Hamburg, Germany – Top 10 things I will NOT miss about living here
Kristi Fuoco


I actually love the famous chubby East German walking man (or Ampelmännchen as the Germans say),
but what drives me crazy is that people actually wait for the light. Like all the time. And if you don't
they yell at you or stare at you or give you the "you should never break German rules" look. For me
this represents how Germans love to live in the box and inside the rules and within a very strict
cultural structure. I want to break free! But sometimes I wait for the light now.


For all those who read my last post on “Hamburg, Germany – Top 10 things I will miss about living here” and are currently thinking that Germany is a paradise full of chocolate and bread and beer, well…here is the counter balance to that post. First of all, I should say that I absolutely adore Hamburg, and I really enjoy living in Germany and feel lucky to have had this chance. But, as with every country, city and culture (including my own), there are things that drive a person crazy. I would like to say this is a post simply about the things that annoy me about living in Germany in general, but since it could be very different in Berlin or Stuttgart or Munich, I thought it was safer to base this on my experiences in Hamburg, in the cold and reserved Northern part of the country.

If you are a first time visitor to my blog, you can see my inspiration for writing these posts from my original posts about Vancouver. (Right before I left Canada to live in Germany I wrote “Top 10 things I will miss about Vancouver” and “Top 10 things I will NOT miss about Vancouver.”) So you see, I can be just as critical and/or positive about my own city and country. And remember, these are my own thoughts and my experiences, and every person is different, but for this Canadian girl living in Germany, these are the things that sometimes drive me to the point of screaming and wailing and yelling obscenities. Please excuse me while I rant for a while.

This sign never ceases to amuse me. Okay so it’s
actually a sign for the rowing club in Hamburg,
but I always imagine a group of rude Germans
meeting weekly and complaining.

1. Lack of politeness. So, here’s the thing. I don’t actually think that Germans are rude as a rule, as the stereotype sometimes goes, but there is a completely different concept of politeness here. I was shocked the first time someone smashed into me in a busy train station without a single word of apology. When it happened again and again and again, I finally realized that this is just how people operate here. Don’t get me wrong, once in a while I do hear an “entschuldigung or sorry (and the sorry is with a cute German accent)” or two, but in general, it seems to be the modis operandis to push your way through crowds and lines, step right in front of people in the line and to have little respect for personal space.

Example – I have endless examples of all the kinds of things that have happened, but most recently, while on a weekend trip away, my friend Jodi and I were waiting in the line at a ticket machine and we were in a rush to buy tickets for our train, which was quickly approaching the station. We were waiting for the people in front of us at the machine to finish and then just as we stepped up to buy our tickets a man stepped directly in front of us, ignoring us (though we knew he saw us) and going straight to the machine. I was too shocked to think of anything to say in German, but luckily Jodi, who is much more fluent than me, called the man out, who proceeded to say to us angrily, “well, fine, if you’re going to buy tickets just do it then!!!!” He proceeded to stand directly behind us, making annoyed sounds as we hurriedly and now, stressfully tried to buy our tickets before the train arrived. As someone who comes from a nation of politeness, this kind of behaviour just boggles my mind. I’m not saying people in Germany like it either, but it’s just one part of the culture that I simply have the hardest time adapting to. If you want to live in Germany, you gotta be a little tough and very thick skinned.

Don’t expect pretty words here.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. Sugar coating? You’ve got to be kidding me. I have had countless Germans say to me over the last 18 months how much they get annoyed by the lack of sincerity in America. They talk about how wait staff at restaurants are overly friendly, how people seem to act like your friend but are just being nice, and how they just can’t quite understand why people do this. I get it, lack of sincerity is not a nice quality, but sometimes, I really do love a nice layer of sugar coating on words. I really do love niceness for the simple sake of niceness. I love small talk about nothing, sometimes. I love random nights where you make the “best friends” in the world and then never see them again. I love it when people spend 10 minutes making you feel good before they give you any criticism. In Germany, people cut to the chase. There is no concept of sugar coating, or making something sound nicer. “Why bother, they say? I am just being honest and direct.” I feel that this is often the excuse for being mean and rude. On the one hand I love the honesty, and on the other, sometimes I just want some nice words and to feel a bit more warmth and coziness in my daily interactions. Sometimes, I don’t want you to cut to the chase.

Example – My German roommate (or ex-roommate I should say) once made me cry because of the heaps of criticism he was piling on me with zero niceness attached. He looked at me in shock as the tears spilled out, awkwardly pat my shoulder and said, “Um…I think you’re a good roommate, don’t worry.” Needless to say, I eventually moved out. But, in general, this is one of these cultural issues that I go back and forth on a lot. I think I’ve found a middle ground now, but at the end of the day I’m a friendly, peace-loving beat around the bush, smile and say sorry too much Canadian.

In order to make some chocolate chip cookies
I had to get a friend to order all these ingredients
for me from an American food store online.
Apparently each of these ingredients might
be available in town but I would have to visit a
huge amount of stores and spend hours hunting.
No thanks!


3. Shopping is way too hard. My kingdom for a grocery store that has everything! Alright, so I guess I do come from the land of plenty and “one stop shopping” and it’s hard for this North American girl to adapt and I really have tried to be open minded to the European way and not let it get to me, but seriously, when I have to go to three or four stores to find what I need I start to go a bit nuts. I miss being able to walk into a grocery store (and not even necessarily a big one), and find everything from top quality salsa (oh how I miss you good salsa), to Indian spices, to black beans, to real vanilla and cheap bags of ice.

Sure, there are some big stores in Germany that have tons of stuff, but they are usually far away and not convenient and have strange amounts of things I don’t need (like every variety of sausages known to man.) All the stores in my neighbourhood are smaller, more expensive and with a limited selection. But you do adapt and you start to know what you can find where, and then guess what? It’s gone the next day. There is a very strange phenomenon that happens here…. One day you can find black beans and the next the store just decides they don’t feel like carrying them. Also, one day the fruit and veggies section will be on your right, and the next day they have switched the entire store around and suddenly the fruit and veggies section is in the far left. Do the grocery staff just get bored and decide to play around with the poor customers? This one confuses the heck out of me.

Germans looooove their paper and paperwork
and paper records. Funny for a country that is
so into environmental friendliness!
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

4. German bureaucracy. Well the good thing about this one is that foreigners and Germans equally hate the ridiculous levels of German bureaucracy. Doing the simplest thing, like picking up a package up from customs, can bring a normal and sane person to tears and a nervous break down. I will tell you my story to illustrate the ridiculousness of this.

Example – I recently ordered some new contact lenses online (to avoid going to a store here and trying to figure out if they have the equivalent contacts and dealing with all that in German.) Little did I know I was making my life more difficult. For some reason I thought my contacts where coming from England, but instead they were shipped from the US and ended up in Hamburg’s Hafen City Zollamt (Customs and duty office.) I received a very long and complicated letter detailing all the things I must do and bring with me to the office. My German friend helped to translate the letter for me and I felt quite prepared. I was just picking a package up after all, right? Ha. How naive I was.

So here’s the story….. I arrived at the Zollamt and couldn’t find where I actually needed to go. I walked directly into the building and a bunch of men behind a glass screen said, “Nein! Nein!” And pointed me to a door on the right. How they knew what I was there for or what I was doing is beyond me, since a little while later I would have to come back to this exact spot. So, I walked in the door and there was no number to choose, no sign, no directions, just some counters. I stood there for a while looking stupid and finally I asked some people who were waiting, “are you waiting?” and they kindly told me I should go to the sign up desk, where I have to sign up to be helped. Of course there was no bell or anything to attract the attention of the Zollamt staff so I stood there again, waiting and waiting until a man came out, at which point I ran over to him and handed him all my paperwork. He gave me more paperwork and told me to wait. I would like to add at this point that of course all these interactions were in German, and not just every day German but the specific German used just at the Zollamt. As all foreigners here know, German bureaucrats don’t speak English (or very little English), even in the foreigner’s office. This is a land where everyone learns English in school, and most of the Germans I know speak amazing English, and yet, the government seems to have made a decision to only hire staff that have no language skills. It never ceases to amuse/annoy me. I don’t care if my Starbucks barrista doesn’t speak any English (but incidentally most of them are completely fluent in English), but a foreign office worker…is that too much to ask?

The Hamburg Zollamt in Hafen City. Avoid it at all costs.


So, eventually I give my forms to a man who tells me I need to pay the customs and duty fees. He lazily pointed in a general direction (why does German exactness disappear when it’s really needed?) of some place I would need to pay, but first told me he would take my package away. I didn’t know why. He took it away. I waited. And waited. Eventually I asked another woman what he was doing. Waited some more. Later he came back and told me I needed to pay. Um yes, I knew that. So I went out to the original glass doors and at this point the men point me upstairs. I climb the stairs and wait in a line and the most stodgy, grump, “I hate my life and job” older German woman was waiting behind the glass for me to pay. I quickly gave her my bank card, attempting not to speak unless spoken to. I watch her as she goes back to her desk and takes a good five minutes stamping and flipping and doing something that could take 10 seconds in a luxurious manner. Finally, I have a receipt. I have paid up, but still have no package.

At this point I return to the original office and wait again in no apparent line. I really have no idea how they are supposed to know I’m done, but I see the man who helped me the most and tell him I’m ready. Finally, my package is in hand and I run out of there with the hopes of never returning. I buy myself an ice cream and message my friends who whatsapped me with moral support in thank you. I go home and collapse on the couch and sleep for three hours. All for a package of contact lenses.

I almost never see a “for rent” sign in Hamburg.
Actually, it’s really likely that I have never seen one.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

5. The ridiculousness and expense of finding your own apartment in Hamburg. So, Vancouver may be incredibly expensive and competitive in the rental/housing market, but at least you know you can always find a place to rent relatively easily, and you know in general, you will just be paying half a month’s rent as a deposit. Here in Hamburg, not only is it incredibly difficult to even find an apartment to rent in a nice neighbourhood, but then you have to pay a special realtor’s fee (usually around €1,000 simply to have viewed a place once you rent it) plus often up to three months rent, a security deposit (which is usually about a month and a half’s rent) and various other fees just to move in. One friend told me that she and her husband paid close to €7,000 just to move in to their apartment. And then… there was no kitchen, no lamps, no lights, no nothing.

This is a strange phenomenon in this first world country, the fact that people literally take the kitchen sink when they move. It’s normal to move into a new apartment and have no appliances, no light fixtures, nothing. This might make sense when you are buying, but it’s hard to believe it happens just for rental places. I can maybe understand this in a developing country like Brazil, but it just seems like the strangest thing here in Germany. So moving is incredibly expensive, time consuming and requires a ton of work to get a new place set up. Many of us expats (and students etc) end up living in shared housing, or what the Germans call a “WG” (incidentally if you are looking for shared housing in Germany check out this website: I lived in two WG before finally subletting an apartment from an acquaintance (the only reason I was able to live on my own for six months), and it’s fine for the short term, but when you are ready to be living on your own, (and have had roommates for 10-12 years and are done with that) it can be hard to take that step back into shared housing, especially when you add cultural differences into the mix. I have heard that it’s much easier to find available and affordable housing in Berlin, but I believe in many German cities rental rates are going up all the time, and in Hamburg there is a constant demand for more apartments. I just hope one day this scam with the realtor’s fees will be abolished.

This sign really struck me as funny
And somehow I can imagine Germans
carrying it around on “Americans aren’t
funny day.” And no, this is not a real day.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)


6. People not getting my humour. Or people just not getting humour at all. I really really miss being able to crack a joke and have people get it 100%. This is often due to the challenge of cross-linguistic joking, but it makes me feel like I have somehow lost my wit. Humour is one of those things that you really need in order to survive living abroad (and life in general of course) and the German sense of humour is truly bizarre at times. Or people just don’t laugh nearly as much as I’m used to. There is a time and place for everything in Germany, including when to laugh and when not to. I really miss laughing my ass off for no reason at any given moment. Thank goodness I have a lot of good friends here I can laugh with. Also, thanks to my students and their awesome mistakes, I always got to laugh during work as well.

7. Careful now! Germans like to have everything in order. They like to be prepared for everything. They plan their holidays a year in advance. They don’t like surprises. They love to insure everything, from their dogs, to houses, cars (of course), to if you break someone’s coffee table, to if you trip over someone at work and cause them to bruise…the list goes on. You need to cover your ass in every way and every direction here. And then there’s health insurance. As a non-EU freelance worker I had to go to an insurance broker who found me one health care company who would sell me private health insurance that the Germans would approve of, but I could only pay it by credit card and for three months of insurance at a time. I’ve had to go into debt just to pay for my required health insurance which I never use because of the deductible. And I know I don’t even pay half has much as many Germans do. For a German family, health insurance can cost as much as renting a penthouse apartment in Hamburg. For such a socialist country, it’s amazing the amount of money people have to pay for their health care and insurance of every kind. I guess I’m just a crazy Canadian who likes to live life on the edge a little bit.

It made me laugh that this sign was in English, as if
they knew that German dog owners wouldn’t
break the rules, but everyone else would.


8. German rules and the angry people who adhere to them. There are so many rules and laws in Germany. There are so many unwritten rules and laws in Germany. Everyone follows them, until they don’t feel like it. But if you break it…watch out. You will get the German glare or worse. I recently got yelled at for a good five minutes by an angry old German man for recycling at the wrong time of day. I’m not kidding. I hadn’t even put my very quiet paper recycling into the bin yet when this man comes around the corner and without a hello or excuse me laid into me. When I told him I was a foreigner and didn’t understand everything he was saying he didn’t care and even got angrier. I heard things like “no recycling now” and “not allowed” and “please leave my country now until you learn when to recycle.” Okay maybe I misheard the last one, but seriously, the dude shook me up. I was literally shaking with shock and anger when he walked away. Then he came back and yelled some more. In the end I yelled profanities in English at him when my weak attempts at defending myself in German failed. Somehow “You are not being very nice” in German doesn’t have the same ring as “Get the F*#$ away from me!” in English. Such is life in Germany at times.

Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs-
und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte –
Society for musical performing and
mechanical reproduction rights

9. GEMA – As a musician, lover of music, studier of music and true appreciator of all things music I truly support musicians as much as possible, don’t download their music for free, go to live concerts and buy albums. BUT…YouTube is one of the best ways to share music, to spread the word about bands and a way for smaller bands to really grow their audience. GEMA, (Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechtea state-authorized collecting society and performance rights organization blocks a huge number of videos and prevents you from watching them in Germany. This can range from videos from big name artists to independently made small-time videos and I even once had a family home video blocked. It’s completely ridiculous, benefits no one except for GEMA and is universally hated all over Germany. There are other ways to protect musicians…this is not it.

10. Customer service? Was ist das? (What is that?) I come from the land of customer service. The customer is always right. The customer always comes first. The customer is paying for things, after all. This concept doesn’t exist in Germany. The customer is often wrong, the customer is just annoying and I’ll serve you if I feel like serving you. I was chatting with some friends about this the other day and we came to the conclusion that there are a lot of employees in shops, cafes etc who might be friendly to you, but that’s only because they feel like being friendly on that particular day, or they are just nice people, NOT because there is any real feeling or concept of customer service here.

An actual sign from another European
country. Love it. (Photo from
Wikimedia Commons)


If you get good service here it is a special treat, something you run home and tell your expat friends about, something you don’t expect. One thing that drives me to the point of madness is when I am walking through a grocery store, where I am a paying customer, and the staff who are stocking the shelves push their way through with giant crates of goods and always, and I mean always, expect you to get out of their way no matter what. You should see the dirty looks I’ve gotten when I don’t move out of the way fast enough. Did I mention that Germans are pro at dirty looks? Oh yes, it’s practically a national sport here.

Example – My German boyfriend and I were in a big grocery store recently and were at the check out. He was literally in the middle of paying when the floor cleaning dude (who was on one of those motorized riding floor cleaners) came gliding along, almost smashed right into my boyfriend and then stopped his machine and waited impatiently for my friend to get out of the way so the guy could keep cleaning the floor. Did I mention that he was in the middle of paying??? All we could do was laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. I told him after that this would NEVER happen in Canada. Or if it did the manager would be informed and the employee would most likely be disciplined. I really have an endless list of other examples, but perhaps I should reserve that for a “Top 10 customer service fails in Germany” post. We shall see.

So, thanks for listening folks. I can’t wait to hear what drives YOU crazy about living in Germany, and the things you agree and disagree with. So bring it on and give me your thoughts! And for those who are thinking of visiting Germany or living here…don’t be scared off. This place rocks as much as it drives me crazy. Thanks for a truly incredible 18 months Germany!



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Kristi Fuoco

 KRISTI FUOCO – Social media enthusiast, English teacher, writer, marketer, traveler, music lover. West Coast Canadian gal living and working in Germany and traveling around Europe. Current city – Hamburg.

Twitter: @kristifuoco

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My experience in Germany has been invaluable. In addition to learning German and taking part in another culture, I have learned so much about myself. I am confident that I can thrive away from the comforts of home and that I am dynamic and flexible. This is exactly what today’s employers are looking for – giving me a competitive advantage in the working world.
Kate from British Columbia – working for an international not-for-profit organisation.