Hallo! My name is Lauréna and I’m a French national. I am passionate about differences between languages, between countries and between customs and cultures in general. Learning a language is discovering new words, new grammar rules and new phonetics (that’s linguist’s jargon for sounds 😉), but it’s also discovering a whole bunch of cultural things! I am always excited when I learn about something new or when I witness something I didn’t know before. I also very much like lists and I always take some notes of things wherever I am.
I have been around Germans for almost 10 years now. I used to live in the South of Germany and I currently live in Berlin. So, as we slowly enter winter time, let me share one of my lists with you - 5 things that I’ve seen used in Germany when it’s getting cold out there!
(Bear in mind that these things are not necessary originally from Germany and might be used elsewhere as well!)
Keep your lips moistened with a baby’s bottom cream
In France, most lip balms come in a stick, so when I first noticed my German friends taking a little round box out of their bags, dipping a finger in and applying it to their lips, I was a bit surprised. I also wondered why their lip creams looked like creams for baby bottoms. “
“What’s good for a baby is good for you!” they answered. Fair enough! I’m part of the club, now!
This product is actually German and was invented in Bad Kreuznach, a town in the Rhineland-Palatinate region, which is more famous because of the world’s oldest radon-brine spa than for this cream, I guess.
You will find it in two sizes in shops like DM, Rossman, Müller and others like them. The smaller mini one fits nicely into a pocket, so you can have it with you all the time and the big one, which is not quite so praktisch when it comes to carrying it around. Legend has it that there is also a stick version that’s been around since 2010, but to be honest, I haven’t seen it yet!
But Achtung! If you open it around friends, some might also ask you if they can have some and then put their fingers in it 😱. If you have a tendency towards germophobia like me, you might want to be discreet when you take it out of your pocket!
Avoiding getting sick
One day in winter, I was feeling like I was getting sick and one of my German flatmates advised me to drink heisse Zitrone as if I knew what it was! No, Leute, that’s not just slices of lemon in hot water. It’s actually a dietary supplement that you can buy in pharmacies and drugstores. It contains lemon juice and also vitamin C in which is supposed to help your body fighting the early symptoms of a cold.
Of course, you can also be creative yourself and take some hot water and add fresh lemon, honey and some ginger to it and you have it homemade!
You can never be too warm
Start with your feet! It’s quite popular to add a furry insole to the inside of your winter boots in order to have an extra layer of warmth. The traditional ones, Lammfellsohlen, are made of leather and lamb fur but they do exist in alternative materials as well.
Next, double it with some knitted socks. These seem to be quite popular among my German friends when the temperatures drop down, both at home and outdoors. I have to say that I am not a big fan of using them in shoes because it is somehow painful for my ‘not-used-to-wear-knitted-socks-feet’, but I am so glad to have them on top of tights at home for example.
I am not able to make them myself, but the ones I got as Christmas presents from some German friends, they either made themselves or they were made by their mothers. Learning this skill is definitively on my to-do-list for a time in the future!
For your head, I have also seen this crochet hat quite often. Yes, you got it, Germans quite like DIY knitting projects, it’s not just a thing for Omas!
Take those clothes off
…and go to the sauna! I was quite surprised to see so many sauna options in German cities and also to realise that quite a lot of people go more or less regularly!
In France, going to the sauna is not something you do every month; it’s more like a something you treat yourself to on special occasions. In fact, just finding a sauna in France is already kind of a challenge. If you search for “sauna” online, what you find first is a list of “libertine” (naughty) saunas. If you only want to sweat without any extra action, there simply aren’t that many options. Some hotels, public swimming-pools or sport clubs may have a sauna (not included in the entrance ticket) or then you could go to a spa, but it’s not cheap (around 30 €). That said, the biggest difference is that… you’re not naked!!!
You might already know that (some) Germans are quite okay with being naked around other people, it’s called FKK which stands for Freie Körper Kultur (free body culture). It’s quite common to find areas at beaches, lakes, sometimes parks in the cities, too where everyone is naked and well…it’s kind of the rule that in saunas, everybody leaves their clothes in the changing room!
When I mentioned my reservations about being naked to my German friends, they all said the same:
“Sweating in a swimming costume does not allow your skin to breathe properly!”
They also tried to reassure me saying that the atmosphere is not weird and that people don’t stare at each other because it’s just normal to be naked in a sauna.
Oh yeah, something else I forgot to mention: saunas are usually mixed! At most, you might find some places doing “ladies night” one day of the week, for the women who want to start gradually and of course, if you don’t feel comfortable about being splitternackt (in your birthday suit, as it were) in the wooden box, you can keep your towel around your body!
I was quite nervous before trying it for the first time, but it’s not as scary as it might look like. First, you enter with your towel and look for a free spot. The lights are dimmed, so it’s actually rather dark inside. Then, you place your towel on the wooden surface (Achtung! All parts of your body should be on this towel, including your feet) and you find a comfortable position. Note that you can sit in a position which kind of “hides” parts of your body if you feel more comfortable that way!
Experiencing cultural things, putting yourself into foreign situations is a great way to help your brain memorise new words and it’s a lot of fun as well. For one, it gives you a real reason to learn words and sentences because you have a precise objective: “Today, I am going to go to a shoe shop and ask for Lammfellsohlen”. You will also always remember the feeling you get when you first encounter some words in real life - Textilfreier Bereich (area without any clothes) entering a sauna, for example, is something I will never forget! Last but not least, you are always going to end up with lots of funny stories to tell!
Have you got any other typically German tips to get you through those long cold and dark winter months?