It’s funny how the littlest things stand out when you are in a new cultural environment. Ever since I started work here, I have noticed how diligent people are about saying, “Good Morning/Goodbye/See you later” to everyone in the office whenever the time permits. That may not sound too weird, but I have found it interesting that every time a person greets the office everyone basically responds in unison. It’s almost as if the response is reflexive. I get the impression that it is not enough to just nod and smile (like I tend to do/like I’m used to), a verbal response appears to be required. I have started to make sure I also say my greetings and respond to the rest. I brought it up to my roommate today and she also has noticed this behavior in her work environment. Even at the store, it is as if the cashier has a script and does not break character from the greetings and farewells. The more I write about this topic, I keep wondering why this feels so odd, but I believe the answer lies in the difference in cultures. If you get to experience this personally, I believe you will understand where I am coming from. But like I said, I have adapted the greeting behavior because it’s better to safe than disrespectful. People can usually tell that I am not from here, but it’s nice to blend in when I can.
The difference in the cultural etiquette goes beyond the simple greetings. Every sign is followed, no exceptions. Which technically should be the same at home, but when the road is clear you’re most likely going to cross the street. That exception does not seem to be a thing here. When I am in Oakland, and I know the walk sign is about to be green with no cars are coming, I am going to proceed to cross the street. Same in cases of J-walking, when the road is clear I think we are all guilty of crossing when needed. Here in Berlin, those exceptions are not a thing. It seems as if the people are on pause until the walk sign is green. I also have yet to see a person j-walk here. Following the rules is good and it should probably be the same at home, but in our society, the unspoken exceptions to the rules have become a part of our social norm. Along with obeying Ampelmann (traffic light man), the time for crossing the streets is extremely short. No matter the length of the crossing, I find myself rushing across, praying that Ampelmann stays green (he never does) and that I don’t get honked at. To put this into perspective, let’s say a crosswalk at home that has a time of twenty seconds seems to be maybe ten seconds top here. Even with the rush of traffic light change, no one moves an inch until it is green.
The two cultural differences I brought up are relatively small, but it is interesting how different the little things can feel when they are experienced multiple times on a daily basis.