Cultural differences: Immigrants in Germany

This is a bit of a light hearted post, but with an interesting observation. I quite enjoy watching videos of people who move to Germany. Their surprise at things taken for granted gives me food for thought as well as amusement. Some themes seem to be constant: Germans walk. For fun. No matter whether the immigrant is from the US or Vietnam, they are both fascinated and appalled by the German passion for going for walks.

Or the utter confusion of rental flats not having a kitchen. The answer to that is: Germans don’t move and love their kitchens. We plan them more carefully than the bedroom. And we really don’t like moving. There’s a saying that goes “moving twice is like burning down once”, so once we moved in, we try not to move out again. The idea of “buying a starter home” is as alien as the idea of buying an AR 15 at Walmart. So unless you’re moving into a student flat or a shared apartment, bring your own kitchen.

These matters are constants, but of course, other things will seem more or less strange, depending on your country of origin. But then there’s a noticeable difference not in between people from different countries, but of US Americans of different genders. American women will often be full of praise: they can easily and cheaply get fresh produce! Childcare is only 150 bucks a month! Oh, and did I mention healthcare? US American men on the other hand complain about not being allowed to kill endangered species and pour oil down the drain. It’s tyranny, I tell you!*


  • Yes, you need a fishing license. Yes, you have to pass a test, showing that you know the fish, if and when you’re allowed to catch them, minimum size and what bait is ok. Oh, and that you can kill a fish quickly. No “I’ve been fishing in the USA since I was 5” does not count. No, you are not allowed to wash your car at home. Washing it with soap will introduce pollutants into the wastewater. You have to go to a carwash where the wastewater will be filtered to remove motor oil and other pollutants.


  1. says

    You’re expected to furnish it yourself. The room is there, with the c water outlets, but no furniture or appliances.

  2. wereatheist says

    In (West-)Berlin there was a law that a kitchen has to come with a stove and a sink.
    I got both in my flat in (East-)Berlin in the mid-oughts.

  3. dianne says

    Is “taking everything but the kitchen sink” (massively overpacking for a trip) a saying in Germany? It kind of makes sense: If you take everything BUT the kitchen sink, you’re overpacking. If you take the kitchen sink, you’re moving.

    I wish I could have taken my old kitchen when I moved, but, having moved into Manhattan, it wouldn’t have fit even if I could have.

  4. ockhamsshavingbrush says

    @diane #5
    Nope. There’s a saying “Mit Kind und Kegel” which basically means with kids, pets and luggage. Which puzzled me when I was younger as “Kegel” can either mean cone or bowling pin in modern German and I was “why the hell do they want to pack cones or bowling pins of all things?” Until I found out that Kegel in ye olden times meant “kinds from an extramarital affair”. German is weird, even as a german. Shrug.

  5. says

    Whatever you want, except for a gas stove in larger buildings as there’s the danger of explosion.
    In our old rented flat we had a stove/oven, fridge, freezer and washing machine, though not everything was in the kitchen. Renters in Germany have a lot more rights than in the US. For example, your landlord cannot simply rule out all pets.
    We had one of them in our student flat: sink, fridge and two stove plates right on top of the fridge. Because that makes sense. First thing I did was buy a used stove /oven.

  6. wereatheist says

    @Gilliel: In Berlin you get a full-grown stove. Mine is four flames, with oven, powered by natural gas.
    House is pre-WWI, nevertheless we got district heating (includes warm water).
    Electrics are pure GDR style: protruding wall sockets/switches, visible rectangular cable ducts.
    No 380V three-phase circuit (so no electric stove possible).
    It’s kinda weird, but not because there was a stove in here :)

  7. dianne says

    @ockhamsshavingbrush: In English (American?) Kegel is also the name of a pelvic exercise intended to prevent urinary incontinence after childbirth. (Just in case your associations weren’t already strange enough.)

    German is weird. Sorry, but I’m still not over the way “Ihr” drifted from formal plural second person to informal plural second person and “Sie” (third person plural) became second person formal. Of course, as a native speaker of a language with only a second person formal, I probably have no room to talk about other languages being weird.

  8. ockhamsshavingbrush says

    @dianne #9
    Yeah, i know now, but this was way back when I was a wee youth, and only found out later. Neither of those makes a lick of sense. And don’t get me starded on gendered nouns, I mean: “das Messer, der Löffel und die Gabel”, but if languages were not weird, they would be less fun, weren’t they? OT there’s a real interesting YT channel called NativeLang,but you shure know that.

  9. dianne says

    @ockhamsshavingbrush: Ah, yes, gendered nouns. Das Maedchen is the canonical weird one for English speakers. The girl is neuter but the fork is feminine? Okay.

  10. anat says

    We’re not supposed to pour oil down the drain in my US suburb either, but so far it’s just at the level of educational pamphlets by the utility company.

    So what is the typical age in which people buy their first (forever?) home? How big is it usually? As in, how many bedrooms? Do people not move for work or school?

  11. says

    Well, the most precise answer to all these questions is probably “it depends”, but let me give you some general ideas.

    People do move for school or work, but once you finish school and find a job, you try not to move much, especially if you have kids. Now, the housing market is fucked up here as well and you need some pretty decent job in order to buy one. I’d say most people buy a house/flat between 30 and 40, when the kids can enjoy the space and you have enough earning years ahead to pay off the mortgage. Once you hadn’t your house, you try to make it as much “yours” as possible. I don’t think the previous owners would recognise our house anymore.

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