1. Fresh Air. He or she insists on opening the window to get some fresh air, even in the middle of a snowstorm or negative temperatures. A frigid wind will blow in and overtake the room, but that is an insignificant thing in the face of the compelling biological need to breathe in a few gulps of fresh air and refresh the stale air in the room. This also extends to the practice of not wanting air conditioned air (i.e. not fresh) in a room – Germans will insist, even in the most humid, sweltering weather (for example, while on vacation mid-summer in Bangkok) that the air conditioner be turned off.
2. Greetings. When someone enters a room, Germans always stand and shake hands or do the double-cheek kiss. It’s considered very rude not to pause and greet someone – nods and grunts of acknowledgment while still continuing to work away at the computer do not suffice.
3. Birthdays. This is serious stuff. Germans have entire calendars devoted to knowing when every person they ever met has their birthday, so they can send an email or message acknowledging the person on her birthday and congratulating her for the miracle of her birth. At work, this becomes particularly important. I believe that secretaries may be employed entirely to manage the birthday calendars so that their bosses do not suffer the steely-eyed glare of a scorned colleague, whose birthday was inadvertently missed. There are also strict regulations around when to congratulate that person- under no circumstances should you ever say “happy birthday” before midnight on the eve of a birthday, otherwise surely the wrath of the gods shall strike you down (or the person who celebrates his birthday? Not really sure who is the subject of the Unglück in this instance).
4. Saving places. Ever been to a resort where there are large packs of German tourists? Have you noticed how all the prime sun loungers seem to be reserved with towels draped over them, but no one is ever actually there?? Yep, it’s those sneaky Germans, waking up at the crack of dawn and darting outside to claim a chair for the day, thus ensuring that all the lazier nationalities (or perhaps just those who partied much later into the night and are thus deemed physically incapable of dragging oneself out of bed before midday) are shit-out-of-luck. This applies to many other instances too – Germans have a knack for casually dropping a bag or a jacket onto a chair and then fiercely defending their territory for the rest of the day.
5. Sharing tables. You know how trendy restaurants in the US are adopting designs for “communal tables”, normally a long table where several parties will be seated together and you are generally somehow forced to get to know your neighbor because you can’t help but overhear their conversation? (side note: this is really not ideal for dates). This is the normal practice in Germany. In fact, it’s hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t have shared tables. During busy mealtimes, it would even be quite normal to seat two pairs together at a four-person table. Why not? It is the best use of space after all.
So, all of this is to say, if you ever catch anyone doing any of the above, e.g. opening a window in the middle of a snowstorm, standing abruptly to give you the double-cheek kiss when you enter his office, sending you a birthday email even though you only met the dude once at a conference or at a meeting, staking a claim on the pool lounger and then going back to bed, or casually asking to join your table at a restaurant, even though you don’t know each other… you can bet that he probably lived in Germany.