USA vs. Germany – the main differences

What is the everyday-life like in Germany compared to America? Especially now that we’ve reached the 21st century first world countries become more and more similar every day, thanks to globalization. Are there even still big differences or is everything just slowly melting into one big culture?

I’m a German citizen and I lived in the United States for a year, I have an American boyfriend and American friends, and I definitely have noticed a few differences that I would like to share with you. Some of them might be pretty obvious, others might be surprising to you! The good thing is: this will help you get an insight into the everyday life of BOTH countries, so whether you’re an American wanting to live in Germany or a German going to the United States, this will help you a lot!

Let’s get started!

Public transport

In Germany we have buses and trains everywhere. And when I say everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE. Even the smallest town has at least one bus that will take you to a bigger town. You really don’t need a car here, since everything is either within walking distance, like local grocery stores, or you can just hop on the bus or the train. It is often cheaper, as you don’t have to pay for gas or a car insurance, and it’s a lot better for the environment as well. Even if you have to go on long trips, for example if you need to go from Cologne to Berlin (which is about 6 hours away): No problem at all! Just use the ICE train (a highspeed train) and you’ll be there within 4 hours. So it’s not only cheaper and better for the environment, it’s also faster, as the train can travel at a higher speed and will not be stuck in traffic.

In the US, you DEPEND on your car, unless you happen to live in Manhattan. The distances are a lot farther, sometimes you have to drive for 20 minutes just to get to a grocery store! If you don’t live in a big city there is literally 0 public transport. Even in Pittsburgh, which is not a small city at all, there is only ONE subway and a few buses. In other words: You’re screwed if you can’t afford a car. That is something that really needs to change, especially when it comes to climate change and the environment. Also, not everybody can afford or drive a car (older people for example), so a bus or a train would be the better option in my opinion.

College/University

The main difference when it comes to college education is definitely the tuition. Yes, my American friends: College (or University, as we call it) is free in Germany! I can’t tell you how many times I was asked if that’s actually true when I was still in the US. I have to admit, until I was about 15 or 16 I didn’t even realize that college is NOT free in other countries and that we are one of the very few exceptions that are lucky enough to get a free education! While most American college students pay 45,000 dollars or more every year, we pay a small fee of 200-300 Euros, and we even get a public transport ticket (which means you can use all the buses and trains for free) and we have other advantages like lower admission fees at museums or the movie theater.

Another difference that I’ve noticed is that most German students don’t live in dorms on campus, unlike American students. We either live at our parents house or we live in a so-called ”WG” (”Wohngemeinschaft”), which translates to ”living community”. You basically live with 2 or 3 other students and share the cost for rent and food.

Last but not least: College sports. They are a HUGE thing in America: You can get scholarships for being a really good athlete and you can even watch college sports on TV! In Germany that is not the case. We do have college sports but you can’t compare it to American college sports. It’s mostly just an opportunity to work out a little, try a new kind of sport or get to know other people. And of course it’s a lot cheaper to join a college team instead of a ”regular” team. There might be some competitions but nobody watches that on TV or really cares about it. That’s also the reason why we don’t really have a school spirit. Our colleges usually don’t have specific colors or a mascot, and nobody is really proud of their school (at least I never heard anyone say ”Yo, guess what? I’m gonna go to the University in Cologne!!!”). That is something that I personally think is definitely better in America. I’d love to have some school spirit!! But unfortunately, college in Germany really is mainly what it’s supposed to be about: studying (but hey, at least you can do that for free, right?).

The language

In Germany, young children start getting familiar with the English language in Kindergarten. I remember learning English songs when I was about 4 years old. The real English class starts in first grade of Elementary school and you are required to take that class until 10th grade at the minimum. On top of that, in High School (mostly in 6th grade) you have to take a second language class (mostly either French, Spanish or Latin). Then, in 10th grade, you are required to take at least one foreign language (99% of the students just stick with English) and you can even take a third language class. So if you’re crazy like me, you take English, French and Spanish at once. Of course, not everybody is extremely good at speaking foreign languages, but it’s safe to say that every single German person under the age of 70 knows English and sometimes even one other foreign language.

In America on the other hand, that’s not really the case. I don’t exactly know if students in the US are required to take a foreign language class or not (it’s probably different in every state) but I have noticed that, even if they did take a foreign language class, only very few people can actually speak that language fluently. When I lived in the United States many people were fascinated by my English skills, not to mention by the fact that I can also (somewhat) speak French and Spanish, which made me realize that it’s not a very common thing to be able to speak a foreign language really well. And even though English is the most important language in this world, I do believe that Americans should put more effort into learning a foreign language, not only to be able to communicate with people from other country, but also because it’s honestly so cool to be able to speak more than one language!

Eating habits

Now this is something that a lot of people don’t always notice but during my year in the US I did find quite a few differences when it comes to food and eating habits. Let’s start with breakfast: In Germany we usually eat cereal (the healthy kind with granola and stuff), or bread with some cheese or ham or, Germany’s favorite thing, Nutella on it, or yogurt and some fruit. In America people mostly eat sweet things like pancakes, sometimes even muffins or waffles (which is considered an afternoon treat or snack in Germany), bacon, sausages, eggs or bagels (YUM!). Personally, I’d rather eat something healthy in the morning and save the pancakes for later! Let’s talk about lunch: Of course, every family handles things differently, but generally I would say that lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Germany and that’s when you eat your warm/hot, cooked meal. Now, sometimes we do have our ”big meal” in the evening, but it is very common to have a big lunch. In America, lunch = sandwich and the big, ”main” meal is definitely in the evening.  Also, Americans tend to go out to eat on a regular evening a lot more, whereas Germans usually only do that on special occasions.

I don’t think I need to mention that a lot of food contains more sugar and more calories than the food in Germany which is why Au Pairs like me, or other people who spend some time in the US, usually gain some weight during their year there (*cry a river*). There are also a lot more fast food restaurants than in Germany.

People

It really is not a prejudice that Americans are always super nice, sweet and friendly. No matter where you go, you will always be asked you how you’re doing, people will help you with everything and they always have a smile on their face! But then on the other hand, I did ask myself how much of that kindness is actually true and genuine and honest, and not fake. Because let’s be honest: Do the cashiers really want to know how every single one of their customers is doing? Probably not.

In Germany, people are a lot more reserved and often come across as grumpy or even rude! I don’t blame anyone who says these things about Germans because it’s true to a certain extend. However, once you get to know a German person you will break through that grumpy surface and find someone you can have a lot of fun with and who will probably be a true friend to you. I actually know a lot of people here who are the funniest people I’ve ever met. Yes, Germans can actually laugh! And trust me: Germans will always be honest with you, whether you like it or not.

Myths

I just recently realized that there are actually a few hilarious myths out there about both countries so here are two of my favorites.

Some people in Germany, myself included, think or used to think that life in the US is basically like life in High School Musical. People sing in High School whenever their summer break starts, everybody is living in huge mansions and playing basketball 24/7. Unfortunately I had to realize that life in America is not like High School Musical at all.

A few months ago, someone from America asked me if I had ever been on the Autobahn (the German highway). I was confused at first because obviously I have been on the Autobahn, I mean how else would I go places? But then that person told me they thought that there is only ONE Autobahn in Germany, which is called THE Autobahn, that basically goes from North to South and where you can drive as fast as you want. I’m sorry, in case I’m disappointing any of you, but ”Autobahn” is simply the German word for ”highway” and of course there are many, many ”Autobahn”s in Germany. It is true that sometimes we do not have a speed limit (yay!), but other times we do, for example if you’re close to a city where the traffic is usually very bad.

All of the things I mentioned above are my personal opinions and observations. I do not mean to offend anyone at all, and if I have then I apologize. I do not think one country is better than the other, but I do think both countries can learn from each other. Nobody’s perfect, no country is perfect. But they’re both what I call ”home” and they are both amazing in their own, unique way.

If you guys have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me a message on my social media! Let me know if this was helpful and if you would like to see a part two!

Thanks so much for reading!

Love, Esther

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3 thoughts on “USA vs. Germany – the main differences

  1. This post taught me so much!! Thank you for sharing your insight 😀 I didn’t know all of those interesting facts about Germany before reading this, haha, that’s so cool about the differences between colleges! I just might have to study abroad in Germany, lol XD

    Like

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