I recently returned from a week-long vacation in Germany, in the Frankfurt/Darmstadt area. This is a list of cultural observances I wrote down while I was there.

  • Doors overlap their frames on one side, creating a very solid seal when they are closed.

  • Light switches are often OUTSIDE the room.

  • Trees are planted everywhere, even in private parking lots, etc. Urban spaces are pleasant and well-maintained.

  • The new Euro currency is confusing. Some coins can't be told apart without close scrutiny.

  • Though German is the official language, you are likely to find an English label on many products, and you hear many other languages spoken in public (true of a lot of Europe).

  • Trains go nearly everywhere. If not trains, then trams or buses.

  • Bicycles are extremely popular, and bike lanes can be found on many roads.

  • Many towns brew their own distinctive beer(s). In the Frankfurt region, Hefeweizen (highly alcoholic wheat beer) and Apfelwein (hard cider) are popular.

  • Measurement lines on the sides of glasses eliminate doubts about how much you've been served.

  • MEAT. BUTTER. CREAM SAUCE. INESCAPABLE.

  • To flush toilets, look for buttons on the tank or the wall behind. The average toilet design in Germany is much more effective than in the U.S. -- the water pours down forcefully from the entire circumference of the bowl, and the bowl is steeply inclined. No floaters!

  • General consideration for public facilities is clear, because extra paper in restrooms could be easily stolen, but it hardly ever is.

  • On the other hand, smoking is allowed in most public places apart from trains and buses. Non-smoking areas in restaurants and pubs are nearly unheard of.

  • The waitstaff makes up for it by figuring separate bills for everyone by default.

  • But unfortunately, very few restaurants accept credit cards. EU debit cards are welcome, though.

  • Hardly anyone owns an SUV.