Service (or lack thereof?) in Europe
Especially when you are American, you may witness what you might consider a lack of service you are used to in the U.S.A. when traveling to Europe.
Yes, most of what follows goes for Europe in general, not necessarily Berlin or Germany in particular.
Say, you are in a restaurant: A good waiter will not come every 5 minutes and ask if you have any complaints or if you wish to place another order. Maybe he or she will come once and ask if everything's ok, but even that happens seldomly. The reason behind this ostensibly rude or ignorant behavior is that it would be considered intrusive. A good waiter will return empty plates (not glasses!) from your table and other than that come when you make eye-contact.
Another thing may come as unpleasant surprise: You'll find every drink on your bill. When you order a coffee and want another one, the waiter will not refill your cup, but bring a new one and take the first back to the kitchen. In any way, you'll find two coffees on your bill. Drinks are what a restaurant makes money with; the meals they serve bring comparatively little revenue. The good thing is that meals, by comparision and a ridiculous Dollar-Euro exchange rate not withstanding, are a couple of bucks cheaper than they are in in the U.S., at least when you take into account that a 10% tip is not minimum but absolutely o.k.
In Germany, plastic money is not as widely accepted as you may think. Department stores, fuel stations and supermarkets, not to mention hotels generally do accept both - debit and credit cards. Smaller shops and very affordable restaurants, like those frequented by students, probably won't accept any card. Issuers of credit cards charge shops with approximately 5% of each sales volume, plus a flat transaction fee plus a monthly or annual rate for the card reader. Many shop owners refuse to distribute those exenses to each customer. (Continues below) Speaking of supermarkets: Shopping for groceries in a supermarket means self-service! Sure, you can ask for help if you don't find something you need, but don't expect employees to approach you and ask if they can be of any service. That would, again, be considered intrusive. I for one hate if, when others comment on what I put into my shopping cart (not that any item would be embarassing), and likewise I don't think it's anyone's business to know which toothpaste I use or which table water I think is safe to drink. Other people seem to feel the same, hence it's only logical that you won't see a smiling student eager to put your groceries in a bag or in your car.
Yes, some chains have tried it, but to no avail, and yes a typical "super"market is about one-fourth or fifth the size of an American. The range of products to choose from is, however, similar, since there are usually a number of different supermarkets to choose from. I live within walking distance (~10 minutes) of 5 supermarkets plus 2 additional supermarkets that exclusively sell organic food not to mention some greengrocers and a farmers market.
Back to bags: Plastic bags almost always come free when you shop in a small retailer, such as a perfumery or wine store but never in a supermarket - at least not in Germany. If it has to be a supermarket (you may notice I like smaller shops and farmers markets better), bring a daypack, trolley or spend a couple of Euro Cents on a bag. The idea behind it is that plastic bags are not environmentally friendly. Even in a smaller shop you may be asked you if you need a bag for your purchase.