Culture Clash in my German-American Relationship

When dating someone from another country, especially one you’ve never been to, you will find lots of cultural differences. Sometimes it’s hilarious and other times it’s downright confusing and frustrating. In my case, I’m lucky because my partner is actually fluent in English with only occasional hiccups that are usually pretty funny. (When I first met him, he always exclaimed, “Jesus Cripes!” and I would ask him what a cripe was. I later told him it was actually Jesus Christ, and he said, “Oh, that makes more sense.” However, he doesn’t use the exclamation much anymore.) Oftentimes he’ll say, “I eat now” or “I go now” because in German they don’t have to say “I’m going to go now” and I don’t even bother correcting it anymore. His little errors are actually really cute, but don’t tell him I said that! I encourage him by teaching him different ways to say things but I definitely want him to keep a little bit of his “Denglisch” – I secretly love it. I’m also learning German and he seems to think my accent is adorable, so I guess it goes both ways!

Aside from language (since we don’t have too much of a barrier) there are SO many things that have completely clashed in our relationship. One big one that you may have already guessed with him being German is – timing. His concept of “on-time” means five or ten minutes EARLY. If you’re an American girl like me, my concept of “on-time” is five or ten minutes late. So… that was fun. After multiple arguments we’ve both had to compromise and decided that “on-time” means “right-on-time” because I can’t stand to be early just as much as he can’t stand to be even thirty seconds late. He also used to get SO annoyed with how slowly I walk. (Anyone who knows me can tell you – I am the world’s slowest walker. What?! I like to take it all in!) He’s told me that he’s gotten used to it and it’s fine now, but in the beginning he was always frustrated.

The next story is pretty great, especially if you were one of the people who knew us when we were first dating. Apparently in Germany, there is no “asking out” or asking someone to “go steady” – i.e., nobody is going to ask you to be their girlfriend. If you are from the US or I’m assuming the UK, this often (but not always) considered a vital step in a relationship. It goes by many names (asking out, “the talk”, etc.) but evidently if a German man takes you on a few dates and hangs out with you all the time you are assumed to be boyfriend and girlfriend. (They are not players!) If you are living together, it is serious. And when he proposes, it will have been the first you ever heard of marriage! I did not know this. In fact, I was almost considering an ultimatum if he didn’t ask me soon. I was frustrated, a little hurt, and kind of angry! It got to the point where I tried to sit down and talk about it calmly with him but he had ZERO clue what I was talking about so it exploded into a really confusing argument. Neither of us knew what the other was on about as we stated our cases. (Picture: “I just don’t understand why you don’t want me to be your girlfriend yet…” “What? You’re not my girlfriend? What have you been doing?!” “What have I been doing?! Waiting!” “For WHAT?!” “For YOU!” “…WHAT?!!”) It actually took me cultural research to realize why he hadn’t done that and it all made sense. We laugh about it now, but we were both very confused about our relationship standing for a good week or so because of the cultural differences. I mean, nothing changed, and we decided we were together (obviously) but it was a confusing time to say the least!

Another thing that baffled me was that he was often quiet. I mean, quieter than I’m used to with anyone (I do most of the talking, anyway.) It used to bother me and I’ve actually had times where I’d smile and say, “Talk to me.” And he would be so confused, asking, “About what?” Apparently, Germans are not so big on small talk. There’s no “Oh, what lovely weather” or “How’s it going?” They are much more practical and think that small talk is almost a waste of breath. He would much rather discuss world issues, current events, or interesting facts. It constantly blows my mind how much he knows about history, politics of a myriad of countries, and how many books he’s read – English and German. I actually find the conversations with him to be more fulfilling now that I’ve accepted how he likes to converse. I learn a lot from him and love his insight on issues. I’ve grown to like this aspect of German culture quite a bit, even though I am definitely a talker.

Germans are also brutally honest. There is no such thing as a sweet lie or bending the truth. They tell it like it is, straight up, and don’t understand if you get offended because the truth is the only way! I actually really like this, because I’m totally into the truth. No lies, no games, it’s all on the table and that’s my style. We haven’t had much of a clash here, but I thought it was noteworthy seeing as many people might be shocked by this part of German culture. “Honey, do I look fat in this dress?” “Yeah, kind of.”

The last thing I think is worth mentioning is that Germans are very thoughtful – in the way that they think everything through very carefully before making a decision, and once they’ve made that decision it’s done. There is no turning back. Whereas, Americans tend to make hasty decisions and can change their minds ten times. It annoys the hell out of him when I make a decision and then change it, and then turn around and change it again! He doesn’t understand why I just won’t take some more time and think carefully and THEN make my decision. He’s even tried to make me learn my lesson a few times, like once I asked for water, and then said, “No, never mind I’m not that thirsty,” and he said, “Alright then. No water. I’m putting it away and you can’t have any for at least ten minutes, because you said no!” And of course, since I couldn’t have it, I wanted it. So I begged for the water and we both laughed about it but I don’t think it changed anything, because he ended up caving and giving me the water. But I guess the thing I really appreciate about this certain aspect is, I still remember the day I asked if he wanted to stay in Cairns with me instead of going along with his original travel plans. He said he’d think about it. After one day, he came back to me and said, “I’ve decided I’m going to stay here with you, for you.” I was ecstatic at the time, but now I look back and treasure it even more because I know that he truly put a lot of thought into the decision. He’s in it for the long run, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that because so am I.



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