We’ve spoken to a few friends (including our founders!) and students who are living in Germany and asked them about the biggest culture shock they faced when they first arrived in Germany. Here are a few of the major differences between living in Germany and living in Malaysia that you need to take note of if you are planning to live there or just simply pay a visit.
What do we do on Sundays here in Malaysia? Many of us use this day to stock up our groceries or hang out at the mall. In Germany, if you are also hoping to go out for shopping with your friends on a Sunday, you are bound to be disappointed. In German culture, Sundays are rest days and most retail and many restaurants will be closed on that day. Instead of the common scene of a fully packed parking lot in the mall here in Malaysia, Germans usually spend their Sundays quietly with their family at home or out in the nature, such as going to the park or a hike. Of course, there are still some exceptions for emergency shopping such as mini marts at the train stations.
As much as we dislike having neighbors who drill and knock or party with loud music late at night, most Malaysians will just bear with it or complain bitterly to our friends (or social media) when that happen to us. Some may confront the neighbors or lodge a complaint if the disturbance is unacceptable, but there is no strict, clear rule about noise level in most places in Malaysia. This is not the case in Germany. Germans have a strict rule about quiet hours, commonly known as Ruhestunden in Germany. The quiet hours take place from 10pm at night all the way to 7am in the morning from Monday to Saturday, and the entire Sunday and public holiday. Everyone is expected to respect and adhere to these practices and failure to do so may result in more than an angry post on Facebook. Neighbors have the right to call the police if you are making too much noise within the Quiet Hours.
Waste separation in Germany is a skill on its own and may be challenging and complicated to most Malaysians when they first arrived in Germany. Even though Malaysia also promotes waste separation with our tri-color recycling bins, it is not strictly enforced, and most households do not practice proper waste separation. Germans practice waste separation with much dedication, with the four main recycling bins for light-weight packaging, paper waste, residual or household waste, and compostable kitchen waste respectively. This is not inclusive of separate waste disposal for glass bottles, other special wastes (e.g. fluorescent tubes, pesticides, paint containers), electrical wastes and bulky wastes (e.g. household appliances). All these wastes must be carefully disposed into their corresponding bins to avoid being fined or having your trash uncollected.
As Malaysians, we have all heard of the term ’Malaysian timing’, which jokes about Malaysians being late for everything. Memes about Malaysians being ‘on the way’ are often used to portray how Malaysians always use traffic as excuses when we are late for an appointment, when in fact, we are still at home. If you are guilty of the above and think that ‘everyone also like that lah’, then you better start changing your ‘Malaysian timing’ to ‘German timing’ as punctuality is highly valued and expected in all situations. Germans see punctuality as a sign of respect. Hence, you do not want to be late for any appointment, be it personal or business, as you do not want them to feel disrespected. Not only do they value punctuality to work or meetings, Germans also value punctuality in packing up and going home when your work hour is up. Unlike in Malaysia, instead of showing that you are hardworking when you work overtime, staying late after work hours in Germany reflects that you are poor in planning your day or inefficient at work.
Germans are the goody-two-shoes who obey rules strictly and do not hesitate to correct you in public if you are violating the rules. While you think you can get away with parking illegally for just 5 minutes or crossing the road when the pedestrian light is still red, you can expect to receive shameless shouting or deadly stares that Germans can throw at you. In the German culture, it is their civic duty to correct a rule-breaker and make expectations known. Thus, there is no need to feel offended if you are being told of for making a mistake even though the Germans can sound cold and direct when they speak.
Living in a country across the globe can pose us with many surprises and culture shock when we first arrive. As the saying goes ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’, we have to learn to be respectful towards their rules and cultures even when they are different from our own. Keep an open mind and a respectful attitude, you will settle in and be like the Germans in no time.