you want ice, you had better ask for it!

6. Germans are big seasonal eaters

Don’t expect to get strawberries all year round in Germany like you can here in the U.S. Germans are seasonal eaters. Produce sections in supermarkets are pretty small and only stock items that are readily available at that time of the year. Strawberries are only eaten in the summer months, there’s a whole host of recipes that pop up in April and May to celebrate Spargelsaison or asparagus season and we can’t forget grünkohl in the winter months.

7. “Guten Apetit!”

In American restaurants, people start eating their food as soon as it hits the table in front of them. There’s no waiting for everyone to get their meal, if you have food you eat it before it goes cold. In Germany, it’s customary and polite to wait for everyone seated at the table to get their meal. Then, before anybody takes a bite, the host usually says “Guten Apetit” which simply means “enjoy your food” before you pick up your knife and fork and tuck in. If there’s a delay with somebody’s food, the person who is still waiting will usually tell you to start eating before it goes cold, this is your cue to pick up that cutlery and dig in!

8. Germans have a staple diet

In Germany, there are 5 main food groups – bread, cheese, meat, potatoes and beer! Most meals will revolve around these foods. Breakfast is usually a bread roll or brötchen with sliced meat and cheese – there are so many delicious bread based treats to choose from at the local bakery! A typical lunch would be sauerbraten or schnitzel with potatoes and vegetables (remember, the Germans have their main meal at lunchtime) with Abendbrot in the evening, in other words, more bread topped with meat and cheese. It’s stodge heaven! Whereas here in America it’s a different story – there’s pancakes, waffles, cereal, bacon and eggs that are all breakfast staples. A huge selection of places to eat lunch – maybe you’ll tuck into pizza, a salad or a sandwich, and as for dinner, well, the choice is sometimes overwhelming!

9. Take-home boxes are unheard of, except for the dog!

Here in America, if you don’t eat your food you’re swiftly asked if you’d like a box to take your leftovers home and eat later. This is perfectly normal, in fact, if you don’t head out of the restaurant with a take-home box you’re often in the minority. In Germany, you never see people heading out of a restaurant with a box. If you don’t eat your food, it’s your own fault. The only time people do take leftovers home it’s usually a bone for the dog which is presented to you in a foil packet – it doesn’t need to be fancy for the dog!

10. Tipping

In the U.S. you’re expected to leave a tip in a restaurant of between 15 and 20 per cent for good service. Servers will cater to your every need, introducing themselves by name when you sit down, constantly refilling your drinks, bringing your food to you as quickly as possible and apologizing profusely if it’s a little late. This is because most servers in the U.S. are paid a small wage of around $2.13/per hour and are expected to make up the rest of their wage with tips. In Germany, service and VAT is included in menu prices and servers are paid the minimum wage if not more. Therefore, you’re only expected to round your check up to the nearest Euro and maybe add a couple more on top. A rule of thumb is a tip of 5 to 10 per cent, it’s pretty strange to tip so little when you’re used to tipping large amounts over here in the States but you can walk away knowing that it won’t be frowned upon!


Posted on June 11, 2015, in Germany Vs. USA and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Great article ! I agree that Germans are seasonal eaters…at the moment you have strawberries and asparagus EVERYWHERE !! And it’s okay to eat that everyday during the season. 😉

    Concerning number 2 : I wouldn’t say that lunch is the most important meal for them. Or at least not for people who work. Lunch breaks are really short here in Germany, they eat quite fast and do not want to lose too much time at work ! Also, I would say they love fast food, as they are very keen of curry Wurst and French Fries that you can buy in the street and eat while standing.

    However they love their Sunday brunch… It’s like a sacred moment !^^

    Bis bald !

  2. Interesting article!

  3. When I lived in Germany for 24 years, it used to be common to sit at a table with strangers as long as there were empty chairs. Is this still done?

  4. When I was in Germany in the 50’s and 60’s the biggest difference I noticed was how much more polite Germans were (vs Americans) when eating.

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