Germany Vs. USA: 10 Cultural Differences – Lifestyle

Cultural Differences - Lifestyle

It’s time for another installment of our handy little lists that compare Germany and the USA! We all know you like them so we thought we’d put together another one, this time focusing on lifestyle differences. As we know, life in Germany can be different to life in the USA. These are just a few observations we’ve made – let us know what you think of them!

Germany is very environmentally friendly.

When it comes to recycling, Germany is king! Bottles, glass, paper and everything that can possibly be recycled is! Homes have separate trash cans in their kitchen to start the sorting process before they take it out to their garbage cans of which they have several! A brown one for bio waste – we’re talking food scraps, banana skins, egg shells and the like. A green one for paper – this one’s pretty obvious. A yellow one for plastic – we’re talking yogurt containers (once you’ve washed them out of course!), juice cartons, plastic wrappers etc. A black one for everything else that doesn’t go in the other ones! Making your head hurt? We know, it’s difficult! And there’s one more thing to add into the mix, the ‘Pfand’ on plastic and glass bottles. All those soda bottles and beer bottles have a ‘pfand’ or deposit on – these bottles go into a machine or back to the beer shop you bought them from and you get the deposit back in cash. It’s a win all round!


Lots of Germans own cars, this is true but many only have one per household, some may own a car but don’t use it that often and some don’t even own one at all purely out of choice. Instead they either use public transport or they ride a bike! Germany is very bike friendly with bicycle lanes in almost every major city and small town. There are places to lock up your bike all over towns and cities and drivers are very courteous to cyclists making the ride to work, school, college or to see friends in the evening much more pleasurable. Then there’s public transport – in Germany, in every town, city and village, it’s very efficient, very clean and it gets you from a to b very easily! The systems cover the whole of the country – some of the major cities have underground networks as well as overground bus and train systems – there really is no excuse to not use it!

Sundays are quiet days.

Sundays in Germany are sacred. Shops do not open on Sundays, work isn’t done, everything is put on hold until Monday. Sunday’s are days for quiet time and family, going out for walks, relaxing at home. There’s even a law to enforce it – Ruhezeit. That means between the hours of 8:00pm and 7:00am and all day Sunday and holidays quiet time is enforced. So no cracking out that chain saw, working in the yard, loud music, running your washing machine or doing anything that is generally loud or you may just find yourself in court!

Wedding rings.

Have you ever looked at the hands of a German and thought ‘they’re not married,’ or ‘I know they’re married but they’re not wearing a ring.’ That, my friends, is because German’s wear their weddings rings on the ring finger of their right hand, not their left. It’s thought that this is because Germany is a predominantly Catholic country. So, next time you think a German isn’t married, check the other hand!

College fees.

Studying at college in the USA is an expensive business. We’re talking thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands in tuition fees then add on top of that housing, food and day to day living and you’re looking at something that you have to start saving for as soon as your baby is born. Some people might even skip out on college purely because it is too expensive. In Germany however, college is for everyone. For a start, it’s free. Yes, you heard that right, college tuition in Germany is free! Ok, so there may be a small administrative fee (such as €50.00 and who can argue with that?) and depending what state you’re in you might have to pay a small tuition fee for a masters program but, compared to the fees here in the States this is minimal! But, before you go packing your bags and heading across the pond to get your college education in Germany you had better learn the language! There’s no escaping that one.

Home buying.

Everyone wants to get on the housing ladder at some point in their lives. However, the way it is done in Germany is a little different to in the USA. Here, people buy a home as soon as they can afford one (great stuff!) and, once they’ve grown out of it they put it up for sale and move on. This is often done several times in their lifetime and they think nothing of it. In Germany however, renting is much more common until you have the cash for your forever home. Once you buy it, you stay there, forever. Often, people buy a plot of land and design and build their forever home just the way they want it. Then they never leave! Sometimes the house is even passed down through generations. Moving is often not an option for Germans, once they buy a house, that’s where the plan to stay forever.

The legal drinking age.

Drinking alcohol in Germany can be done at a much younger age than in the States. In the USA you have to wait until the grand old age of 21 until a drop of alcohol can legally pass your lips. In Germany however, once you reach the tender age of 16 you can legally drink beer and wine without your parents being present. But, you have to wait until you’re 18 to enjoy the wealth of different spirits at the back of the bar!

Debt and spending.

A credit card is a bit of a taboo in Germany. The majority of people don’t necessarily have one and if they do, the hardly use it or if they use it, they pay it off at the end of every month. Credit card debt and debt in general is not the norm in Germany. People live debt free, they pay in cash the majority of the time or by debit card. Some restaurants and shops don’t even take credit cards – that is unheard of here in the States! Buying on credit is a no-go – if you don’t  have the money in Germany, you simply don’t buy it and save up until you do.

Saying things like ‘Happy Birthday’ before the big day.

If a German sees you the day before your birthday and not on the actual day don’t expect any early birthday wishes. Congratulating someone before an important event such as a birthday or wedding is deemed bad luck in Germany – they will only say it on the actual day or give you same late wishes a day or so later. Nobody wants to wish any bad luck on you, right? Also, if someone buys you a gift, make sure you don’t open it until your birthday, or at least let them think that!

Vacation time.

Vacation could be deemed one of the most important parts of German life. These people work hard and play even harder. They work the least hours in Europe but are the most productive – they have it down! They also have it down when it comes to that all important vacation time from work. Germans, by law, are gifted with 6 weeks of mandatory paid vacation every year! That’s right people, 6 weeks! Imagine the trips you could take with that, the time you can spend relaxing and recharging, the places you could explore or you could simply just stay home and have some much needed R&R. Compare that to the USA where companies legally don’t have to give you any paid time-off at all.


Posted on May 24, 2016, in Germany Vs. USA and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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