Surprises in Germany: An American’s Findings

american germany

Naked greetings in the sauna, a bakery on every corner, and – ha – German buses do run late! Megan Lester, a 23-year-old from Portland, Oregon (USA), shares her experiences from spending the past 7 months as an English teaching assistant with the Fulbright program in Germany. Since August 2015, she has lived in Hamburg, working as an English teaching assistant. 

Employland: USA and Germany – that doesn’t sound like an especially remarkable culture clash. But the minor differences and details count: What is different in German everyday life? How do Germans interact with one another? Or or or….. everything is wanted.

Megan Lester: America’s obesity epidemic is much worse than Germany’s, which is confusing to me, because I basically think of Germany as one giant carb. You cannot walk two blocks without passing at least one bakery. And this bakery will be selling bread in every imaginable form—sweet, savory, rolled, balled, whatever—and every German you know will be eating it. And every day you wake up to that German sun, you can bet your buns you will see more Brötchens, baguettes and biscuits than you ever saw on your most gluttonous, glutinous day in America. Pubs in Portland close by 1:00 AM, and establishments can’t sell hard liquor past 2:30 AM. In Germany, I’m unsure if the bars actually close. It seems like night or day, you can find a party here. Smoking is also illegal in most bars in America…not so in Germany. If you have asthma and want to get down, bring your inhaler. In Hamburg, most people go out on the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s red-light district, where you may find copious gambling halls, prostitutes, policemen, and sex shops. Basically your typical nightlife in America is downright tame compared to how the German’s party every week.

Germans bread
German bread in every imaginable form—sweet, savory, rolled, balled Photo: Etiennevoss /

Bread-mania – What do you think about the german variety?
Germans party hard–do you agree?

Employland: Loveable or strange, funny or stupid: What makes Germany unique?

Megan Lester: If someone walked into a hospital waiting room in the U.S. and greeted everyone who was sitting down, you would think they were very friendly, if not a little strange. If someone walked into a sauna, completely naked, and greeted everyone who was sitting down, you would think they were far too friendly, and very strange. Americans tend to characterize Germans as very cold, reserved people, yet somehow in the two spheres we consider most private, Germans feel the least reserved in greeting strangers.

I’m not sure if this is the case in all of Germany, but people in couples in Hamburg, to my total delight, are very affectionate. Everyday I see couples holding hands on a walk, cuddling on a bench, or kissing at the metro. They are also very affectionate in their platonic relationships—friends and family hug when they meet each other and say goodbye to each other, sometimes they kiss on the cheek, and people you might not even know that well are suddenly hugging you squeezing your shoulder. Again, I thought Germans were supposed to be very reserved, but they are downright cuddly compared to most Americans.

tanz in den mai walprugisnacht
“It seems like night or day, you can find a party in Hamburg” Photo: Arne9001 /

Have you noticed anything quirky about Germans? We hope you’ll share your findings

Employland: So the Germans surprised you? Are there other clichés or assumptions about Germans that you can clear up for us?

Megan Lester: My first few months in Germany, I was shocked every time my train was late, my bus was delayed, or my boss wasn’t on time. I thought Germany was supposed to be the epicenter of efficiency and punctuality. But a bus delay no longer surprises me…waiting those few extra minutes actually makes Germany feel a little less foreign.

The Germans aren’t as punctual as everyone claims? What are your experiences?


Also in our blog: The intercultural experiences an engineer from India had in Germany, and what a Spanish Engineer thinks about the Germans. Also Mikayla Posey from the US shares her experiences.

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