Lifestyle: The Basics
Cost of living and finacial considerations:
Cost of living is relatively high in Germany. However, there are many possibilities for students to reduce costs: student dormitories and shared flats offer affordable housing, cheap super markets and pubs catering to students help some. Cultural events, sports centers as well as public transport and even some stores offer students discounts. Many language schools, too, have special deals with local enterprises - it is always worth to ask.
As a student and as an employee finding a place to live is your job. University or company might support you, but in the end it depends on you. Especially in major cities housing can be hard to find. Local newspapers usually have a section on housing, shared flats, etc. Local student unions are very helpful. Check university bill-boards - they often offer places to rent for reasonable prices! As a student you have the possibility to get accommodation in one of the University’s dormitories or apartments in the campus. This cost aprox. 200 € and we recommend that you ask for it during the application period, because of the restricted disponibility. Another common option for students are the "wohngemeinschaft" (two or more students or young people sharing an apartment in the city). Prices are normally between 150€ and 300€ (expenses and services included).
Renting your own apartment or house may also be an affordable possibility, but you have to think spending no less than 350€ per month and it may take some time to find a flat that meets your requirements. Consider that if you live further from the Universities, then you may need also extra money for transportation.
As we are now talking about Public transportation let us tell you a bit about it. Public transportation in Germany is excellent. Germany's rail network is comfortable, reliable and fast. The website - http://www.bahn.de/ - offers loads of information on time tables, services and discounts. Depending on where you live, most locations within the city are easily reached by bike. If you decide to use the bus network daily, as a student from the Fachchochschule or the Uni you can buy a low price card valid for one year (ask at the Uni). For long distance trips you will need to use either the railway or flight. Beware that for some destinations it may be cheaper to take a low- fare airline - http://www.tschoff.net/airlines/ - than using the railway. For example, Ryan Air have regular flights to Pisa, Milan, Stockholm and London. The earlier you make your reservation, the lower the fare.
Pizza, pasta, chips and cookies-----It’s true, many Germans like eating solid foods, but not exclusively. In the cities you can find restaurants from nearly all the countries in the world. Whether Thai, Italian, French, Indian, Russian, Mexican, or Chinese the choice of restaurants in Germany is vast. Students are particularly fond of Italian, Greek, and Turkish restaurants as they are often reasonably-priced. Others swear by take-aways with a delivery service bringing pizzas, Chinese and Mexican dishes.
Tipping-----the prices cited actually include 16% value added tax and a service charge. Nevertheless, it is customary to leave a tip in restaurants, cafés, and other places where your bill is brought to your table. The rule of thumb is as follows: if a bill is under 5 EUR you round the sum up to the next full mark or next but one; if it is over 5 EUR you allow about 10% for a tip - of course, only if the service was friendly and the food good. Nobody expects large tips from students because they know they are notoriously short of money.
When do you eat what in Germany?
The classic German breakfast is hearty and comprises bread, cheese, cold meats, jam and coffee or tea. Traditionally, the main hot meal in Germany is lunch, eaten between 12 and 1 o’clock. Before starting to eat people wish each other “Guten Appetit”. As the name in German suggests, the evening meal or “Abendbrot” is essentially composed, once again, of bread and butter with cold meats and cheese. Traditionally it is served earlier than in many other countries, about 7 o’clock. However, these traditional habits are no longer observed by everyone. Lots of Germans eat different things for breakfast or nothing at all, only have a snack at lunchtime, and eat a hot meal sometime in the evening.
Food can be cheap, as long as you don't have to eat in 2 or 3 star restaurants. We suggest shopping at an Aldi or Lidl store for cheap food and household items. German university refectories are known as "Mensen" (the plural of "Mensa", which is short for "Mensa academica"). The canteens are scattered over the whole of the university. These establishments are much frequented by students who appreciate cheap and tasty meals. Various university canteens offer reasonably-priced meals (approx. € 4) you will not find anything cheaper around! If you are feeling a bit peckish, you might drop into one of the University's snack bars. These establishments, which are known as "Bistros", sell hot food, sweets, sandwiches, soft drinks and coffee. Also buying food in Germany is cheaper than in many other European coutries (except perhaps Spain and Portugal). You will need aprox around 180€ per month for food expenses. On the whole you need a minimum of 500€ per month for your total living costs depending on where you live.
Unlike what people think Germans do not only buy and eat sausages. Of course, cabbage, potatoes, dumplings, and pounds of cold meat do exist but also much, much more. The choice of food in Germany is so vast that you (and, indeed, many Germans, too) can avoid traditional German fare, meat, and other cold meats altogether. What are considerably cheaper are discount shops but the choice is smaller, the shops are simpler, and the people on the check-outs are the fastest in the world. Highly recommendable are the popular weekly markets where you can buy fresh products from the region. You must take a bag or basket with you as your purchases will usually be filled into your bag loose or wrapped up in paper which nearly always tears before you get home. Remember Germans are very ecologically-minded. They enthusiastically collect waste paper, bottles, cans, corks, batteries, and everything you can collect and recycle. Paper, glass, and cans are put in special containers; empty re-usable bottles are taken back to the shop where the initial deposit is refunded. In order to reduce the number of plastic bags used, many shops charge 10-30 cent for a plastic carrier bag. Nepalese students who are used to with ‘’dal, bhat, tarkari’’ need not worry because all kind of Asian foods and grains are available in most of the stores.
Knives and forks-----If you are invited somewhere; however, you have to note that Homo sapiens Germanicus, like most other Europeans, holds the fork in his left hand the knife in his right. Hands are only used to master poultry. If you do not need to use your left hand, you keep it on the table beside your plate. If the food is standing on the table or the buffet is calling you, you have to wait until the hostess or host has given the signal before eating. Speaking with your mouth full is considered very vulgar.
Banks and your money:
All banks, even private ones, are subject to state control. The major banks are the Commerzbank, the Deutsche Bank, and the Dresdner Bank as well as the Sparkasse and the Postbank. Opening times differ from one bank to another but are usually roughly: weekdays from 8am to 5pm.
Opening a current account: before deciding which bank you are going to choose you should have received satisfactory answers to the following questions:
- Can I draw money at the cash point immediately after opening the account?
- After a certain period of time (ca. 3 months), can I arrange to pay bills by standing order or direct debit?
During the first couple of months the bank usually checks whether money is arriving on your account on a regular basis before offering you these services. Students can submit an application to exempt them from the standard charges for managing the account. In Germany, by contrast to many countries, it is not usual to send cheques to people by post (e.g. the rent to your lessor)! There are various ways of conducting monetary transactions:
Transfer is used to move money from one account to the other. You have to fill in a transfer form.
Standing order: you empower the bank to transfer a set sum (such as the rent) regularly and automatically on an agreed date (e.g. the first of the month).
Direct debit: this is a practical method of payment if you have recurring sums which vay in size (such as the telephone bill). You give the recipient a direct debit authorization which empowers the to deduct the respective amounts from your account. You don’t have to worry about abuse: you can always cancel the authorization and stop the direct debit.
Overdraft facilities/credit cards: overdraft facilities allow you to overdraw your account to a certain agreed limit. However, interest on overdrafts is not exactly modest. If you want a credit card your bank will give you advice.
Home banking: many banks offer their clients the opportunity to carry out their personal monetary transactions from their own computer. Ask the bank for advice but, bear in mind, that your private details are protected much better if you got to the bank yourself.
Opening hours-----The shops are allowed to open between 6am and 8pm and from 6am until 4pm on Saturdays. Some supermarkets really do stay open until 8pm in the evening and 4pm on Saturdays. All shops are shut on Sundays except for those selling flowers and cakes which are allowed to open for a few hours to ensure that everyone can have a piece of fresh gateau for Sunday tea. What would Germany be without its kiosks? Here, or at the next petrol station, you will find durable items such as drinks, magazines, chocolate, and other necessities of life.
Winter and summer sales-----Specialist shops are not necessarily more expensive than stores. In specialist shops you will often get better advice, but you should not let yourself be pushed into buying anything. In the summer and winter sales (SSV and WSV) you can get particularly good bargains. The shops sell goods from the previous season at rock-bottom prices. Strictly, the sales only begin on the last Monday in July and the last Monday in January. However, most shops start offering reduced-price articles and special offers long before the official date.
Second-hand goods-----Every town with an institution of higher education has second-hand shops selling clean, undamaged, used clothing at cheap prices and, in some cases, toys and prams, too. You can also buy household equipment, furniture, computers and so on second-hand, either in shops or from private individuals who sometimes advertise things you never knew existed in the local free advertising papers.
What to wear-----On the whole, there are no strict rules about what to wear in Germany: You wear more or less what you like. Youngsters can get away with holes, patches, and (far too short) short trousers, adults, on the other hand, will not find it so easy. Students wear whatever they like but people who wear slashed jeans will certainly attract different sorts of friends from those who prefer ties or pleated skirts.
Post and telephone:
You can recognize a post-office and letter box by the yellow sign with a black posthorn. Within Europe you currently pay 0.55 EUR for a standard letter up to 20 grams and 0.50 EUR for a postcard. Overseas post is sent by airmail, a standard letter costs about 1 EUR. You can find out what other letters and parcels cost by asking at the counter or reading the brochures available at the post-office. The postal code (ZIP-code) of even the smallest village can be found in Directory of Postal Codes.
Telephones - public call-boxes-----You can ring any number you like in Germany and nearly every number abroad from any telephone box. Tariffs for calls within Germany and abroad vary according to distance and time of day. Payphones have become fairly rare; most public call boxes are card-phones. You can buy a card at kiosks or the post-office. The Telecom's "Weltkarte" (T-card) or the postal-bank cards with integrated telephone chips enable you to ring within Germany and to many other countries without using coins. In the Yellow Pages you can find the numbers of doctors and other occupational groups. Emergency: 110 (policy), Fire Brigade: 112 (emergency medical services and ambulance)
"Please! Thank you! Excuse me!"
"Bitte", "Bitte sehr" is what you say when you give something to somebody, when you hold the door open for somebody, when you ask for something, or make a request. But also if you have done someone a favor and he or she thanks you, you then say, "Bitte, gern geschehen". If you accept something offered to you at table, "Möchten Sie noch etwas trinken?" you do not say "danke" (which roughly means "No, thank you"), but "Ja, bitte". If you have trodden on someone's toe or bumped into somebody you say "Verzeihung" or "Entschuldigung". As a general rule you can assume that it is better to say a "please" or "thank you" too many than to miss some out.
We hope this will help you for the first days in Germany to settle down. But don’t forget: coming from another cultural background you also may undergo a “cultural shock” - but this is also a normal process working in the international field. Enjoy your stay and make the best out of it.