5 things I learnt from working in Germany

I’ve worked in Germany twice. The first time was as a language assistant in Stuttgart during my year abroad, and the second was as an intern at a translation agency in Hamburg.

It’s true what they say: you can’t beat living and working abroad for personal development and learning about other cultures.

I consider myself super lucky that I got the chance to do so, and I am now that annoying person who loves to bang on about it at any opportunity.

So without further ado, here I go again, with 5 things I learnt during my time working in Germany.

1. Sometimes, direct is best

I know, I know, it’s a massive stereotype – but it is true that Germans tend to be more direct. And while it can take you aback at first, I soon found myself embracing this more direct style of communication, and feeling liberated by it.

When contacting freelancers about projects, “Ich habe keine Zeit” (translation: “I don’t have time”) was a standard response. Hardly ground-breaking, but here in the UK, that same reason for being unable to help will often be dressed up in grovelling apologies and peppered with extenuating circumstances. Germans cut the crap – and the guilt.

I even had colleagues turning down offers to socialise with a simple “Ich habe keine Lust” (translation: “I don’t fancy it”). While we might consider that rude, the good thing is that you can use that response yourself. It’s a great feeling to just be able to straight-up say you don’t want to do something and get into your PJs guilt-free at 7pm.

2. If you’re ill, just take the day (or week) off

One of my pet hates about British culture is the attitude of judgement and suspicion around people taking time off ill. Often, you’re considered weak for not soldiering on at your desk with a dripping nose and a pounding head – or worse, people say you’re making it up.

In Germany, I found attitudes to illness to be quite different. One Monday I went into the school where I was working with a cold – the kind where in the UK you don’t even count as being “ill”. The teacher I was working with took one look at me and told me to take the rest of the WEEK off (as well as recommending her tried-and-tested homemade ginger tea recipe – which really worked!)

After a day and a half of total bed rest (and ginger tea) I felt absolutely fine and headed back into school on the Wednesday, to much admonishment from said teacher, who thought I should still be resting.

In my experience, the prevalent attitude in German workplaces is that if you start getting ill, you should rest up straight away so as not to make your illness last longer, or infect your co-workers. I personally think this is a very healthy attitude.

3. UK taxes are pretty low

Everyone grumbles about how much is taken out of your pay packet in taxes, national insurance, student loan etc. But it’s nothing compared to Germany, where of my meagre 800 euros a month intern pay I took home only around 500 euros (so around 40% taken off). I’m not sure of the exact tax rules currently, but there is definitely a culture of paying more to the state – although for that, Germany has much better social security. Not all of that 40% was taxes – you also pay mandatory health insurance, pension, unemployment cover and care insurance. So the flipside is that if you do end up out of work, you’re much more looked after than in the UK.

4. Working abroad fast-tracks your language skills

I mean, this isn’t an original insight, but working in Germany really made this hit home for me. In particular, when I worked in an office environment where German was the only language spoken, I found my language skills improved massively in a short period of time.

I think this was partly due to being immersed in the language, and partly because you were forced to speak it constantly without having time to second guess yourself or chicken out. I’d definitely recommend working abroad (coronavirus and Brexit allowing) for anyone wanting to fast-track their language skills.

5. Bakeries are the best

One of my favourite things about Germany is the bakeries. There’s one on every street corner selling everything from bread to pretzels to pastries. When working in an office, usually at some point every morning someone would head to the bakery and ask round if anyone wanted to join or wanted anything.

Quite frankly, I think bakery culture is something we could really benefit from here in the UK. Pretzels for the win.

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