Main living abroad experience in Germany

Living in Berlin Experience by James Cave!

Are you wondering how living in Berlin would be? James Cave is co-author of the book German men sit down to pee & other insights into German culture. He has lived several years in Germany and shares with us some tips to make the most out of your experience! And, of course, he tells us more about this funny book. Enjoy!

1. Where are you from and why did you choose to move to Germany?

I’m originally from Ireland, although I haven’t lived there in over a decade. I’ve spent the last ten years living in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Portugal.

I learnt German in school and so I’ve always been interested in properly spending some time in Germany but I always assumed that it would be an expensive place to live. A couple of years ago I took a weekend break to Berlin and realised that, with a bit of planning, I could live in Berlin (and a lot of former East Germany) without breaking the bank.

Of course, it wasn’t just the cost of living that attracted me to Berlin. Berlin is rich in history and culture and an amazing city to live in. Also, for someone like me that works in the tech industry, it’s a good place to find work and meet other people doing the same thing.

Graffiti in Berlin
2. What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a newcomer in Germany?

Obviously the German language can be a bit of a challenge. In Berlin you can get by with just English and the basics, but speaking only English limits your experience of living anywhere so I was keen to take a decent stab at learning it. German is hard though. Every time I felt like I was making progress, I would get myself into a conversation where I understood absolutely nothing.

Secondly, German culture has a lot of rules and quirks, which is the theme of the book German Men Sit Down To Pee & Other Insights into German Culture. For example, on your birthday it’s your responsibility to bring your own cake into the office. Or, if you want to give someone a round of applause you don’t clap. Instead you rap on the table with your knuckles.

There are so many little things like this that Germans so differently and often you don’t realise them until you’ve gone and done the thing that you weren’t supposed to do. Thankfully, most Germans are very forgiving and although they’ll let you know you’ve made a mistake, they won’t hold it against you!

Birthday cake in BerlinSource:

Those are the cultural differences and in the grand scheme of things making a mistake there won’t affect your life too much. But there are some other areas of German life where making a mistake can be costly. For example, Germans (mainly in the South) take their kitchens with them when they move. As a foreigner it’s possible that you could view an apartment that’s fitted with a fridge, sink, and washing machine and make the easy yet erroneous assumption that all of that will be there when you move in. It’ll then be up to you to buy your own sink and appliances.

Thankfully there are websites like Beroomers where you can see exactly what’s in the apartment before you move in!

3. What advice would you give someone who is going to live in Germany for the first time?

Firstly, learn German. There are loads of great resources on the Internet for learning German, particularly on Youtube. For example, these videos show people having normal conversations and are a great resource for learning German naturally.

They’re subtitled as well, which always helps. SmarterGerman also has a Youtube channel where you can learn all of the grammar you need to pass the A1 exam. I also like Nachrichten Leicht, a site that posts news stories in simple German with accompanying audio. It’s a bit drier, but you will need to read a variety of different material.

Secondly, if you don’t already have a hobby, take one up. In Germany, making friends at work can be difficult as the German workplace tends to be quite formal. Often, it’s easier to get to know people outside of work instead of in it. Besides, it’s also an unwritten rule in Germany that you should have something to do in your ‘Freizeit’ (free time). (Germans like to be very productive even in their free time!)

If you’re still getting to grips with the language sites like Meetup tend to have a lot of English-language meetups, or another great way to get to know people is through doing a language exchange with a German that wants to learn English.

4. Why did you decide to write “German men sit down to pee”? What can you tell us about the book?

While I was in Germany I met Niklas the other co-writer. He had spent time living abroad and had realised that a lot of people were interested in German culture but knew very little about it apart from the usual stereotypes of efficiency and punctuality. As someone who was new to Germany, I was still trying to figure everything out myself so I thought that by writing it I could kill two birds with one stone.

The book is essentially a crash course on German culture for newbies. It looks at some fifty or so different rules that Germans follow consciously and subconsciously. We try to be practical as well as humorous so the book is broken down into useful sections for example at home (don’t make noise on a Sunday), travel (dig a hole when you go to the beach), and shopping (always shop with Preis-Leistungs-Verhältnis in mind).

More information about the book can be found at Germansbook or on the Amazon page.

German men sit down to pee

We hope you found this interview useful for you living in Berlin experience! If you’re looking for more information about this amazing city, check our post What to know about Berlin Before You Go!

And please don’t forget to share other experiences while living abroad in Berlin on our comments below 😊

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