May 31, 2016   //   International   //   By Michael Burge


This post is going to be dedicated to some of the cultural differences I have observed in these first few weeks.

As a disclaimer, these observations are just from my personal experience while staying here in Hamburg. I have been finding that there are far more similarities between American and German culture than differences. For professional attire there is a suit and tie standard in Germany, however most of the staff do not wear a suit and tie all day. Instead an employee will have a suit jacket on a hanger in their office and have three or four ties hung up as well.  If they have a meeting or a client is coming in it makes it easy for them to pop on the tie and jacket for the meeting then take it back off once the meeting is over and be business casual for the rest of the day.  This may be a practice I bring back to the US.

On the more social side of things, Europeans dress considerably better than the average American.  When I was preparing for my trip I was worried about being underdressed in professional settings but where I am clearly getting out classed is in social settings. I’d like to think I dress alright for an American but it is in no comparison to how Europeans dress. I have never seem so many scarves in my life! You do not typically see people wearing jeans and a sweatshirt or t-shirt.  Just a fair warning if anyone else decides to head to Europe beef up your wardrobe to European standards.

To continue on with other social interactions, I will address the “personal bubble”.  As Americans I know we like to have a lot of personal space.  I have found the amount of space required by Europeans seems to be much smaller.  I would say my personal bubble is about two to two and a half feet. In Europe when you are having a conversation it is about 18 inches.  I find myself playing a constant game of moving half a step back and the person I am talking to moving half a step forward until we are halfway across the room. This is not particularly a bad thing; it is just something I have to get used to.

Now I have noticed in my blog posts that I have not yet commented on the food in Germany. To say the least, the food has been fantastic.  I have not been disappointed by any German food but then again I am not a picky eater by any stretch.  A couple of differences to note are that the portion sizes in Europe are significantly smaller than the US.  A US portion usually gives you about three meals worth of food (even though most of us eat it all in one sitting).  European portions are just about one meal which is just enough to make you satisfied but not full.  You can tell by looking at the average person in Europe that portion control has a good effect on the populace.  Another note is that you better like sparkling water if you are coming to Europe.  The assumption is that you want sparkling water unless you ask for flat water, which takes some getting used to. Even at work we have sparkling water on tap. The last difference is the time it takes to eat out.  In the US the wait staff is looking to turn over tables as fast as possible because time is money.  It is almost the exact opposite in Europe. The wait staff is more likely to forget you are there instead of trying to push you out the door.  You have to be prepared for dinners up to two hours long when eating out.

On to another important topic: the weather.  Europe is not really known for having outstanding weather, (on my first day here it was snowing) but I have been very lucky to have two weeks of sunshine and 70 degrees.  A great part about Hamburg in contrast to Chicago is that there is very low humidity.  This fact alone makes the weather here much better.  Unfortunately I have been told that this weather has been out of character for this time of year so it probably will not last.  I’m just trying to avoid seeing snow again for a couple of months.

I have plenty more differences to comment on but I think that should be enough for now. Until next time.