Europe Update, Part 2: Germany/Canada differences

I like to create lists of cultural differences whenever I live in a new country (or even in a new province – Quebec and British Columbia were both pretty exotic and different at times!). As I get ready to leave Germany, I wanted to share some of the differences from Canada that I’ve noticed along the way.

Here goes:

Tall people

I’m pretty tall in Canada, but every time I leave the house, there’s always a couple of guys who tower over me. There are a lot of taller women too.

Germans aren’t as tall as the Dutch, though. Men in Holland are enormous. I went to a club in Amsterdam, and for the first time in my life, I couldn’t find my friends. All I could see were men’s chests everywhere.


Ah, the land of the Autobahn.

Many Germans drive very nice cars, and they drive them fast. There are lots BMWs, Mercedes, and Audis on the road, with the lower-end vehicles mostly from VW, Peugeot, Opel, and Ford.

The interesting thing is that because of the famous no-speed-limit Autobahn, Germany is the one country in the world where there is actually a practical use to buying a high-end car. Buying a Mercedes or Audi in Canada might make driving a lot more fun, but it’s only in Germany that they could get you from Point A to B much faster than a mid-range car could.

From personal experience, driving this fast is really stressful. Someone might show up in your mirror going 250 km/h while a transport truck in the slow lane pulls out to pass another – neither truck ever moving faster than 110 km/h (Germans call these “elephant races”).

I thought it would be a ton of fun to drive as fast as possible. Now whenever I drive, I don’t go much faster than 160 km/h, and I’ve learned to get out of the way – fast.


I actually wrote a blog post about this for CSSDP (Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy – I’m on the Board of Directors). In my humble opinion, the post is excellent and totally worth your time to explore in full (click here to read it), but here are the key points:

1. There are way fewer rules around alcohol.

No dedicated liquor stores – buy any type of alcohol you want at normal grocery stores during business hours, and if you miss that opportunity you can go to a gas station throughout the night, although it’s more expensive. You can also drink pretty much anywhere in public, and people do – walking down the street, in the taxi on the way to the bar, or just hanging out on the street.

2. Bars close later.

No last call (barring local bylaws), you just go home when you feel like it, although a lot of places will kick you out between 5 or 6 so they can clean up and go home themselves.

This also means that the party starts later – people don’t usually start assembling to go out before midnight. At first I found this annoying, but now I’ve just gotten used to it.


Smoking seems to be a lot more common in German society, especially if you’re drinking alcohol. Not the most pleasant for non-smokers like myself, but again, you get used to it.

Patio culture

Germans are very committed to patios – even in the winter! A lot of places have coverings, blankets and heaters, meaning that it can be cold and rainy and you can STILL sit outside and enjoy yourself.

Now that spring is in full bloom, the patios are overflowing with people. It’s great to just walk around a city, see what’s happening, and grab a coffee or a beer. I love it.

Cell phones

Nokia seems to rule the dumb phone and lower-end smart phone category, although Samsung seems to be encroaching on both. For higher-end smart phones, it’s all about the iPhone. BlackBerrys are rare, but the Germans I have met who have them LOVE them and say they would never change. Gives me some hope for my hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Blackberry’s hometown.

Personal transport

All the towns are pedestrian-friendly, and biking as a way of getting around – going to work, shopping, etc – is not the fringe activity it is in North America.

Unsurprisingly, the flatter parts of the country (like the town in North Germany I live in) have more bikes than the hillier ones.

Grocery shopping

More stores and smaller packages – the way it used to be in North America before the rise of the big-box stores. But as someone without a car or even a bike, I much prefer things this way.

I used to go shopping every day on my way home from work. Between work and the grocery store, I would think about what I wanted to eat, and only buy enough for that night and lunch the next day. Everything fit in my backpack and I rarely had to throw out food that had gone bad.

I call this approach “just-in-time shopping”, and feel that the lean business gurus would approve.


It’s just a classier joint in Germany! I don’t know if they’ve chosen to market themselves differently here (Germans have pretty high standards in general), or if McDonald’s is becoming more upscale everywhere.

I’ve read that since the financial crisis, firms have been finding ways to cater to the “nouveau pauvres” – people without much income, but who still think of themselves as middle class and want certain luxuries, like going out for a cup of coffee. McDonald’s has taken the opportunity to develop a coffee and pastry selection that can draw in the people who can’t afford Starbucks lattes anymore.

That’s it for now! Let me know what you think – there’s always some disagreement with these things, which is all part of the fun.

Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. mikeyhew

     /  December 1, 2012

    Haha I would say you’ve understated second-hand smoking problem. By the way, McDonald’s in Canada has actually gotten classier than it used to be, but many of its clientele haven’t.


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