7 German Stereotypes We’re Tired of Hearing
Germany, home of bland food, efficient-but-rude people, and a harsh, guttural language — at least if you listen to outdated, tone-deaf stereotypes. But this is a diverse country with over 80 million people, so those German stereotypes are overly simple at best, and totally wrong at worst. Here are a few of the most worn-out stereotypes about Germany that we’re sick and tired of hearing.
1. Germans are unfriendly
It’s probably fair to say that many Germans aren’t socialized to engage in small talk. If you’re living in Germany, don’t expect to make casual chit-chat at the supermarket or bus stop — there’s a time and a place for socializing, and sometimes a queue isn’t the right place. (Though there are exceptions to even this widespread belief, as a lot of Germans, especially in the south, are quicker to embrace casual conversation.)
But it doesn’t mean Germans are inherently unfriendly. My take is that a lot of Germans are just more particular about when they socialize. If you’re in a space that’s made for socializing — anything from a dinner party to a nightclub or even a dating app — that cold shoulder you get in public will usually melt away, and bam, you’ve got new German acquaintances.
2. Germans prioritize efficiency above all
It’s not that Germans are actually inefficient, but rather that this is a pretty subjective stereotype. For example, you might notice that the public transit runs frequently and (usually) on-time, and that there’s a lot of enthusiasm for recycling and careful uses of resources. All of this might explain GDP’s #4 ranking in the list of richest countries in the world.
On the flip side, though, anyone who has lived in Germany for a spell will likely have had a painfully drawn-out experience with German bureaucracy, which can feel like a timewarp to the pre-internet era. From taxes to visas, almost everything happens slowly and on paper. Then there’s the German reluctance to adopt electronic payments (less-efficient cash is very much still king). Even in realms where Germany is usually efficient, there are exceptions, like the saga of Berlin’s new airport, which was a cool nine years behind schedule. Really, it turns out that efficiency is in the eye of the beholder.
3. Germans love rules
There’s probably more truth to this than the efficiency stereotype, but it’s similarly subjective, and it might be better to say that law and order is more consistently enforced here. For example, jaywalking in front of other people or running a lawnmower on Sunday (Germany’s treasured day of peace and quiet) may well draw complaints or at least side-eye.
But, delivery vans double-parking? No problem! Or take a look at graffiti-riddled Berlin, an international hub for rule-ignoring counterculture (although to be fair, Berlin is often an exception within German culture).
Then there were the large anti-mask protests during the COVID-19 pandemic — while these were hardly isolated to Germany, these marches regularly draw thousands of supposedly rule-loving Germans out into the streets across the country, with one group even attempting to storm the Bundestag, or national parliament in Berlin. That’s decidedly against the rules.
4. German food is terrible
Ask a few auslanders (foreigners) about food in Germany and it’s likely you’ll hear grumbling. It’s stodgy and heavy on sausage and pretzels, but light on spice or seasoning, they might say.
But those complaints overlook a wealth of fantastic food, both cheap and fancy.
For one thing, Germany has a whopping 309 restaurants with Michelin stars, more than any country except France, Italy, and Japan. For those who don’t want to throw down €100 on a meal, Germany also has a rich baking pedigree. The country’s historic and diverse bread-making culture has its own UNESCO listing, and sweet treats from doughnuts to apple or cherry cakes excel too.
Even stereotypically German food — sausage, spaetzle, sauerkraut — can be done well. It’s somewhat fair to say that German food tends to be lighter on some seasoning, so high-quality grains, meat, and veggies make more of an impact on flavor. So, keep an eye out for restaurants and stores that offer good produce, and you might just develop a soft spot for some German cuisine.
5. Oktoberfest is the epitome of German culture
Speaking of food (and drink), there’s much more to German culture than Oktoberfest. While the 200-year-old celebration of beer has been exported around the world as a German icon, it’s really a Bavarian thing. Old-fashioned lederhosen and dirndl, novelty beer glasses, and cavernous beer tents are all things you’ll see if you head to Munich for Oktoberfest, but not as large of an affair in cities like Berlin or Hamburg. In fact, the world’s biggest Oktoberfest celebrations outside Munich are in Canada, Brazil, and Ohio, with individual celebrations that each draw hundreds of thousands of people annually.
That said, cities and towns across the country do have their own volksfeste (folk festivals) which could be loosely compared to Oktoberfest, in that they offer plenty of food and beer. But these otherwise vary a lot from region to region, they aren’t necessarily in October, and they’re smaller events that draw locals — a far cry from the millions of tourists who show up to Munich’s annual Oktoberfest.
6. Germans love cars
It’s a fact that Germany is home to a number of big-name car manufacturers, like Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen. So Germans love owning flashy cars and racing down the autobahn with no speed limits, right?
Not exactly — while car ownership in Germany is pretty common, countries like Italy and Poland have more cars per person. And there isn’t as large a driving culture that other big car-making countries like the U.S. have. Public transport is robust, frequent, and covers most of the country, and research suggests it’s no more or less car-focused than anywhere else in Europe.
As for the “no speed limit” thing? Well, that’s only on freeways (the autobahn), and even then, it’s complicated. About one-third of those have speed limits, and even when there’s officially no speed limit, you can still get in trouble for going over the suggested 130 km/h speed. Oh, and for the record, most Germans would like to see firmer speed limits imposed.
7. German is an ugly language
The German language is certainly less melodic than, say, Italian or Spanish. But harsh, blunt, or aggressive? Hardly. Spoken German is often fairly understated and flowing, and while it does have a number of throaty sounds, these are usually soft and rounded in everyday German. These, combined with plenty of “ch” and “shh” sounds, can make German sound rather soothing.
It’s unclear where exactly the “German is ugly” stereotype came from, but it might be connected to anti-German attitudes back in the World War II era. Propaganda at the time made the language seem militaristic and forceful, and this image certainly wasn’t helped by the aggressive style of Nazi speeches. But that’s a tired old trope, and a far cry from everyday German in the 21st century.