One aspect of my identity that I am seeing in a different light while abroad is my identity as an American. At home in the US, this is not a part of my identity that I think about too much because I am surrounded by other Americans, and therefore cultural behaviors intrinsic to America don’t usually stand out. However, here in Berlin, while among Germans, I am definitely noticing cultural differences between the two countries.
For example, I never realized how much I smiled until I came to Germany. Germans do not smile as much as Americans, and if you smile too much in Germany people might start to think there is something off about you. I knew about this cultural difference before coming to Germany, but sometimes I still accidentally automatically smile to someone passing me on the street and get weird looks.
Germans are also more honest and blunt in conversations than Americans are. Usually, in America, if you ask someone you don’t know that well how they’re doing, they’ll usually say that they’re doing well, even if they aren’t doing particularly well. It’s understood that this question is more of a greeting than an actual query. However, in Germany, I’ve noticed that first of all this is not a greeting, and second of all, if you do ask someone this, even if you do not know the person particularly well, they will tell you exactly how they are doing. And for an American, this can be a little awkward at first.
Lastly, Germans tend to be more direct than Americans. In America, it can be considered rude to ask someone directly about their political or religious beliefs/the reason behind these beliefs. However, in Germany, such topics are much more openly discussed, and you are much more likely to be expected to explain your beliefs. This is a difference that I actually particularly like, because I think it helps to clear up common misconceptions behind certain beliefs, and I think it also helps to foster understanding and compromise between diverse groups. In America today particularly, topics such as politics can often be an elephant in the room, but I’ve found that this happens much less in Germany. And it’s quite refreshing.