How to Be More German: The German Way of Life and Its Particularities
Wish you could become German?
Well, since you’re reading a blog about German language and culture, there’s a good chance that you at least want to learn to speak German.
But there’s also definitely something to be said for the modern German way of life.
The country is increasingly becoming famous for its high quality of life, its long, paid vacations and its openness to foreigners. And its economy is doing pretty well, relatively speaking.
Despite its size, Germany ranks fourth in the world based on its GDP. It’s frequently in the headlines as one of the powerhouses in Europe and it’s famous for a myriad of things—beer, cars, wurst and loving David Hasselhoff.
But what is the German Lebensart (way of life) actually like? What are some of the things that Germans value?
This post will look through the stereotypes and examine Germany’s place in the world today, with a focus on what makes the German way of life different and special.
We’ve also got you covered with some further reading if you want to dig deeper.
Becoming German: All About the German Way of Life
How Is the German Way of Life Different?
What makes the German way of life, well, German? Here are five main differences that stand out right away, especially compared with the U.S.
1. The quality of life is generally very high.
In the Mercer quality of life survey, which ranks 231 cities across the world to help governments and companies place people on international assignments, German cities consistently rank in the top 25 in the world. Munich is Germany’s highest rated city, in fourth place, followed by Dusseldorf (sixth), Frankfurt (seventh), Berlin (13th), Hamburg (19th) and Nuremberg (24th).
What exactly does “quality of life” mean? Factors that influence quality of life vary but include political stability, a strong economy, environmental awareness, a good educational system and accessible public transportation.
A concrete example: having children in Germany is much easier than in the U.S. because parental leave is very generous, giving new parents three years. During that time period, a contract can’t be terminated.
Additionally, there’s the monthly Elterngeld (child benefit), where the state pays €190 per child for the first two children, €196 for the third and €221 for every child thereafter. Parental leave can even be split between parents, so it’s not uncommon for fathers to also take some leave.
2. The line between work and private life is clearer.
On average, Germans work 35 hours per week, but those 35 hours are all very focused on being productive. Not only that, but Germans get a minimum of 20 days paid Urlaubstage (vacation days) per year, with many employees getting between 25 and 30 days.
The work culture that’s common in Silicon Valley, with crazy hours and never being disconnected from the office, is just not something that’s highly valued in the German way of life. Germans value a healthy work-life balance, and when they’re out the door for the weekend, it really is the weekend.
3. Everyone pays into the German healthcare system.
Universal healthcare is a reality in Germany, with everyone having compulsory health insurance. Because of this, it’s much easier to see a doctor, and seeing a specialist doesn’t even require going to a general practitioner first. Instead, patients can just go to a specialist directly, which makes preventive healthcare much easier since insurance covers it.
Moreover, sick days are sick days in Germany, and they aren’t docked from precious Urlaubstage. Employees have up to three days to recover, but afterward are required to get a doctor’s note to prove incapacity. Sick leave is paid for up to six weeks and if the illness lasts longer, health insurance will kick in, covering 70% of an employee’s salary.
4. Public transportation is everywhere.
In the U.S. it’s fairly common to use a car to get anywhere. Not so in Germany. Public transportation in Germany is ubiquitous and essential to the German way of life. The German equivalent of the saying “It’s all Greek to me”—“Ich verstehe nur ‘Bahnhof'” (I only understand “train station”)—proves how central public transportation is—because it’s always important to know where the train station is.
Many cities have a system of buses or trams, with larger cities having of a mix of buses, trams, subways or the so-called S-bahn (abbreviation for Stadtschnellbahn, or city rapid rail). Everything also runs on a planned schedule, whether it’s every five minutes or, in less populated areas, at least once an hour.
5. The cost of higher education is considerably cheaper than in the U.S. or the U.K.
The average cost of studying at a four-year institution in the U.S. is $33,215 per year, and in the U.K. it’s $27,040 per year. And what about studying in the land of Goethe and Schiller?
If you study at a public institution, it’s actually free, unless you study in the state of Baden-Württemberg, which just reintroduced (quite inexpensive) tuition fees. Even so, non-EU students are charged only $13,360 for four years. This means that education is much more accessible for everyone, and students don’t have to take out loans or risk going into debt just to get an education.
6 Resources to Find Out More About the German Way of Life
These are only a few ways the German way of life differs from the American one. If you’re interested in discovering more quirks and specifics, here are seven resources that can give you more insight.
1. “Make Me a German”
This documentary from the BBC involves a British family moving to Germany to find out what exactly makes the German way of life and how Germans are so productive. They rent an apartment in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg and create a routine that’s typically German, with the husband getting a job in a pencil factory and the wife staying at home to take care of the kids.
Essentially, they become a quintessential German family, while experiencing daily life in Germany, confirming some stereotypes and forming new impressions.
For anyone from an English-speaking country, it’s a great documentary to see what sort of things are different and what’s at the heart of the German way of life.
2. “The German Way: Aspects of Behavior, Attitudes, and Customs in the German-Speaking World” by Hyde Flippo
In this book, Hyde Flippo discusses the German way of life in a very factual, organized manner. The book is even laid out in alphabetical order, starting with “Abbreviations and acronyms” and ending with “Women in society.”
Because it was originally published in 1997 and was reprinted with revisions in 1999, it doesn’t necessarily have the most up-to-date references. Rather than referencing popular American shows like “Game of Thrones” or “The Big Bang Theory,” there are mentions of “Golden Girls” and “The Cosby Show.”
Nevertheless, the German way of life is the essence of this book and though there have been some subtle changes in the last 20 years, it still gets to the core of what it means to live in Germany.
3. The German Way & More
If the book above appeals to you but you want to read something more current, then check out the related blog, The German Way & More.
Originally started as a supplement to the book “The German Way,” the blog offers more up-to-date insights into the German way of life today.
Everything you wanted to know about the German lifestyle is detailed, from education to holidays. It also includes a blog written by expats in Germany who talk about how they’re getting along as foreigners, including the daily challenges they encounter and how things differ from their home countries.
4. “German Men Sit Down to Pee and Other Insights into German Culture” by Niklas Frank and James Cave
Published in 2016, this book is more recent and talks about the German way of life in a humorous way. Each chapter covers a rule that the authors think people will encounter at some point or another, but the sections are short and easily digestible.
For example, the rule about men sitting down to pee is partially true—it’s not uncommon to see signs that ask bathroom users to “Bitte im Sitzen pinkeln” (Please pee sitting) for cleanliness. The authors go through such rules in a way that’s entertaining for anyone curious about the German way of life.
5. “Living and Working in Germany: A Survival Handbook (Living & Working in Germany)” by Pamela Wilson
Whereas the resources mentioned above could be read by anyone, “Living and Working in Germany” is geared towards people looking to move to Germany. Students going abroad could also make use of this, but it discusses topics targeted towards professionals.
Useful topics include finding a job and dealing with bureaucracy related to employment contracts, visas and housing. There are also lighter chapters on shopping and sports.
6. Facts about Germany
In typical German fashion, the Facts about Germany website gives you exactly what it promises—facts about Germany. Various topics are covered, from urban quality of life to what share of Germans rent or own their own property.
The website also boasts a section for young people, which discusses studying in Germany, starting your career and general opportunities that the country has to offer.
The German way of life is particular and has its commonalities and differences with the American way of life.
Between these highlights and resources, you’ll get a better idea of what it’s really like to live in the land of Currywurst and beer.
Patricia Lee has been studying and working in Germany for ten years and has lived in Berlin, Cologne and Düsseldorf. She has also worked and lived in Shanghai, learning Chinese in the process.