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Oops, ich Dummkopf!

It’s easy to make a cultural faux pas when you’re abroad, and there’s nowhere easier to do it than in Germany, says James Cave.

There are rules for just about every part of German life, but often it can be hard to know what those rules are – until you break them, that is. You won’t find a list of rules written down anywhere, but there’s nothing like making mistakes to make you learn quickly.

The following are four of the most common rules that most visitors to Germany end up breaking, mostly unwittingly.

Sundays are sacrosanct

Sunday is a day of rest and, in Germany, that’s enshrined into law. The vast majority of shops remain closed, and it’s forbidden to make any kind of noise. This not only includes the use of power tools or lawnmowers but even things like washing machines and vacuum cleaners.

Anything noisy should be kept for the other six days of the week. Well, almost. Between 13:00 and 15:00 is known as the Mittagsruhe in Germany, and many parts of Germany still religiously honour this rule.

So is recycling

In some countries, some people recycle and some people don’t. In Germany recycling isn’t really optional; it’s a religion. The police won’t come after you if you don’t, but your neighbours will.  If you’re spotted putting something into the wrong bin, you can expect anything from a polite lecture on the importance of recycling to a more humiliating scolding.

So, always recycle. Except on a Sunday, of course, when you can’t because of the noise rule.

Wait for the green man

Although you’re supposed to wait for the green man at road crossings in every country, Germans actually do wait patiently. Dare to cross the road when it’s red, and you may hear a tut-tutting. And if there are children present, it’s quite likely that one of the adults will actually shout at you.

So, when in Germany, always wait for the green man.

Real men sit down

German men sit down to pee, it’s more hygienic.

You’ll see signs in cafes telling you to be a Sitzpinkler (someone who sits down to pee) and not a Stehpinkler (someone who stands up), and it’s assumed that if you use the toilet in someone’s house you’ll sit down to pee as well.

Don’t fight it, just adapt. You’ll soon see that, like so many other German rules, there’s a lot of sense to it.


James Cave spent several years in Germany where he co-wrote German Men Sit Down to Pee and Other Insights into German Culture. These days he’s in Portugal, where he writes the blog


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