Four Things You Should Know Before Going to Germany

Autumn Larsen
Autumn Larsen
May 3, 2024

It’s important to prepare and learn about the culture you’ll be studying in; everyone knows this. But how can you research something if you don’t know what it is you should know? I hope this blog can help you by answering some questions about Germany you may not have known to ask.

1. Prevalence of smoking

As in many European cities, smoking is fairly common in Germany, including among young people. This can be surprising for us Americans since less than one in five U.S. adults smoke, while in Germany, over one-third of the population are smokers. This is due in large part to the anti-smoking laws and campaigns that took off in the U.S. starting in the 50s and 60s, including focusing on educating and discouraging young people from trying cigarettes. However, in Europe, when standing in line outside, having a picnic, or any other outdoor activity, you are more likely than not to see (and smell) a few smokers. This seems especially ironic in Germany, which is otherwise known for its people’s active, healthy lifestyles.

Read more here:

2. The German Stare/Resting German Face

People seem to have differing opinions on what staring can mean in Germany, but everyone agrees that Germans definitely stare, longer and more often than most of us are used to. This emotionless, monotone stare could be any number of things: observation to make sure you are following the rules, appreciating (or judging) your outfit or appearance, harmless people-watching, or just plain staring off into space. It may sometimes feel like they are glaring or scowling at you, but this tends to be how Germans look when they are not feeling any particular emotion at all, aka, the German Resting Face. 

Whatever their inner thoughts may be, my attitude is generally to just ignore it or, if I’m feeling it, stare back until they look away. Perhaps look around for any signs to make sure you aren’t already breaking any rules, but for the most part, this staring is common but usually harmless.

Read more here: 

3. Party culture

I’m not much of a partier, so I can’t give you the fine details on the differences between partying in the U.S. versus Germany. However, I can tell you that when Germans say they’re having a party, they mean a party. When I first arrived, one of my flatmates texted our apartment’s group chat to ask if it was alright if she hosted a birthday party in our apartment. Thinking of the birthday parties I’m used to, with a handful or two of friends and perhaps some games or a movie, I responded, “Of course!” Why wouldn’t I be okay with a birthday party? Imagine my surprise when the night came, and a beer pong table was set up (right outside my door!), hoards of people kept arriving, and party music blasted through the night and well into the morning. It just so happened to be the night before I had a final exam, too! So when your German flatmate asks to host a party, make sure you know exactly what kind of party.

4. Bring your own washcloth (and perhaps your own pillow)

Although you can rely on hotels and IES Abroad to provide body and hand towels, you will most definitely need to bring or buy your own washcloth/face towel. This is not necessarily because Germans don’t use washcloths, but apparently view washcloths as a personal item, similar to underwear, which would be gross to use after someone else. Therefore, many hotels expect you to bring your own washcloth if you plan on using one.

However, I’m not sure why IES Abroad does not provide them since they will provide a brand-new hand and body towel anyway. It may be for the same reason you might want to bring your own pillow: cultural assimilation. German pillows tend to be square rather than rectangular, including the one you lay your head down on at night. Personally, I have slept well on this kind of pillow, and you can fold or shape it however you want to sleep on it. Others, however, have found them very uncomfortable, so you may want to consider bringing your own from home.

Read more here: 

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs
Autumn Larsen

Autumn Larsen

My name is Autumn Larsen, and I am an Environmental Studies major and German Studies minor at Mount Holyoke College, but in Spring 2024 I am studying abroad in Freiburg, Germany in the ES and Sustainability program! 

2024 Spring
Home University:
Mount Holyoke College
Environmental Studies
Explore Blogs