“Man muss…”: Things You Should Already Know about Germany

West Virginia: Wild and Wonderful

Iowa: Fields of Opportunities

Ohio: Birthplace of Aviation

Germany: You Should Already Know.

We love living here in Germany. It has not been the easiest thing in the world (dropping everything and moving to a country where you don’t speak the language? Is it ever easy?) but I would not trade the experience for anything.

That being said, it would have been (and would continue to be) a lot easier if we could know what is going on some of the time. I know it’s not just us – foreigners from other countries here agree that there is a strange secret club in Germany, where everyone already knows everything that needs to be known. They’re more than happy to help out and answer your questions…but you have to know what to ask first. And that’s the tricky part.

It took me about 3 months (which culminated in some blatant spying on students) to figure out how the library locker system works at the university. It wasn’t until a December trip to Berlin that a fellow passenger explained the Deutsche Bahn seat reservation system. And I suffered a recycling-related injury the first time I returned a cafeteria cup to get my damn 25 cent Pfand.

In the hopes of shedding some light on these and other rituals, my husband and I attended a weekend seminar for foreign students on the cultural customs of Germany. It ended up pertaining more to situations involving meals in a professional setting (none of which is so very different from the U.S.). We spent an inordinate amount of time on the following worksheet, where we discussed what was wrong with each of the following pictures. With each explanation, our teacher used the phrase “Man muss” or “Man darf nicht” (“You must” or “You must not”); hence, the inspiration for the title of this series of blog posts.

1. “Man muss” –  rub your husband’s chin like he is a cat.

2. “Man darf nicht” – cry in public places*

3. “Man muss” – take a quick nap after eating your schnitzel

6. “Man darf nicht” – eat like a dirty, slovenly American

7.”Man darf nicht” – smoke around people who have permanent whiskey face

9. “Man darf nicht” – have poor dental hygiene in Germany

*This one is not a joke. This picture is actually meant to show that it is not appropriate to cry in public in Germany. It is, however, appropriate to cry in a few select places, such as hospitals, churches and airports, but nowhere else. Guess this is why I’m not in the secret German club.

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17 responses to ““Man muss…”: Things You Should Already Know about Germany

  1. I’ve lived in Germany for 3 years now and I really can’t work out what the rest of them are trying to say! What’s the first one all about? You shouldn’t reach over other people during dinner?

    • Yes, either that or “it’s rude to try to levitate the dinnerware at the table.” I noticed that these are all either so elementary or so advanced that they make me smile (I believe that, honestly, #3 is “unhöflich” because the silverware is not pointing at 4 o’clock. The horror!).

  2. You have to be kidding me! Now I know why I had to leave Germany: I never rubbed my husband’s chin, and I remember I did cry in public places other than churches or hospitals. Haha, that’s so funny!
    But I agree, it is the tiny things that make living abroad an adventure. Like when I went to NY for the first time (I took part in an exchange programme and was working at JFK airport), and I had no idea how to get my bus ticket. The driver kicked me out because I didn’t have the exact change, and I felt very discouraged at that point.
    In Mexico I find it even harder because there seem to be no written rules, so all those guidelines seem to change on a daily basis…
    So good luck with getting into the German Schnitzel Club! 😉

      • Well… I was staying in a tiny apartment with no kitchen in Queens, I only could see the lights of Manhattan from my bathroom window – JFK seemed like heaven in comparison to that!

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  5. Thanks for liking my post 🙂 I’m glad it led me to your blog! I would love to take a class like that here in Brazil. Although I do get a kick out of shocking them when I “eat like a dirty, slovenly American.” My housekeeper nearly died when she saw me drinking directly from a soda can and holding my sandwich in my bare hands. In Brazil, you must use a straw or pour your soda into a cup, and you should never hold your sandwich/burger/whatever you’re eating in your bare hands. You have to wrap it in a napkin first. Yet, when you go to a cookout here, they cook up steaks and sausages, slice them up, and then walk around with them on a platter passing it out to all the guests who just grab a small slice of meat with their bare hands. No plates, no utensils, no napkins. Go figure!

  6. That’s hilarious! Similarly, when I lived in Spain, I thought my first host family was going to have a heart attack when I started peeling an orange….with my HANDS. They insisted that I use a knife. I was physically unable to do it, so I ended up just not eating any oranges the rest of the time I lived there. They also wanted me to peel and slice up apples. My second host family was very laid-back – I asked my host mom if it was okay if I ate my apple “as is” – she just laughed and said it was fine if I wanted to eat “como un bárbaro” (like a barbarian) 🙂

    Thanks for sharing! Looking forward to reading more of your blog.

    • That’s hilarious about the orange! I never would have thought that peeling an orange could be an issue. I like the barbarian comment too 🙂 I wonder what else Americans around the world are doing to totally gross out people from other cultures!

    • I think my guest family never saw me eating a orange than. I peeled it with my hands too and imagine, I’m German. But I let them know that about 10 minutes after I arrived there: I insisted on taking back my luggage trolley to the luggage trolley stand on the parking lot because that is a “man muss” in Germany… a “well you could do that but we normally never do” in Spain.

      • That’s so totally a “we could do that but we don’t” for Spain! That reminds me of my favorite Spanish moment: I left Seville, dragging ALL of my things in a very heavy suitcase. The woman checking me in at the airport let the bag go through without a word. I debated for a moment and then said, “No es sobrepesado?/Isn’t that overweight?” She just smiled at me, put her finger to her lips and went “Shhhh!”

      • The “shh!” is good. But same when I flew back. But it was a Lufthansa flight, so very correct for a German airline, the woman informed me that my luggage was overweight (I could have never guessed when my first piece of luggage was already 19,5kg and I had a second one nearly as heavy as the first). But she said: well it’s only business people on that flight anyway, they only carry their laptop bags, so never mind…

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  8. Haha a couple I have heard of are not leaving too much space between the person in front of you when lining up otherwise people cut because they think you aren’t in line and not putting your hand under the table when out to eat (preferably holding the knife and fork through the duration of the meal).

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