After living in Berlin for a little over 3 weeks now I have really begun to find a rhythm in my daily life. At first I was discovering the city, figuring out how to navigate, finding where everything is, and trying to experience all that the city has to offer. After going through this initial period of excitement as well as orientation and training at work I am beginning to more fully realize the fundamental differences between German culture and that in the U.S. While the two are pretty similar they have a few major and many subtle differences.
The first major difference is communication strategy. Germans are very direct in their communication. While this is also true for the U.S., Germans tend to focus more on criticisms than complements. It is more common for a person to be told how they could improve as opposed to what they did well. This does require an adjustment period, although maybe not a long one. Another major difference is clothing. German fashion is not too difference from the U.S.’s but I have noticed that it is uncommon to see people wearing shorts or khakis. Other than that there are only subtle differences in brands and styles but overall it is pretty similar.
A few aspects of life in Germany have taken a little longer to get used to. One of these is how structured a lot of things are in the city. For example traffic patterns (for bikes, pedestrians and cars): each unit of traffic has its rules and place on the street and these norms are rarely broken. There is a clear bike lane and if a pedestrian finds themself walking in it they are liable to get run down by a cyclist, the same goes for cyclists who foolishly decide to ride on the road. Things such as jaywalking or a car making a right turn at a red light are almost never seen. Sitting at a red light for minutes waiting for a green walk light with no traffic in sight has been one of the hardest things to get used to for me. It is very contradictory to the pedestrian behaviors in Oakland. To break this point down further, everyone follows rather specific traffic flows on the sidewalk and in subways and bus stations. Everyone walks pretty fast focusing only on getting where they are going. In addition to how people move about the city is the concept of personal space on public transportation. The idea of sitting next to a stranger on a bus or a train is not unusual here. It is far more unusual to ignore an open seat simply because there is someone sitting adjacent to it. People have no issues squeezing into an open seat with strangers already seated on either side. The final major cultural difference here is the restaurant etiquette. To summarize it: everything is slower. The drinks take much longer to be delivered than is customary in the U.S. In an interesting contrast to this it seems as if the food is cooked rather quickly. However, guests have to ask for the bill to receive it, if someone were to wait for the waiter or waitress to deliver it automatically it would never come. This is done to prevent guests from feeling as if they are being rushed out of the establishment with the presentation of the bill (and in hopes that they will remain seated and order more food and drink) which makes sense but has taken some time to get used to.
I gained a more full appreciate for German culture when I visited Munich this past weekend. The culture of the Bavarian region of Germany is very different than that in Berlin. This is in part because of basic regional divides but also because the culture in Berlin is largely shaped by international influences, therefore, the German aspects of it are a little more subdued. In Munich more cultural music and attire is customary. There are more old buildings with older architectural styles. I was only there for a weekend so assimilation was not difficult, however, it did give me more of an appreciation for the German aspects of Berlin culture.
I have not found it too difficult to adapt to life in Berlin. The architecture is not too different from the U.S., it is not difficult to find familiar foods and I am surrounded by students from the same University so it has been very easy to feel at home here. At times when my coworkers are speaking in German or I encounter a local who does not speak english I more fully realize that I am a long way from home but ultimately the experience has continued to outweigh any discomfort I may have felt. As a result I have had no issue adapting to my daily life here and I have no issue with the thought of the remaining 5 weeks I have in Berlin.