Expats in Germany and the other German-speaking countries are often surprised by a type of culture shock I call “inverse customs.” These are practices that are either the exact opposite of, or extremely different from the same custom in the US. Expats quickly learn this fact of life abroad: There is always more than one way to do things, and sometimes it’s the opposite way!
No, I’m not talking about the usual German cultural oddities such as the “killer draft” or not mowing your lawn on Sunday. Those may be odd, but we want to address German customs that are either the polar opposite of similar conventions in the English-speaking universe, or at the least veer severely into left field (or right rather than left, in the case of wedding rings).
A prime “inverse custom” example, and one that affects most expats directly, is the German custom of the birthday person throwing his or her own party, even providing the cake and refreshments! This particular inverse custom usually takes place in the workplace, much to the amazement of most English-speaking expats. So much for surprise parties, Ami! We expect YOU to throw your own birthday party! READ MORE »