Are you moving to or considering living in Germany?  Working in Germany?

Moving and working in a new country will always have challenges, regardless of your flexibility and adaptability!  Having said that, a little insight and being ‘prepped’ on what to expect can go a long way to minimise those challenges!   Often, we arrive fresh off the boat with nothing more than our preconceived ideas and a suitcase full of stereotypes.

So, if Germany is your intended destination, here are a few insights into German culture to maximise your experience and make your new adventure a smooth one.  As they say, forewarned is forearmed!

Please note this is written from a broad perspective and is not meant to cause offence.  Talking about culture is always a little tricky 🙂

Common Comments from Expats working and living in Germany

Move to any new country and I can guarantee that you hear all about the negative things people experience long before the positives! The tendency too to continuously compare where they are to where they have come from. I find this incredibly interesting; why move then?  Of course, people say their ‘job requires it’ or ‘because of my spouse’, but there is always a choice involved unless you are a child.  If where you are is perfect, why leave?

Having lived in Germany for the better part of three years, here are some of the comments internationals have.  I will do my best to dispel these later in the post:

Comment 1:
  • ‘Germans take rules seriously and feel it’s their social duty to keep each other in check’
  • ‘Too direct’
Comment 2:
  • ‘Germans are arrogant’
Comment 3:
  • ‘The Germans are unfriendly and cold’

I recently came across Erin Meyer and her book The Culture Map!  It was almost as if the heavens opened, and the angels began to sing!  Was it possible to actually contextualise behaviours and tendencies of a particular country/culture in a meaningful way?  And the answer is yes!!  The other good news is that Erin Meyer (along with a host of other anthropologists) has done all the hard work for you, so all you need to do is be willing to learn.

Ok, primarily, her book deals with business and doing business, but it got me thinking whether it couldn’t perhaps translate into everyday life in Germany!!?  And in my opinion, it absolutely can to some degree.

By taking the time to try and understand the other perspective rather than judge, life already becomes easier.

The Culture Map and how it works?

In essence, The Culture Map prioritises 8 scales when comparing one culture to another, namely:

  • Communicating
  • Evaluating
  • Persuading
  • Leading
  • Deciding
  • Trusting
  • Disagreeing
  • Scheduling

Also important to note, the absolute positioning of where a country/culture lies on the scale is of less importance than where it lies in relation to another country/culture.  In other words, by mapping one culture vs another, one is able to identify potentially contentious areas and address them.  This is not to say one way is better than another, but rather that each approach is different and thus can lead to frustrations and potentially avoidable problems!

So, for anyone experiencing huge frustrations, trying to consider where their country/culture lies in relation to Germany on that particular ‘issue’ may provide a lot of insight!

Working/living in Germany, the bits that no one explains

So, now comes the bit where we try to give some context and explain the ‘between the lines’ bits (or lack thereof in Germany).

Comment 1:
  • ‘Germans take rules seriously and feel it’s their social duty to keep each other in check’
  • ‘Too direct’

The Germans are a low-context society.  Meaning, they are explicit and direct in their communication as well as with how they offer direct negative feedback.  It is not intended to be offensive but rather a simple sign of honesty, transparency and respect.  So, whilst Americans may also have a low context society, the way they provide negative feedback is very contrasting to Germany; that is to say, they provide three positives before offering negative feedback.

Ok, yes, this can, at times, feel like you are back in grade school, only now the teacher reprimands you because the tyres on your car are ever so slightly too close to the parking divide line!  However, I have found the perfect diffusion is to say “I’m sorry?” in English with a slight look of confusion (this may also be helped by the fact that I’m blonde 😜)

Worth mentioning, too, are cyclists, and in fact, who is to say which are even German as they wave their arms furiously at you with their headphones in!  All I know is that they tend to be a fairly angry bunch.  I think I may fear them more than the Politzei!  Dear heaven, I thought exercise released endorphins and that endorphins are supposed to make you happy!

Comment 2:
  • ‘Germans are arrogant and inflexible’

From school age, German culture builds/acquires their knowledge from a deductive reasoning point of view (along with France, Russia, Spain and Italy).  Meaning that first, you understand the framework, and second, you apply it to practicalities.  For instance, if you present to a German audience it is important to provide the framework and reference point from which you work.  If you fail to provide this information, you can expect to be questioned intensely in this regard as your audience tries to attain this information.  Of course, this may come across as arrogant, undermining and very direct to many.  So, to clarify, theory and background are first, and practical application second. 

Also, Germany is very egalitarian (consensual) in their decision making.  That is to say, decision-making is an inclusive process.  Meaning it takes incredibly long; however, once the decision is made, it is very difficult to change.  This contrasts, for example, with America, which is hierarchical (i.e. the boss decides) in their approach, but this decision is very open to change and often.

Comment 3:
  1. ‘Germans are unfriendly and cold’

To address this, we must first understand the Coconut and Peach Model of interpersonal interaction. 

  • Coconut, people are more closed to new people that they meet. Rarely smile at strangers, don’t ask casual acquaintances personal questions or offer personal information. The relationship takes longer to ‘crack’.  Like a coconut, it has a hard exterior and is difficult to crack, but the inside has no hard centre.
  • Peach tend to be ‘soft’ with those that they have just met.  However, the pip is where the peach protects its real self.  Like a peach, there is the ‘hard pip’ in the middle.

German Culture is defined as being a coconut culture. 

In the book, it mentions a Russian saying:  ‘If we pass a stranger on the street who is smiling, we know with certainty that person is crazy…or else American.’  Russia is another coconut culture.  It’s worth pointing out that in all my encounters on public transport where I was lost and couldn’t speak the language (still can’t 😬), it was Americans who came to my rescue! 

This, too, I have found not to be the case in my experience!  Starting TFE the number of incredible German women (and men) who have been not only encouraging but so willing to help (using their “terrible English”) has been extraordinary!


On Meyers’s website, there are some great tools (for a small fee) to culturally map you and your team.  This can help provide valuable insights into how you and, perhaps more importantly, how each of your team works.

Of course, you do not need to use these tools. You can simply buy The Culture Map book, which provides a broad perspective.

Finally, while the world might feel a smaller place, let’s not forget that it’s not so small that we don’t still have our differences!  These differences/nuances are what keep us travelling, keep us curious and most importantly keep us ‘unique’.  Embrace the differences and enjoy working/living in Germany! 

Additional information

  • I highly recommend buying The Culture Map by Erin Meyer regardless of where you live in the world.