5 Things Not to Do When Trying to Make German Friends

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I’m a big believer of the old saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, but there are a few Canadian habits that I just can’t shake in Germany and yes, that includes thinking that red really is the best colour for police uniforms as it is the traditional color of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (R.C.M.P) and yes that also includes spelling “colour” with an “u”, the Canadian way.

Canadian Habit #1:
Saying “no thank you” (but in German of course). Germans typically just say “no”, saying “no thank you” is considered very polite and not necessary, but my mom taught me well and I can’t just say “no.” To my Canadian ears it sounds so rude, even though it is perfectly acceptable in Germany. Besides, it provides comic relief for the Germans as evidenced last night when the cashier at the supermarket asked if I wanted my receipt, I replied “no thank you” and she and the other two people standing in line couldn’t help but giggle. Glad that this Canadian habit gives some Germans a small chuckle, because it’s not one I’m likely to break anytime soon and I guess it’s better to be overly polite than rude.

Canadian Habit #2:
When I see someone, the first thing out of my mouth is usually “Hi, how are you?” Believe it or not this is considered a slightly strange question in Germany. Germans don’t ask how you are, unless they REALLY want to know. They don’t see the point of the North American answer “fine thanks, and you?” If they ask how you are, they really want to know and don’t just want a one word answer. Most of the time, they don’t really want to know, so they don’t ask. This seems simple enough, and I actually like it, since most of the time in Canada when we ask “How are you?” we really don’t want to know about your sick dog or how you ran out of breakfast cereal, or had a fight with your husband…We are only expecting a one word answer. Having said, that, it’s a hard Canadian habit to break. Fortunately J.P. says that Germans understand that this is a U.S./Canadian habit and don’t take offense to it, although it bewilders them of why we would ask a question and only expect a one word answer.

Canadian Habit #3
Saying “nice to meet you” when you first meet someone. This seems harmless enough, but is usually not done in Germany. Ever pragmatic, the German logic goes, “I just met you, how do I know whether it’s nice to meet you or not? I need to get to know you, then decide whether it’s nice to met you or not.” I love this perspective and in North America, when we say this, we don’t really mean it (after all we’ve just met you), it’s just a figure of speech. I actually like that Germans mean the words they say, much more so than we do in North America. I’m getting better at this one, in part because of the awkward silence that follows after saying “nice to meet you” (I swear sometimes I can hear crickets). Instead I try to say it after spending a couple of hours with someone, when I can confirm that it was indeed nice to meet them.

Of course, I have many other Canadian habits that I just can’t seem to shake either, but those are another story…What habits do you have that you can’t break when traveling/living abroad?

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