It’s the little things

Moving to England, I never experienced the common culture shock and think it doesn’t really exist if you’re from Germany. It’s rather been a gradual process and I started noticing little differences in my everyday life, which are less obvious than things like left hand traffic or having pounds as currency.

Shopping – I have to admit, shopping in the UK is easier for a couple of reasons. #1: Supermarkets in the UK are in general a bit tidier and there is a bigger selection of food. #2: On Sundays, nearly all businesses (including supermarkets and pharmacies) are closed in Germany, while in the UK they can open for up to 6 consecutive hours. #3: Using credit/debit cards or your phone to pay is much more common in the UK. Despite Germany being such a forward-thinking country, there are still many smaller shops like bakeries where you can’t pay by card or there is a minimum amount you have to spend. I regularly forget about this when I go home! And #4: It is a lot more common here to order your groceries!

Keyboard – The German/Austrian keyboard layout is different from the one used in the UK. For example, the positions of the “Z” and “Y” keys are switched and the part of the keyboard adapted to include the “umlaut” vowels doesn’t exist. This does make a lot of sense and theoretically is easy to get used to but it can really slow you down sometimes!

Punctuation – Another difference is the use of symbols in German and English, especially when writing numbers. In English, a point is used for the decimal separator and a comma for the thousands separator. This is the other way around in German and has caused me quite a bit of trouble, for instance in working with excel or comparing calculations!

People – this goes hand-in-hand with the stereotype that British people are highly polite, exaggerate in a positive sense and that sorry is their favourite word in the world. People and the way they interact with each other are just very different from what I am used to. It’s not like Germans are rude or unfriendly, but we might come across like that to the English at first, because we don’t over-apologise and we’re not particularly keen on small talk.

People here often do not say what they really think, while conversation in Germany is a lot more direct. I keep interpreting conversations I have, which is not the case back in Germany, because when people are grumpy, they show it. The English tend to just let it slide when something bothers them, or express it in a more passive way. I am still not sure whether that’s better or worse – I guess it’s just different and you have to learn to understand the differences in communication. However, living in England has taught me to be more patient and extra polite to people.

Familiar interaction – What is still quite unusual for me is that people often just call professors or their bosses by their first name, which would be unthinkable for the majority of Germans. Sometimes it takes me a lot of will power to overthrow my German formality. Somehow, being on unfamiliar terms with someone who is more senior is just a matter of respect, something I’ve been taught. And by the way, as everyone is on more familiar terms, it is not rare that you are called “dear”, “love” or “darling” by people you have never met before. But who doesn’t want to feel a bit special?