We have been doing a lot of strolling around in Munich the past couple days and I have began to notice stark differences in everyday habits between Americans and Germans. One would assume that the U.S. and Germany, or Western Europe, have similar values and cultures because our countries have experienced similar societal and financial development. However, Germans seem to have both different values and mannerisms than Americans. The differences are small, but demonstrate how growing up in different environments affects ones train of thought and preferences in life. One striking aspect of life in Europe that I noticed when I went to France last summer and now in Germany, is the huge prevalence of cigarette smokers. People smoke everywhere at every time of day – on the sidewalk at 7 AM, at soccer games, and even next to their children in Dachau concentration camp. As an American, I was very bothered by the plethora of secondhand smoke and offended at the lack of respect for public areas, particularly Dachau. There seems to be less concern for others around you than there is in Texas. A product of the widespread smoking in Germany is the amount of cigarette butts that cover the streets. Yes, the United States also has smokers, but I have never seen an area with the affinity to smoke like Munich, Germany. The government must have recognized this because the packs of cigarettes all display a disgusting picture of rotting teeth, terrible skin, or ruined organs. I am not sure whether this has been newly implemented to address the smoking epidemic or if this is an older technique. Either way, it’s not unusual for a passerby on a bus or train to reek of smoke. Even worse, Americans seem to value personal hygiene over Germans so in Germany there are often unpleasant smells on top of the cigarette smoke on buses or crowded areas. Dr. P says that they simply don’t shower as much as we do.
I have also noticed that Americans are much louder and, frankly, more obnoxious in public than Germans. We talk louder, laugh louder, and sing louder; unless, there has been a soccer game, then the Germans have us beat there in volume and song. Our group has gotten many dirty looks for being loud in public or on public transportation, while in America being loud is everyone’s favorite pastime. However, one German man did seem very entertained when we sang about bratwurst on the U bahn at 11:30 PM last night. Although, there have been a few times that we are not the loudest passengers on the train. For instance, this morning, at 8:00 AM, a rowdy German bachelor party came on the train with multiple cases of beer and many already opened bottles. Many of us who were sleeping were woken up by yelling and laughing and Dr. P was offered a beer, which he refused. For once we were not the loudest in the train, which was nice because we had the opportunity to divert angry German eyes away from us and to the party.
Speaking of alcohol, I have noticed that people drink during all hours of the day, and mostly beer. There must be no open container laws because people bring their open bottle of beer literally everywhere – the train, the park, and even on the U/S bahn. Also, many of the restaurants we went to were appalled when we said we didn’t want to order any beer. I assume that consuming alcohol must be more lax here than the U.S. and considered an everyday activity rather than a special occasion.
While these differences in culture are not huge, and there are many more, it is still a shock to see how different the daily mannerisms of Germans are from Americans. Walking around Munich taught me about what is socially acceptable in Germany and how that differs from America. Sometimes I feel that by just walking around, the locals know I am a tourist. Those small differences contribute to the big picture differences between American and German culture.