The Never-Ending Battle With Etiquette

Although I’m a U.S. citizen, my parents immigrated to America from Poland before I was born. Because of this I have traveled to and from Poland on several occasions, and I grew up fully experiencing the culture, traditions, and heritage that came with being a first-generation student. But no matter how much my past has influenced me, it in no way prepared me for all of the cultural differences I would experience here in Germany.


View of one of Mannheim University’s courtyards.

Because Poland and Germany are so close and their history is so deeply intertwined, I assumed everything would be very similar. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. There are some things that I’ve already become accustomed to and understand, however, I’m still severely battling with others. For example, nothing is open on Sundays, and I’ve come full circle with this knowledge and now do my shopping and groceries ahead of time to prepare for this day of rest. But then there are others I simply can’t conquer…


Mural found outside of my apartment.

I’m an incredibly happy person. I smile when I see a pigeon waddling on the streets, I smile when they’re serving my favorite potatoes in the University cafeteria, I smile when I stumble over myself (which is quite often might I add), and I even smile when I’m nearly blown away by a strong gust of wind because it reminds me of Philadelphia. But what I learned the severely hard way, is that this is not a normal form of behavior here (the horror!).


Church in Mannheim.

Now I’m not saying that Germans don’t smile here, because they do, and quite often. But to give you a little back story, I used to walk to work every day for 6 months straight. In those walks I would make a lot of (fairly uncomfortable) eye-contact with several passerby’s. When this would happen we would both politely smile at each other and move on with our lives. But because many Germans are very direct, smiling at strangers in the street invites them into a conversation – which is not exactly what you wanted to do in the first place.


View of one of Mannheim University’s courtyards.

Learning how to stop smiling was a toughy, but a habit that I surprisingly still have to think about on a regular basis. There are other small quirks that I constantly find myself trying to figure out. Sometimes the rules of the road are followed, but more often than not, they’re disregarded, and as a pedestrian you always have to be alert. Typically, you sit yourself at a table in a restaurant, but occasionally a hostess will sit you. At the end of class, students will knock on their table with their knuckles. I’ve concluded that the world is a strange and simultaneously wonderful place, there’s always things to be learned wherever you go.

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