It’s a topic many travelers to and expats in Germany wonder about at some point: how do I blend in with the locals?
In my travels throughout Germany, I’ve found it pretty easy to pick out Americans, even the ones dressing incognito. I’ve developed “American Radar.” There’s a way Americans carry themselves: a certain walk, a certain head tilt, a certain loudness to our voices, that is quite easy to spot once you spend enough time among foreigners. We take up a lot of space, we expect things to go the way we expect. There’s only so much one can do about these things, but if you want (and it’s not necessary by any means), you can at least make an attempt at passing for a local through changing a few simple things about the way you dress.
Baggy clothing – If you could stick a second person in your outfit, you are going to stick out like a sore thumb here. Germans tend to wear their clothing cut pretty close to the body.
Long is wrong? – With Americans, shirts often cover the hips. Shorts end below the knee, sometimes even mid-calf. Pants and jeans fall at least to the top of the instep if not further. Women in high heels often have pant inseams longer than their legs. Germans tend to wear shirts ending at the waist, or if longer, they wear them tucked in. Neither men or women are afraid to wear short shorts, pant legs often end at the ankle. Manpris (Capris cut for men) are quite popular, but it’s clear that they are capris, not long shorts.
Track suits and sweats – Only in the gym and on the jogging trail here.
Flip flopping – They’re starting to show up here, but if I see someone in flip flops, 90% of the time, it’s an American. The other 10% of the time it’s a teenage German. Germans do wear flip flops, but not in town, they are pool or home wear here. On the other hand, German middle aged and older men are often seen sporting socks and sandals.
White sneakers, can you guess who wears ‘em? - Yup, Americans. Americans tend to wear big, chunky, basketball/cross-trainer sneakers everywhere they go. Germans, when they wear sneakers, tend to wear sleeker, thinner-soled, narrow sneakers in regular shoe colors (brown, black or tan vs. white or gray). Construction worker type shoes, like Doc Martens, are also not common except among the goth/punk crowds.
Square eye wear – Sight-impaired Americans, when not wearing contacts, which is the more common choice, seem to go for slightly larger, more rounded eye wear, while Germans are all about the narrow rectangular frames. Germans also spend a lot of money on eye wear, you see plenty of designer brands here. Prada, D&G, Gucci, and Dior eyeglasses and sunglasses are common.
Invest in Tommy Hilfiger – You can’t go wrong in the eyes of German yuppies if you’re wearing Tommy. Many a young urban German professional can be seen looking like a Tommy store barfed all over them.
Sports jerseys – Only if you’re attending a game, man.
Coach purses – Dead giveaway that you’re American. Coach stuff isn’t sold over here and I’ve never noticed a European wearing anything by Coach.
Cargo shorts – They used to be a dead giveaway that you are American, but they are starting to come into fashion here.
Red hair – To blend in with middle-aged German women, dye your hair red. Not a naturally occurring red tone, more like something between maroon and magenta.
- Germans/Europeans don’t wear jeans – just plain wrong. Jeans are quite common here, they are just leaner cut than in the US.
- Everyone wears black – nope. Germans like color, they just aren’t always good at matching.
In all seriousness though, here’s a crowd shot of some typical Germans, not really all that different from Americans:
Do you have any tips for blending in with Germans?