As it turns out, the information in the textbooks we used in my German language class back in the day (YouTube was in its baby years) and the actual move to Germany were two vastly different worlds. I had the grammar down pat, or at least most of it, and the next step was diving in. But the things I didn’t know…
Universal greetings worked, but local phrases worked better. Guten Tag was immediately and obviously formal, while the Hamburg Moin was a joyful discovery, since I love short ways of saying Hello. Then there’s the quintessentially German Na? This basically means How are you, what’s up? Works best among people more familiar with each other and a slight question mark intonation, but it’s important to not overdo it, otherwise the probably more reserved northern German you’re speaking to might feel threatened.
Sounds elementary, but I really didn’t think of (patiently) standing to the sides of subway train and bus doors to let anyone who needs to get off exit first.
Clearly visible lines painted on the floor beyond the counter in various places where you have to stand in line, advising discretion/ keeping your distance and reminding us all about the wonderful concept of personal space.
Anything that impends someone’s progress or gives them the feeling their time is being wasted causes immediate tutting (whether internal or external), frustration and sometimes even blame. But not if you apologize, for example for jostling someone or blocking the path. Then you usually get a polite headshake, maybe even a smile and a “Alles gut”.
Contrary to some perceptions of northern Germans, people are actually friendly, but you’re sort of expected to understand how things work on your own if there are signs around. Still, asking politely for directions or information never fails.
Humour in the workplace or academic settings should be distributed in small doses, at least at first. The same goes for sarcasm.
Mett is a thing.
It’s important to learn your verbs and how to use them correctly in questions, especially those meaning like, love, want and want less categorically. I once asked a classmate at university, “Magst du mit mir in die Mensa gehen?” What I thought I was saying was “Would you like to go the cafeteria with me?” What I actually said was something along the lines of “Could you follow along to the cafeteria?” She gave me a look and said, “Nein, mag ich nicht.” Well. I actually didn’t like her that much, anyway, so whatever, ha!
If you like making plans and lists, you’ll fit right in.
At work or an internship it’s common to bring a cake or something sweet for your coworkers on your birthday, or even after your trial period is over. There’s really no pressure and not all Germans do it, though I’ve been told by multiple expats they consider it a weird tradition.
Getting caught without a ticket on public transport is not an experience I would recommend pursuing.
Surprise, surprise, the German recycling system is well-known, but not all locals believe in it.
And finally, the biggest thing I didn’t know was how much I would love Hamburg, quirks and all. Moin!
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