A good thing about ESC is that you get a deeper perspective on day to day life of the country of your voluntary service. You get to learn the society in different aspects of their daily activities. While some of the things may be common to your home country, others, however, might be startlingly unexpected and sometimes even “weird”. There are also a lot of subtle parts of social conduct that cannot be learned but only experienced through an actual encounter. My mistake was that I had a judgemental view of many little details that felt alien to me. For these things, my sole advice would be to adopt an accepting attitude without your personal preferences, e.g. “I am getting to know an entirely new culture, different mentality, another system of living”. This attitude helped me a lot to start understanding German society better and accept them as they are.
Anyway, let’s drop subtlety now and move on to more substantial and general things that may be of use for your ESC in Germany. Here is a list of topics that you should be aware of:
Sunday and public holidays
These are special days in Germany because virtually all shops are closed. There is an official legal provision in German Arbeitszeitgesetz (Working Hours Act) that states that employees are not allowed to work on Sunday and public holidays between 00:00 and 24:00. Certainly, there are many exceptions to this rule, however, shops and groceries are not on the list.
Thus, it is better to take care of your food for Sunday on another day. It is also advisable to get acquainted with the list of German public holidays so that you are not caught by surprise and left with no food on some Herrenstag (Men’s Day). Here is a link for your convenience https://www.dgb.de/gesetzliche-feiertage-deutschland-2019-2020
If you live in a big city, however, you still have a chance to find a supermarket at the main railway station. But if you are in a tiny city, you’ll need to cook your dinner out of remnants of your old provision.
The cash payment rate in Germany is 48%, which is much more than an average rate throughout Europe - 32%.
In many places in Germany, you will not be able to pay with your credit card. Most of them are bakeries, small shops, kiosks, cafes, restaurants. Why is it so? Some people say that Germans trust palpable money more. Whether it is true or not, it is always better to have some cash on you.
Here is another situation where you would need your cash, and namely coins (50 cents, 1 or 2 Euros). The thing is that to use a shopping cart you have to unlock it with a coin first. What is even more interesting, a shopping cart will save you much of your inner peace. German cashiers are so fast that you do not have a lot of time to nicely pack your stuff into your bag. Many of us have felt this stressful tension when the cashier is waiting for the money, people in the queue are giving you impatient looks, and you are still packing your groceries. Therefore, to spare yourself from such a fate, better take that trolley with you and after the conveyor belt, put your items there first. In every supermarket, there is a nice packing area, where you can do it with no rush making sure your tomatoes are not squashed. Moreover, since the Covid-19, many supermarkets do not let you in without a shopping cart. It is sort of another measure to create social distance.
As we are discussing groceries now, it is worth mentioning that you pay for using most of the glass and plastic bottles, as well as beer and soft drink cans. Depending on the material, it varies between 8 and 25 Cents. But do not worry, you can get this money back if you return your empties. In most supermarkets, you can find an automat that accepts empty bottles and cans and gives you a voucher that can be swapped for money or purchases.
What I love about Europe is that in many countries they have bike lanes. To me, a bicycle is the best mean of transportation in a city. Plenty of people in Germany use bikes to travel through the city in some business. Thus standing on a bike lane can really annoy bike riders. So do not be surprised if someone shouts at you: “Heeey, das ist doch ein Fahradweg!”
With this, I will finish part I of this topic. Check out my next article to learn more hints about mundane living in Germany.
Cash in Germany: https://www.ing.de/ueber-uns/wissenswert/bargeld/