U.S. rules vs. German rules
By Lukas Lenke
It didn’t make much sense to me at first.
When I came to America and people explained the rules and laws that I had to follow here, I was pretty surprised.
The important thing about following rules as an exchange student is that you really, really have to follow all the rules correctly. Otherwise, you will face consequences shortly, ranging from a talk with your exchange coordinator who cares for you here to being sent back to the motherland.
While I think that these rules are fair to me as an exchange student and are important to follow, some general American rules and laws that not only apply to me but to everyone were pretty surprising for me to hear.
Let’s first start with one of the rules that probably every teenager has encountered. The drinking age. Here in America it is set to 21, which I think is reasonable. The youth should not be encountering complete drunkenness while growing up. In contrast, the drinking age in Germany is set to 16. When I told people about this, they were very surprised and looked at me in a fascinated way.
While it might at first seem like such a low drinking age is too liberal and might endanger teenagers, it actually is very much more reasonable than the drinking age here in the U.S. When kids are allowed to drink alcohol, there is no more adrenaline and excitement that comes with it. Therefore the temptation to get drunk and wasted is not as strong.
If you observe the German youth life, you can see there are indeed parties with alcohol, but the kids are not as excited as American teenagers when they drink. This is at least how I think, and what I have observed. From what I’ve encountered in my daily life in high school, teenagers get way too excited when they hear about alcohol at a party. Since drinking underage in America is such a tabu, there is way more adrenaline that comes with it.
While teenagers here in the U.S. are allowed to drive starting from age 16, they are allowed to drink alcohol at 21. This shows the mindset of thinking that a teenager can handle the great responsibility of driving while they are not capable of drinking alcohol. In Germany, the drinking age is 18.
Two more years doesn’t seem that far apart from each other, it can have a great impact on the lifestyle of the youth. In America, since the country is so spread out, it is nearly impossible to get places without a car. There are no sidewalks on many roads on which you could ride a bike on, and walking is just too slow.
The culture and mindset about this is different in Germany, where everything is just a little bit more dense. Germany is about the size of Texas and you can drive from top to bottom with a car in about seven hours while there are about 80 million people living in it. This just means that everything is closer together.
I used to ride to school and pretty much any other place I needed to go to with the bike, just because everything was so close. Especially in urban areas like Berlin, it is more popular to ride the well-developed public transportation system or just simply ride the bike or walk.
In contrast, the transportation culture in America is way different, as you may have inferred by now. While I think that driving at the age of 16 gives a lot more independence to young people, it also comes with a great responsibility.
There are way less driving accidents between the ages 16-18 in Germany, because teens aren’t allowed to drive. Also, the roads and traffic rules in Germany are very different. Back home, we have a very developed highway system called the “Autobahn.”
The Autobahn is a high-speed highway in which there are often sections which have no speed limit, meaning that you can speed as much as you want. This might also be a factor why you can only drive when you are 18 or older because younger people are often prone to drive more excessively and recklessly, which would be a hazard to the general traffic safety.
In my experience though, I did not see that there is more drunk driving happening more in Germany than in the U.S. because of a lower drinking age but still, it is a risk.
Both driving ages make sense, especially because the U.S. is so much more spread out and Germany is so dense.
This was only a little insight in two rules that are different in Germany.