Berlin Cultural Contexts

Throughout the duration of this trip I have had to use context clues very regularly to navigate even the simplest of daily situations.  Upon arriving in Berlin I quickly discovered that, besides the language, the culture here is not too different from the culture in the United States. This allowed me the assimilate quickly and feel very at home during my time in Berlin.  However, a cultural gap still exists and this has caused some challenges for me during my time here. The most noticeable cultural differences are small daily practices that Germans perform differently than Americans. One example of this is etiquette when eating at a restaurant.  In European restaurants you must ask the server for your bill, they will not automatically bring it to you. My first couple visits to local restaurants involved very long waits before one of us decided to ask for the bill. It took some experience and some context clues before I realized that I would have to ask for this bill every time, it would not simply be presented to me. Another example of a cultural difference is jaywalking practices.  Jaywalking is very uncommon in Germany. In the U.S., in my experience, it is uncommon for people to jaywalk across busy streets, however, less busy streets are frequently crossed without waiting for a green light. In Germany, almost everybody waits for a walk sign at every street and it is uncommon to see someone cross the street where there is no crosswalk. Even late at night, on a small road with no cars around, people can be seen patiently waiting for the walk sign to turn green. Outside of these specific instances I have had to use context clues often during my daily routines.  The most common reason for me to have to do this would be my inability to communicate verbally since I know absolutely no German (and my Spanish skills do not translate). The most common case of this is at the grocery store when the cashier is giving me instructions on how to pay or asking if I would like a receipt. I can’t tell exactly what they are saying but due to their motions, body language and my point in the checkout process I get by pretty well.

Throughout the course of this trip I have also had the opportunity to travel to five other cities.  Many of them had cultures that were very different from Berlin and the U.S. and the issue of the language barrier was still present every time.  As a result, I had to rely even more on context clues and my intuition in these situations. My first trip outside of Berlin was to Munich where the culture is still German but very different from the culture in northern Germany.  I stayed in Munich for four days and the language barrier was not too much of an issue except for when I traveled farther south to do a day hike in the German Alps. In the small towns I passed through almost no one spoke English and communication was very difficult and not always completely successful. This caused what should of been a 90 minute trip south to turn into a 3 hour journey.  Luckily my intuition, modern technology, and communication skills allowed me to have a successful journey and a unique adventure. My next trip outside the city was to Dubrovnik, Croatia. In the main town of Dubrovnik there were plenty of people who spoke English, however, further outside the town, where I was staying, this was not the case. Navigating the city and figuring out the transportation system was a process that took multiple days to fully understand.  The internet, signs around the city and other sources of information would often provide a small amounts of very general information. Sometimes the different sources of information would contradict one another which made it more difficult to figure out where things were in the city and how to get there. Depending on where we were in the city, the locals were not able to help because we could not understand one another. This was probably one of my most challenging experiences abroad because I was not there as part of a structured program and I had no one to translate.  Nonetheless, I was able to have a very good trip and it was an awesome experience to learn and grow from. I was also able to travel to Budapest, Hamburg and Cologne, however, none of these places were too difficult to manage. Each of these cities had enough English speakers and information about them that I was able to handle the trip without any major problems. Each of my unique trips and the overall experience as a whole has helped me grow and develop as a person. It has also helped me learn a lot about different cultures and how to handle myself in other countries and I plan to bring all of this knowledge home with me and use it in the future.