Everyday Life in Germany
Medical and Health Services
The German health system has a very good reputation and has a network of hospitals and doctors throughout all regions – but medical treatment in Germany is never free! All costs, even for emergency treatment, must be paid for by you or your health insurance. Comprehensive health insurance is therefore also very important and proof must be provided when you visit a doctor, normally by means of your health insurance card.
You can find doctors locally, grouped according to their respective specialty fields, in the telephone directory, in “Yellow Pages” or on the Internet (www.gelbeseiten.de). The usual procedure is to first consult a family doctor who may be a general practitioner or internist, who will then, if necessary, refer you to a specialist.
It is advisable to contact the practice in advance by telephone and ask for an appointment. Allow for the fact that an appointment can only be made for a few days ahead. If it is urgent, you must make a special point of mentioning this. In acute cases, practices cannot refuse you – either on the telephone or in person. Medical practices are closed on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, but once a week offer early evening appointments for working people. When you visit a doctor, please take your insurance card with you.
In Germany there are general practitioners as well as specialists in each field (eg. pediatric doctors, optometrists, dermatologists, etc.) and there is free choice in the selection of your doctor. Please find a list of English speaking doctors here.
If you need a doctor at night, on the weekend, or on a holiday please contact the emergency medical services (please find the phone numbers at the right column). Hospitals will also attend you during nights or on weekends.
Pharmacies and Medicine
In Germany, medicine is only available at pharmacies. There are two types of medicine: with or without a prescription.
The German law on medicine is strict - most medicine is only available with a prescription (e.g. antibiotics) and pharmacies will not provide them without a prescription from a doctor. Your health insurance will generally cover most of the cost of medicine.
If you need medicine at night, on the weekend, or on a holiday you must contact the emergency pharmacy service. You can find out which pharmacy to contact on this case through the newspaper or the internet. This information can also be found on the door of every pharmacy.
Emergency Phone Numbers
Fire Services: 112
Emergency Medical Services: 112
Emergency Medical Care (Nights and Weekends)
Emergency Doctors: 116 117
Emergency Pediatric Doctor: 0221 / 47888999
Poison Control Centre: 0228 / 19240
The German electricity system works on 220 volts and uses two-pin plugs. Depending on where you come from, you may need an adaptor for any electrical equipment you bring with you.
Post is normally delivered once a day in the morning, Monday to Saturday; several times a day for businesses. There is no post on Sunday. Parcels are delivered by separate mail. If an item will not fit in your post box, the postal worker will ring your bell; if you are not in, he or she might leave it with a neighbour. If no one is available, the postal worker will take the item back and leave a note in your post box telling you when and where you can collect it (usually from the nearest post office). When you go to collect the item, you must take some means of identification with you. You can also apply at your local post office for a post office box where your mail will be collected for you to pick up.
To send post, you will find yellow post boxes bearing the black post horn, the symbol of Deutsche Post, at a number of places. The post box will have on it information when it is emptied. Price lists giving information on which stamps you need to send mail at home and abroad are available at post offices. Local post offices are open Monday to Friday, usually 8:30 to 18:00, and Saturday until about 12.30. In smaller towns, there are also branches in supermarkets where they have a desk at the entrance.
Apart from the post office, other providers have counters in lottery agencies or beverage stores. It is worth comparing the shipping costs and the time it will take.
Radio and television charges
If you have a television and radio, the State charges you to finance the public broadcasting service. You must register with the Gebühreneinzugszentrale (Radio and Television Licences Agency, GEZ) if you move into an apartment and have a radio and TV. Forms are available from banks or at post offices. After 2013, GEZ fees will be raised by tax.
Shops are generally open between 9:00 and 20:00 Monday to Saturday; large supermarkets and shopping centres will open even longer. Smaller shops or businesses on the outskirts of towns and cities, however, close between 18:00 and 19:00 during the week, and on Saturday possibly even at midday. All shops are normally closed on Sundays. Exceptions are bakers and florists which often open on Sunday mornings. You can buy food, newspapers and smaller household items at night and at the weekend at large rail stations or airports, kiosks and filling stations, but this is usually a bit more expensive.
Many towns have markets one or two days a week which are normally held in the centre or in particular areas of the town and offer fruit and vegetables direct from the producer. You can also find food from specific countries in speciality shops such as Asia Shops or Italian food shops.
Since sorting waste is a major issue in Germany (see section on waste disposal), a deposit is paid for many drinks bottles and cans. It is therefore advisable to keep bottles and cans and take them back the next time you go shopping. Many supermarkets have recently installed return machines; you place bottles and cans in these and when you press a button you are given a receipt showing the amount. Take this to the till and you will be paid the amount shown, or it may be deducted from your shopping bill.
The subject of sorting waste and recycling plays a special role in Germany. You may perhaps be surprised to see an array of different rubbish bins in front of houses; each, in fact, has it own particular purpose. Rubbish is separated into paper waste (blue bin), compost/organic waste (brown bin, also known as the compost bin) and packaging waste (yellow bin or yellow bag). The remaining waste is placed in the grey or black bin.
Glass and cans can also be recycled. There is a deposit on some bottles and cans, so it is worth returning these when they are empty the next time you go shopping (to the supermarket). If glass bottles do not have a deposit on them, you can dispose of them in glass containers in your neighbourhood. Supermarkets and shops have small collection boxes for used batteries because they cannot be disposed of with household waste. There are special recycling centres for old electrical equipment and larger items – you will have to find out where these are. The system may at first seem costly, but it helps the environment and ultimately means much cleaner towns and cities.
The telephone network in Germany is largely in the hands of Deutsche Telekom; however, there are also a number of network operators that may be cheaper. If you are looking particularly at special foreign or combined Internet and telephone tariffs, discuss this with a supplier who can meet your needs.
Most public phone boxes accept credit cards, coins or telephone cards which you can obtain at post offices, telephone shops or kiosks. There are also Internet cafés where you can telephone abroad. Note: Calls from phones in hotels or restaurants are usually more expensive than public phones.
If you want to use a mobile phone, compare the services and rates offered by the numerous providers; pre-paid cards may be a good option. If you take out a contract, be aware of how long it will run. There are also a number of attractive call-by-call programmes where you can save money by keying in a certain number before the actual telephone number. This too will allow you to make cheaper calls.
Skype is a useful alternative. This allows you to have a free telephone conversation with your family, friends or colleagues over the Internet (even with a webcam).
Most Germans use their surname when answering the telephone. If you call anyone, it is a matter of courtesy to also announce yourself by your surname first, and then ask for the person to whom you would like to speak.
You can find telephone numbers either from telephone directories or online (www.dasoertliche.de). There is also a directory inquiries service that you might find useful when looking for telephone numbers, although there is a charge for this. The rates for these service costs are quoted in advance (approximately 50 cents to 1 euro). The “Gelbe Seiten” (Yellow Pages) lists entries in alphabetical order with telephone numbers for all types of businesses: commercial enterprises, shops, doctors, restaurants and tradespeople.
Quelle: MPG_Living_Working_Germany Booklet
Dos and Don’ts in Professional Situations
Family and friends
The “Consumer Analysis 2010” study recently showed that Germans are considered to be very sociable – contrary to all clichés that they are reserved and have no sense of humour. Professional performance and success are particularly important for most Germans, as is leisure time, which is best spent with family and friends. And the Germans like beer!
Even if you cannot of course speak about “the Germans”, we would like to make a special mention of a few “characteristics”.
In professional situations, Germans place great emphasis on being correct and punctual. It is therefore helpful to keep to the agreed time for meetings or presentations. This also applies to private appointments. If you cannot keep an appointment or are likely to be late, it is advisable to give notice of this in good time through a colleague or by telephone.
When greeting and taking leave of people, it is customary to shake hands and look at the person. It would be impolite not to make eye contact – this also applies in direct conversation with someone. Hugging is only customary among close friends.
Unless you know someone well, and for people in a senior person and older colleagues, do not use the “Du” form, unless they have offered it to you; you should address people using the “Sie” form. At the institute, however, academic titles are usually omitted when addressing people and the “Du” form has now become widely established among younger people. If you are unsure, it is best to wait until someone introduces himself/herself and use the appropriate form.
It is said of the Germans that they are very direct in their dealings with one another and in communication. This is true. Germans tend to get to the point quickly and work and communicate in a focussed and resultdriven way. Private and general small talk are usually kept separate, but terms of a contract, work allocation and timetables often drive discussions. This can be quite confusing for people from cultural groups where the emphasis is more on relationships.
Sticking to the point
Because they are more focussed on facts, Germans tend to give presentations that are very specific and based on figures and background facts. Therefore, be aware in your own presentations that this is what is required. The tone in meetings can sometimes be rather brusque. The reason for this is normally the committed debate or discussion. This may occasionally have an unfriendly or even complicated effect; however, from a German perspective, this is simply a means to an end and does not have anything to do with personal esteem. You will see that a possibly strict tone will quickly revert to normal at the end of the meeting. Do not be confused if you do not receive any positive feedback or praise for your work. As long as no one says anything, you can assume that everything is OK….
There are clear divisions between the different levels in the hierarchies. It is always advisable to be aware of the status of the people you are working with and not to by-pass the individual levels in working relationships. However, there is no discrimination in hierarchy between men and women. Women have equal rights and work in top jobs – although much less often than men. It is quite common in families for both parents to work; more and more men are taking time out to bring up their children while the woman goes out to work. A woman’s instructions must be followed and carried out just as those of male colleagues. A common approach by men and women is not unusual and should therefore not be interpreted in any particular way.
Even away from the work environment, you may find that an anonymous person will point out alleged “mistakes”, for instance if someone supposedly makes too much noise in their apartment, has parked incorrectly or has taken an allocated space. Take this in good part (it is a learning curve for all of us…) and just ask your International Officer any time how to deal with this kind of thing – or if anything seems strange, or you are unsure of anything.