This past weekend, a few of us in our group were able to take a quick weekend trip to the beautiful city of Prague! The Monday German holiday of Pentacost allowed for two full days of sightseeing. Seeing the city was a great way to getaway from Berlin (not saying I want to leave), and I used it as an opportunity to compare and contrasts the two cities. Prague is absolutely beautiful, and the Prague castle and Old Town square is clearly bursting with remnants of historical architecture and influential pieces. The structure of the city is a little different, being surrounded by mountains and with a river running through the middle; many historic structures are also centered around this river. Compared to Berlin, it feels a little bit cramped, as the main streets were narrower and filled with tourists. While I’m grateful for the opportunity to travel throughout Europe, I am glad to be back on my home turf in Berlin!
It’s weird trying to think of things I find difficult to assimilate to, when I am not necessarily culturally through and through American. This is not to say that German culture is something I am entirely used to, or that the differences do not phase me. Before we came to Berlin, our orientation put a rather large emphasis on the differences of the professional communication styles in Germany vs. America. And while I can definitely see that constructive criticism is more direct and less sandwiched between compliments, I find this communication style something I have grown used to, between my German dad and my Chinese mother.
Other cultural differences that are certainly different are the volume of things and the constant use of cash. Like most people, I tend to get loud in large groups, so being aware of the volume around us when boarding the subway or sitting at a restaurant has become something I have grown used to doing. I think the biggest difference to me is the use of cash; I’m so used to using cards in America, going to restaurants and easily splitting the check, but that has not really been the case here. Getting separate checks seems like more of a hassle, especially going out with groups of five or more, and carrying around a heavy coin purse and making sure you have enough small paper money to pay for your portion is something I am not quite used to.
Germans also tend to smoke a lot, especially young people. This is a rather difficult thing for me to adapt to, as I am almost never around cigarette smokers in America. The distinction is even more prominent at bars and clubs, where the air is cloudy, and I get home reeking of cigarettes. Smoking inside is something I’ve never seen in America (pretty sure it’s against the law?), and was something I was not prepared for, and not something I enjoy. What’s interesting to me is that Europeans, and specifically Germans, have a greater sense of awareness and overall cleanliness when it comes to the environment. In my mind, this carries over to other aspects of attaining a higher quality of life for yourself and those around you, and smoking does not fall into this category. A true cultural difference.
Speaking of the environment, I am truly loving the difference in attitudes and how it is treated in Berlin compared to the states. The streets are extremely clean, and any overflowing trashcan or litter is thus even more noticeable. The love and upkeep of public parks and public spaces is also rather different, potentially falling hand in hand with a more environmentally conscious mindset, or the tendency for Germans to be neat and organized.
Another difficult cultural difference for me has been the lack of available water. As a gal who chugs just about 150 oz of water a day, and that’s only when I don’t go to the gym, having to be conscious of the water that I am paying for at restaurants has been difficult. While this is okay when I am at work, being out and about and walking around will make anyone thirsty, and sometimes nothing but a hearty chug from my water bottle is what gets me home.
All in all, there are certainly cultural differences in Germany. But, I like to think that I have been armed with the background to quickly adapt to these differences, or have them not be differences at all. This week wasn’t too different than the last, except for the fact that I have gotten better at estimating the temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit, as well as estimating weights from Kilos to Pounds.