When in… Hamburg

It suddenly dawned on me last week whilst tucking into yet another currywurst that I am becoming a little bit German, though mostly unwittingly. Living in another country for a few months you seem to pick up the habits of the locals, whether it be eating the food, picking up various words and peppering your vocabulary in your own language with them or following the local way of doing things. There are also things you do in your ‘adopted’ country that you would perhaps not in your own country, rather as you might have a different personality when speaking the local lingo.

Though I have been in Hamburg for only 4 months, the German way of life is certainly rubbing off on me. The phrase ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans’ certainly rings true here, though for the most part the ‘German’ things I do are mostly subconscious, other than drinking beer and eating too many sausages. Of course, exploring the local cuisine is a great and, in my opinion, necessary part of the living abroad experience.

One thing I do differently here, bizarrely, is crossing the road. Of course, I have to look left then right as opposed to right then left (being British, we drive on the ‘other side’ –, but I now find myself waiting obediently at traffic lights for the green man along with the patient (and law abiding) Germans. This may sound a little odd, but in Germany (at least in Hamburg) you rarely see people jaywalking. This could have something to do with the extraordinary speed at which people drive here, and could be a safety precaution, however very few people set foot in the road before the lights have turned red and the green man appears, even when the road is entirely clear of cars. In England people are not especially fond of waiting for traffic lights, so jaywalking is a common occurrence.

Since living in Germany I have also become a cyclist, something I thought would never happen. This is predominantly because if you take a bike out in England you take your life in your own hands as you generally have to cycle in the road. Cyclists are generally viewed as a pain in England, especially the ones on the road, but cycling here is taken VERY seriously, and the cyclist is king. Woe betide any pedestrian that steps onto the cycle path (they are red, so fairly obvious) in front of a cyclist. It is funny how I now have the cyclist ‘mentality’ and ring my bell furiously at pedestrians who are on the cycle path.

There are also financial benefits from going native in Germany, as I have found out. If you take your empty bottles back to the supermarket you get 25 cents back per bottle when you put them in the crusher – what a way to encourage recycling!

Though I have not gone entirely native and do not speak as much German as I should, I now find myself thinking of German words first before the English equivalent. I also drop into conversation German words; for instance ‘shall we mitnehmen’ as opposed to shall we take away. The same is true of interjections when I ask, na? (well) to an English speaking person or put, oder? at the end of a sentence instead of ‘don’t you think’, or ‘isn’t it.’ There are lots German words like these which are extremely versatile as they don’t have a ‘fixed’ meaning, so you can just drop them into conversation. The same is true of the famous German swear word Scheiße. I do, I have to say, find myself saying the S word quite a lot here. The nature of the word means it can be used as a prefix on most words, for example scheisswetter, meaning terrible weather. This is a particular favourite in Hamburg due to the fact it rains. A lot. Somehow it is much less offensive than the equivalent S word in English. I have also noticed in my written English that I have recently started to capitalize my nouns as the Germans do (all nouns in German are capitalized). It’s probably just as well I am going back to England in a few weeks as soon no-one would understand what I was taking about!

Perhaps you have also experienced the same phenomenon in your ‘adopted’ country. We’d love to hear your experiences!

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7 thoughts on “When in… Hamburg”

  1. I call cyclists on the pedestrian path or in pedestrian zones “Scheiß-Radfahrer”. They are everywhere… even in wrong direction of the Einbahnstraße (One Way).

  2. I’m living in Japan now, and they drive on the wrong side of the road like you Brits do. 😉

    In Japan, they wait just like they do in Germany. One time I was out in some suburb walking with my host family to where we had parked the car. It was late and there was no car anywhere in sight, and we could see way down the road we wanted to cross in both directions. I said, “Let’s go,” and they were like, “It’s still red.” “But there are no cars!” I replied. Smirking, shaking their heads, and calling me “bad”, they then cross the street.

    You’ll notice in Japan that, if you go on red when there are no cars (and I always go), other people will follow you, as if it never occurred to them before to cross on a red when there are no cars.

    That doesn’t seem to be the case in Germany. Although my time in Germany was spent in Saarland, where people seemed a bit more relaxed about that kind of thing, a friend of mine got yelled at by some old lady in Berlin when he was crossing on red. She apparently yelled, “Die Kinder! Die Kinder!” while pointing angrily at him. I guess she thought that the kids were going to imitate that naughty, naughty man crossing on red.

  3. I used to live in Hamburg too and I know how you feel. I remember once asking someone in English, “Does this train go over Duesseldorf?” No. It goes via Duesseldorf.

    And I still feel that English is lacking an adequate equivalent for “Na?” (to which the correct answer, brilliantly, is “Na.”)

  4. you are completely right, I have been in hamburg for almost one month and half , I had so much fun time there even the different way of life….I agree that cyclist is king there and I remember one day that I have been walking in the special line of byc ( without meaning that) but one lady screamed and protested for that as I blocked her from driving her byc hehehehe it was funny action I did ……because I usually don’t care about that in my country.
    in General I heard it in local radio ( Radio Njoy) and I confirm it again…HAMBURG IS THE BEAUTIFUL CITY IN THE WORLD…………………….I hope that can back teher very soon.

  5. Hello Saladin, I’m glad you enjoyed my post about Hamburg and thanks for the cycling anecdote. It is a great city (the most beautiful in the world 😉 )and I will be sad to leave. You may be interested in next week’s post from me about what I will miss about living in Hamburg, so keep an eye on Lexiophiles!

  6. Moin Moin Frau.Ana :-))), this is famous greatings there, what a pity for you :-(( , leaving HAMBURG, it happened same for me and I know good this feeling……………..you know I became adicted of Hamburg heheheheh please don’t laugh but it’s the truth………
    I still keep in my mind all places visited there, all common words spoken ………not sure where are you exactly in Hamburg but certainly you have been in Landungsbrucken / fish Market/ Wunderland miniature/ Nordbank arena / Reeperbahn / st.Michelle catedral / …………………………etc.
    Frau Ana, I have intention to write book about Hamburg hehehehehehe to express my feelings about :-)))))
    let’s share our sadness for leaving Hamburg and who knows maybe we gonna create special association for Hamburg’s addicted hahahahahaha



  7. Hallo anna, it seem you left hamburg and you are not able to express your feelings for the moment,…..

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